Nezahat Sevim on the digital native mindset

Nezahat Sevim on the digital native mindset
Nezahat Sevim, global head of PR and Media at Animals Asia, joins us to chat about her journey into comms and what she believes to be the most important skills for success.

Why did you choose to pursue a role in PR and Media? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

I’ve always been a storyteller, from the moment – as a child - I could talk and interact with the people around me. I believe that - from epic poems to today’s social media content - stories shape our lives and world. I am always searching for venues and ways of storytelling. I started with acting, and then switched to TV journalism, and have been a journalist for 16 years. But three years ago, again, I got the urge to find new ways of storytelling. I think staying with the same career and area too long can kill creativity and doesn’t give you enough chances to build interesting stories for your life. I was already interested in digital technologies and amazed by the endless possibilities of storytelling on digital platforms. So, I quit full-time journalism and moved to London to do a master’s in Digital Marketing at King’s College. After graduation, switching to PR and digital communications felt natural to me. Still, I continue to do freelance journalism alongside my full-time PR job, and I very much enjoy being on both sides of the fence.

What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important in the PR and Media sphere? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

I believe that besides having a sharp eye for catching good stories and story angles, I am able to think in a digital native mindset and build communications strategies around this. Being a digital native is more than having the technical knowledge to use these platforms. It requires thinking digitally in the first place and having the skills of developing a new approach to storytelling for new audiences. After the digital revolution, the old way of communicating is no longer relevant, and the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for crafting key messages for new platforms. As modern-day PR and media professionals, we don’t talk to our audience; we talk with them. It’s not a one-way communication; it’s about engaging with the audience, listening and understanding them. Many of the PR failures we’ve witnessed are the result of this lack of holistic digitally aware communications strategy. Even though it doesn’t cause a PR crisis every time, I see many PR campaigns don’t capture the zeitgeist of this digital communications era and fade out without having the desired impact. Even though social media has added considerable extra workload to communications professionals, it has also offered new creative opportunities. Think holistic, think out of the box: perhaps it is more efficient to pitch your story by tweet with relevant hashtags to target journalists on Twitter, instead of spending substantial time and energy to write a press release and sending it to a range of journalists with minimal interest.

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?

At Animals Asia, our way of working is summed up in the phrase “Kindness in Action”, and this lies at the heart of our communications strategies. Like many other organisations working to raise awareness and find solutions to the environment, climate, biodiversity and social issues, we face many challenges caused by the lack of understanding, education or awareness in individuals and society more generally. Aggressive and controversial campaigns can be the easiest way to attract public and media attention, but it doesn’t benefit stakeholders in the long run, and may not address the problem that needs to be solved. Instead, we are committed to tactful and inclusive communication, and we work with key decision-makers to find the best possible outcome for both people and animals. We don’t “fight” the communities and the countries we operate in. On the contrary, we raise awareness and offer positive, practical alternatives that deliver better decisions and outcomes for themselves and the animals with our inclusive educational programs and campaigns.

This isn’t always the easiest way to stand out from the rest and make newsworthy stories; but we choose to reach permanent solutions in the long run that benefit everyone, instead of chasing headlines and short-term trends, we consider the “diplomatic harm” that could be done to stakeholders who could hold the key for a permanent solution to the issue.

What one thing would make your working life easier?

Metrics are vital to demonstrate PR’s value to overall business success and support leadership with a tangible purpose for investing in PR initiatives. But we lack sophisticated enough measuring tools to demonstrate PR’s full effect. Measuring the effectiveness and impact of PR has never been as easy as it is in social media and digital marketing; it has broader, longer-lasting, but also less tangible outcomes in the short and mid-term. But I believe, with the rise of digital media and digital tools, we will soon have more advanced tools to measure the return of investment and audience monitoring for PR initiatives. 

The same need arises for platforms enabling journalists, content creators, influencers, and PR professionals to connect and collaborate better. As I mentioned previously, PR is more multifaceted and diverse than it was once, so to use the full extent of digital PR, we need new platforms helping us to think and plan outside of the box, and engage a new variety of content creators. 

We also need platforms to reach this broader range of content creators rather than just journalists working in traditional media. But those platforms should also come with the possibility of laser focus on the journalists and creators by their beat and the niche that is most relevant to each PR professionals’ area. These “extra-tailored” platforms would save enormous effort and time both for journalists and PR professionals. Every day, I need to zoom through many irrelevant journalist enquiries, regardless of how filtered my search results are on those platforms. As a former journalist, I can anticipate the same struggle for the journalists when searching for new stories to cover in a long queue of unrelated emails.  

How is the role of PR and Media perceived in your organisation?

At Animals Asia, we believe in peaceful and comprehensive solutions to the issues we face in today's world. In a world where everyone "fights", there's more need for "peacemakers" than "fighters". So, our media and PR strategy is based on showcasing our tenacious but compassionate work in the field and around the negotiating table with close attention to the cultural sensitivities of the countries we operate in. Presenting ourselves globally with these values is absolutely crucial to us. We believe our communications initiatives go beyond "doing our own PR". We have unique expertise and experience in animal welfare, particularly in bear bile farming, which is a massive danger for the Asiatic black bears that are classed as "vulnerable to extinction". We want to do our part by putting our expertise and experience wherever it is needed to help save this species and others. A world that respects the right to life for every living being really matters; all of our lives may depend on protecting biodiversity.

What do you think the secret of success is when working in PR and Media?

As the name indicates, public relations is all about understanding the public we live and operate in; to create meaningful and organic relations with the members of that society. We aim to influence human behaviour through communications. Therefore, I believe a well-rounded PR professional should have an in-depth understanding of sociology and psychology. This is not a requirement that has just emerged; it dates back to the 1920s, when Edward Bernays - often referred to as “the father of public relations”- conceptualised this relationship between psychology and public relations and introduced a psychoanalytical approach to the field. In my opinion, in this new world of individualism and self-expression, supported by social media that enables everyone to interact and engage with organisations and brands in real-time, understanding the individual members of the public that we communicate is crucial more than ever.

At React & Share, we’re obsessed with helping our clients measure and report their efforts - what measurements do you think PR and Media teams should be presenting to internal stakeholders?

It depends on how an organisation positions PR in the first place and the role given to PR in the overall business strategy and objectives. In my opinion, any measurement and reporting in communications should be value-driven since PR has the biggest and the most prolonged impact on the brand’s reputation and awareness. 

I believe there’s a lot to consider in deciding what not to present as well. Like the long and unfocussed meetings, a lengthy report full of irrelevant data can be a huge waste of time and energy for everyone.

Looking into your crystal ball, what do you think will be the next big thing in PR and Media?

Embracing change, diversity and authenticity…