My language, My rules: Integrating Vernacular Languages in Public Relations in India

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Nelson Mandela

With 23 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects, linguistic diversity has never been a bigger challenge for public relations professionals anywhere in the world.

There are sound reasons for the existence of such diverse languages, yet most public relations companies appear to be intimidated by the complexity of the socio-demographic landscape.

Public relations executives swear by taking the safe route and cater for majority understanding, creating all campaigns and communications in English, only to realise that perhaps they should also be valuing the vernacular, creating content in mother-tongue and cashing in on the ensuing return-on-investment (ROI).

Value of vernacular communications

Whether it is writing a press release or a pitch note, authored articles or trend stories, use of effective vernacular communication in public relations helps inculcate cultural insight, nuance, and context. It helps a PR manager show that their client and the brand understand and resonate with their consumers.

Vernacular public relations can help build long-lasting and profitable relationships of trust with their market. Vernacular communication has the potential to add huge value to a brand. Global brands can successfully localise, and local brands can become more relevant to their target market if they talk in the language their customers can relate to.

Using local language helps in ensuring a high level of engagement, respect, and understanding of the targeted customer. The emotional connect that vernacular comments, quotes bring has a positive impact on the overall brand equity.

Readers place extra value on native advertising and place trust in it in a way that they may not necessarily feel about an English campaign, as most people in the country still converse and often think, in their mother-tongue. Talking in their mother tongue instils a sense of pride and ownership which far outweighs the initial investment of creating a vernacular campaign.

Innovation in Public Relations in the era of globalisation

Vernacular public relations offers an opportunity to view a PR campaign from a new angle and provides a lot of scope for true innovations in the way communications are handled.

The world is becoming a global market for companies who have a common goal- to sell their products or services to as many consumers as possible. Globalisation also means that companies are now addressing an incredibly diverse target, with many different languages, and more importantly- cultures. International Public relations in the new millennium is about understanding, accommodating and harnessing the cultural differences for global brand building.

Telecommunication (Telcos) , consumer durable companies as well as FMCG companies today engage with the consumer speaking a language of the masses.

K2 communications recently achieved noteworthy success for a healthcare client by refocusing the PR strategy with a focus on vernacular media. By retargeting the release with regional translated press releases, the client witnessed astounding ROI on their PR efforts in a short period of time.

Vernacular Public Relations- a must have across all mediums

Native public relations is significant because the target audience is given eh content they want to consume. The challenge on content creation for vernacular language is on the written side, especially for native quotes, comments, and press releases. From the cost perspective as well, it is easier and cheaper to create vernacular language content. Your target audience no longer wants just to read, they want to watch contextual, real-time, user-generated content.

In a country where only 10% of total population interacts in English, and only 74% are literate, the message from a PR desk needs to jump through several hoops of communication distortion- illiteracy, lack of connecting, contextual misunderstanding or pure ignorance. The challenge is to remain impactful, relevant and cross the language barrier to reach the target audience without distorting the core values of a brand.

Vernacular content is also becoming a big mantra for successful digital marketing. Traditional PR methods neither expect nor ask the audience to think. However, they do want the public to respond- a feeling, an impression, a desire, and finally a commitment to take some action but ironically, unless all the fodder conveyed in a language the target understands, it does not result in any thought.

To effectively influence attitudes,  and outcomes in the public domain, including the crucial public opinion and reputation management, PR executives must keep a tab on the local pulse.

According to a 2017 report by KPMG and Google, “Indian Languages — Defining India’s Internet,” there were 234 million Indian-language internet users and 175 million English users in 2016. By 2021, the gap between the two groups is expected to widen. Users of Indian languages are expected to more than double to 536 million, while English users will increase to only 199 million. Nine out of 10 new internet users between 2016 and 2021 will use local languages, said the report. (Source)

As the Indian technology industry builds the internet for the next 1 billion non-English users friendlier public relations communication strategies are the only way forward for the brands looking to reach out.

It, therefore, makes business sense for Public relations companies to encourage their clients to become pan-Indian, linguistically.

  • Additional Resource: Ordinary People Can Reason: A Rhetorical Case for including Vernacular Voices in Ethical Public Relations Practice, Calvin L. Troup Journal of Business Ethics Vol. 87, No. 4 (Jul. 2009), pp. 441-453

  • Image source: Mashable India

    About the Author:

    Bulbul Satsangi – She is a Digital Strategy Consultant at K2 Communications Pvt. Ltd. A Finance professional in her previous avatar, Bulbul, entered the arena of content writing to soothe her creative energy. In the past 5 years, she has worked on all the aspects of the internet and helped many businesses establish their online identity.

5 strategies to implement AI in your PR verticals

AI and PR strategies to implement AI inPRFrom industry stalwarts like Elon Musk and Bill Gates to pioneers like Stephen Hawking, everyone has been fascinated by the subject of intelligent robots taking over. A favourite topic of science fiction enthusiasts for decades, from “Terminator” and “Matrix” to more recent- “Ex Machina” and “Blade Runner 2049”, machines are being designed to think, feel, and reason the way humans do.

Is it the beginning of the end of PR as we see it? We explored how AI can help critical PR functions by removing the monotonous and routine and freeing up more time for strategising and creativity. The next stage is to understand how to implement AI in PR spectrum so it can be a beneficial tool rather than the proverbial elephant in the room.

One day, the PR industry may rely on AI more than it is apprehensive about it.

Consider this example- You want to take headlines and rewrite them for social media so that you could highlight your client’s or their brand’s role in the story. You may assign a  person to copy and paste URLs, cross-referencing the right hashtags, and then you post. Now imagine having algorithms that are able to manage the same social media promotion and your social media engagement.

Something similar happened at Associated Press: You see, Associated Press was able to post no more than 300 quarterly earning stories, and despite every business, reporting journalist had to face this nightmarish moment of compiling and presenting quarterly earnings, many potential companies remained unreported.

With AI technique called natural language generation, NLG, AP is not able to post more than 4400 quarterly earning stories- a 15 fold rise from their manual effort, and of course, freeing up the business journalists for more creative pursuits.(Read the case study here)

How should the PR sector prepare itself to implement AI?

Think of Apple and Google, who have kept user experience (UX) of their products at the forefront by smart use of data and informatics. AI is here to stay, and here are some strategies to implement it successfully in a PR agency’s operations

  1. Brainstorm with your team– Do you need AI to solve big problems like planning a media strategy? Or is it about reducing the grunt work like scheduling tasks and follow-ups? Discussing the pain-points and bottle-necks with your team and coming up with small, but smart solutions to most common efficiency drainers.
  2. Automate, automate, automate– most of the AI-enabled processes work smoothly only when the firms have already crossed the hurdle of automating areas that were manual and error-prone earlier.AI gives you results when you give data to machines to work on and make patterns. The more data you have, the better your AI processes will work.
  3. Ask questions– Become the student of AI, and be the inquisitive journalist for a change. Don’t believe whatever you see and hear. The best program that everyone swears by may not bring any value to your firm. Ask a lot of questions, count your pennies. Then count it again.
  4. Make AI not the replacement, but a part of your team-Remember, AI is part of your team, and in the long run, it may be one of the most valuable team players, but first, you have to train it to do as you want. AI will simplify tasks like listening, recording, analysing and reporting. However, it cannot replace the human touch in building trust and relationships.
  5. Evaluate and forecast the skill sets needed – with AI in the picture, you may have to let go of certain skill sets and may ask the employees to adapt to the new order. Focus on training the existing staff, while keeping an eye on the new recruitments with defined skill sets like AI and big data. You would want a more heterogeneous mixture of team members who can work on a variety of functions, from technology, analytics, to media management and content writing.

AI is already making a massive impact on our lives. The tasks and skills can be automated or can be hugely benefitted from AI, but there will still be a need for human intervention in editing, applying good judgement and ethics. Experiential learning combined with continuous development and upskilling will be extremely helpful for PR professionals. Talking about AI and facing resistance is something similar to the slow-to-modernize copywriter who resisted computers in favour of his trusted typewriter.

Unless we up-skill and learn about AI and how it works WITH PR, PR companies can’t really make the transition. With machine doing the heavy lifting – the categorizing, detecting and reporting, PR professionals can do a lot of strategic and creative work. The future is all about embracing AI and the amazing developments that come along with it.

How is AI changing the face of every industry, and more so of PR? Read it all here!

About the author:

Shiv Shankar – He is the Executive Director & Founder of K2 Communications. Under his astute leadership, K2 Communications has developed into a frontrunner among PR agencies that incessantly delivers excellent regional and national PR support to clients belonging to various sectors including government, IT, education, consumer, and healthcare.