Recently, the EHI has introduced the ’PR in Retail’ study. Could you briefly summarize the findings of the study?
Ute Holtmann: In our ‘PR in Retail’ study, we survey the people in charge of retail public relations and reflect selected questions with the opinions of managers.
The following results were striking in the recent 2012 survey: More than 80 percent of PR pros and managers believed that the retail image is worse than it deserves to be based on actual performance. The obvious need for PR beyond company borders and sociopolitical developments such as energy, food or financial crises have increased the importance of public relations in retail.
Society’s awareness of sustainability is increasing more and more and consumers make greater demands to that effect on companies with regard to their social commitment and corporate citizenship. Directors of Communication are aware of this as well as of the fact that their companies have become more transparent and vulnerable due to social media. This is why at this point for almost 90 percent of them corporate responsibility has become an integral part of communication.
Social media has also become an integral part of communication, but ranks in second place behind print advertising in the importance of communication channels. For one-fifth of companies, mobile PR has already become a part of communication. For most companies however, special mobile applications such as apps for instance are so far not a relevant topic, but an increase in significance is forecasted. The early results of the ’PR in Retail 2013’ study, which will be introduced at the end of February at the EHI PR Congress in Cologne, suggest an increase in significance for mobile applications.
What does customer communications look like today, and which channels do retailers use to specifically target the customer?
Holtmann: Communicating with the customer takes place via all channels and depends on the target group. While the ’always-on generation‘ can be easily reached via Internet channels, there are customers, who should be specifically approached through traditional media. This is no different in advertising from corporate communications. Some companies reach many customers via Facebook, while others still trust in newspaper inserts. It is for sure that media usage will continue to change and that companies have to adapt their communication to it. Whether ten years from today the now 20-year-olds are still going to read daily newspapers in printed form or whether they go online, remains to be seen. There is a lot of fluctuation in mobile PR on the market at the moment. In 2012, mobile PR in corporate communication had already arrived in one-fifth of surveyed companies. Sixty percent are planning to use it. One can assume an increase in activities for this area in the future.
Given the different scandals by food retailers and textile and technology manufacturers, how much transparency should and must retailers permit, particularly pertaining to manufacturing processes?
Holtmann: Transparency is a confidence-building measure. However, the call for transparency is a very hyped-up topic, also thanks to the media. In reality, only relatively few people take the trouble to check company statements on their degree of truth. They prefer to rely on whether the source of the statements is believable or not. Credibility as a part of a company’s reputation is built over a longer period and is connected to a documented corporate attitude. In this year’s PR study, so far the majority believes: the more transparent a company is, the more believable it is!
Interview by Daniel Stöter, first publication iXtenso.com