Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Future of Indian Independent PR Agencies

Recently I had an opportunity to visit the newly opened office of Adfactors PR, one of India’s largest PR agencies and was amazed seeing the magnificent set-up. It seems that it is probably the largest single location office of a PR agency, anywhere in the world. The office boosts of all modern amenities that one would wish for, such as a library, a cafeteria that can accommodate 100 people at a time, a fully equipped gymnasium, indoor games facilities, yoga training, a doctor on call, a green zone in a large open terrace and most importantly an inhouse banquet hall for press conferences, specially designed keeping in mind technical requirements of the broadcast media. The new office reflects the confidence & conviction of one PR agency in the future of the PR business in India and certainly a matter of pride for the Indian PR industry.

Unarguably the PR scene in India is going through a huge transformation. Just about 15 years back, only couple of so called PR agencies operated armed with their fax machines and had employed few foot warriors, who’s job used to distribute press releases on behalf of the clients they were servicing, either by personally meeting the journalists or faxing the same to them. Today India has become one of the most sought after market for the world’s biggest names in the PR business. Most of them have already entered India few years back or finalizing their plans to foray into India.

This has brought the wave of change in the Indian PR business; many independently owned PR agencies either merged themselves with their International partners or have been acquired completely by the international biggies. The message was clear either raise your standards or leave the business. Clients going global and MNCs entering India, demanded more strategic inputs rather than just media clippings.

At one hand international PR agencies bring in more theoretical, data and analysis driven approach and on the other hand there are independent Indian origin agencies bringing in their strong understanding of India’s socio-economic-politico culture of Indian and long experience of working with the Indian media.

Many International PR agencies have been in India for over a decade now, but only very few could make India their profit center (ofcourse not comparable to their other office in US and other developed markets). Some of the reasons could be that it is very difficult to come to terms with the retainer fees offered to them by Indian clients, which largely hovers around 1 Lakh to 1.5 Lakh barring only handful of clients who pay in the range of 5 Lakh to 10 Lakh. Another reason could be that Indian companies gauge their PR success based on their visibility they get in the media, while international PR agencies focus more on strategic business outcomes, but if the strategy, ultimately does not deliver into visibility then it does not make any sense to the Indian clients. Large volume of clients (about 80%) are comfortable paying the retainer fees in the above 1 to 2 Lakh rupees, which is too small as compared to their international payouts, which is in the range of minimum $15000  to $20000.

On the other hand select independent Indian agencies have not only survived the global meltdown and takeover wave but have also grown stupendously when the world was going through the extended downturn.  They are not only growing but are also investing in strengthening their offerings and talent base.

The good news in all this is the opportunity for Indian talent and the promise it holds for thousands of PR professionals working across India. At the end of this tug-of-war, there holds a bright future for Indian professionals to learn and grow in the highly elevated professional organizations. While PR markets across the developed world is at a very matured level, India holds a lot of promise for the business to grow by leaps and bounds. But it is also true that there is an urgent need for investing in the quality of talent available in India.

Your views on this will be highly appreciated. Please visit www.vikypedia.in to post your comments and feedback on the above write-up.

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Categorised in: Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

17 Responses »

  1. In sentiment, I echo all the insights shared in this thought provoking discussion. I would dare to add a few of my own.

    Integrated Marketing Communication? (IMC)
    As a debutant communication professional, when I refer or talk about IMC, I am thought of as ‘fresh-meat’ and new to the game. The reason? – IMC is still considered as a merely bookish concept. Strategy-driven communication is a rarity in a communication plan. In my opinion, what a brand / business fails to understand is that different messages from the same brand on different mediums convolutes the consumer’s mind in an already overtly-cluttered market. Getting your act together or more professionally put, integrating your marketing initiatives is a the way ahead. And it is in this context that Independent PR agencies can really deliver customized solutions rather than ‘straight-from-the-book’ business models.

    PR? Advertising?
    Parallelly to the afore mentioned point, it is not about ‘PR v/s Advertising’. Today, it is PR and Advertising. Be it the 5P’s of marketing or the clutter-breaking messaging, as a brand, you’ll be heard only if you are consistent. An approach of this sort has been attempted but again, the scope and success is largely left untapped. And thus I believe it is these Independent PR agencies, free of complex organizational-rigidity, that would go on to become the game-changers.

    Digital PR.
    PR, in the Indian context is yet to go digital – Only a few brands fancy the approach and a fewer agencies dare to walk this path. Heap-lads of data yell, about demographics that tell us about age, purchasing-power shifts and endless stories about how the “youth” is yet to be qualitatively engaged as an audience and then a consumer.
    If I may use an example (relevant to real-estate / housing) – I know of working 22-year-olds, who can’t possibly afford a house of their own and yet, have their own ‘personal’ opinions about builders, their townships, loan-rates, applicable EMI schemes and a lot more. My point here being, the ‘faces in the crowd’ today, will be the decision-makers / buyers of tomorrow. Thus, building an opinion in them is best done through digital PR. Finding an agency that would dare to walk this digital “tight-rope” is a challenge.

    Talent. Then, experience.
    One cannot put a price on experience but can one put a price on talent? Yes, you cannot ignore the experience David Ogilvy brings to the table but can you ignore his talent? I am so glad that Vikram concluded with the point of ‘investing in the quality of talent’. Independent PR agencies are the few who dare to invest in new, young or fresh talent. The future implies changes in the game (of communication, at large) and I thus believe the time has come when corporates in India should let HR scout for talent and experience, but, in that order.

  2. Good to see some interesting discussions on use of PR & Communications. As a business journalist turned PR/Corp Comm. professional with over 18 years experience of having been on all three sides & now an independent consultant advising clients on communication strategy and keeping pure-play media exposure only 15% of the overall plan – am witnessing some change.

    I handle a power producer whose project has been hit by activism and delays – where media intervention is important but stakeholder engagement along with internal communication & visibility building programs are important. Have got some articles written by them in trade journals, some speaker opportunities and also advertising & sponsorship activities as well. Issues & Crisis Communication along with building a CC manual of handling them if & when they happen has been part of my communication agenda and also involved in their intranet, annual reports and development of newsletters besides working with HR on recruitment adverts has been a big learning process.

    Clients are slowly opening to IMC as Devaashish said but is very gradual as the measurement of PR intervention UNFORTUNATELY is still media-driven. In Hyderabad alone – there are 18 local TV channels with output from most of them being below par and troubling. Another dimension of communication being witnessed by clients is to look at issues management as part of the overall communication plan where building visibility & brand has become important as one of the clients in healthcare sector has been seeking.

    Am also checking the use of social media, journalists & PR practitioners for an international conference by AMIC (www.amic.com/sg) in Malaysia and talking to journalists, PR Agency & Corp Comm professionals to take their feedback. If both of you are willing, would like to take your inputs as well. PR Vs Advertising as against PR & Advertising shift is still not happening as Advertising is part of the Marketing / Brand teams of corporates whether in retail, mechandising or telecom – need to partner with PR team in this approach is only after advertising & brand strategy is ready and support is sought on getting stories on the TVC being released.

    A overarching combination of Brand & Advertising, Events & Sponsorship, Media Relations, Issues & Crisis Communication, Stakeholder Engagement & CSR, Marketing & Internal Communication as an overall strategy is still in the realm of evolved corporate clients which is in the rarified space atleast in Hyderabad but showing some change. Am constantly learning and trying to keep myself updated on the trends and developments in this space and reading a lot and wanting to attend seminars & workshops though very few happen in India. The Holmes Report, AMIC website, IPR website and CIPR, UK are some good avenues for research and updates. The Global PR Summit in October at Miami, US is a good opportunity to get to hear interesting developments – wanting to check if I could go there.

    Regards
    Shankar, HP: +91.99490.93501
    URL: http://www.sparadigm.in

  3. Well written Vikram! I must mention that PR industry in India is no more in niche stage. the industry is working towards transformation and this one is actually for GOOD.

    Having said that, it is also important that Indian clients understand the kind of work a PR agency does for them hence some understanding and working in close knits + accolades and recognition that comes from our clients is equally important. There lies a big question here as to when will these companies/MNCs/Corporate world understand that PR gives them the mileage that even their adspend can’t!

    It is yet very surprising that there are many corp comm guys who fail to understand the attributes of PR, at the end of the day visibility matters, it shouldn’t only be in leading publications or mere big electronic channels….it is far more ahead than this. Additionally like you mentioned… tapping the right talent is the key, along with tapping right candidates it is important that PR professional should have the right kind of attitude and understanding of which brand should be “visible” where….

  4. You should also check out the offices of Hanmer MSL – and they’re about to shift into even larger premises. A whole building in fact.

    Overall, the shift to PR in communication is inevitable.

    Digital processes compel a focus on relationships through one-to-one interactivity. This is never going to be advertising’s domain.

    However, many PR agencies need to upgrade their competencies in digital PR.

    It’s a whole new ball game.

  5. all the facts are true even for smaller firms like us.

    Regards
    Saurav@slokapr.com
    http://www.slokapr.com

  6. Hi Vikram,

    It was really nice to read your article and yes ad factor is one of the best PR agency in india. I like the concept of have conference room by the ad factor.

    Thanks & Regards,
    Yatin Padia

  7. Love this discussion; it’s such an eye-opener. I have a few questions.
    1) What are the main specializations of Indian PR agencies?
    2) Is the location of the PR agency crucial to get the correct exposure? (e.g.,high-tech, financial)
    3) In how many and what languages are press releases distributed?
    4) As a foreigner using an Indian PR company, how can I judge their success?

  8. शानदार विश्‍लेषण

  9. Any piece of communication that need to work in the market place must have a two way process. If the client and and the agency are able to partner very well then PR can do wonders for the brand. This has worked in advertising so why it cannot work in PR. In my experience if the PR team is able to drive the agency with constant engagement and interaction they will be really able to reap good visibility and presence for the brand.

    Finally a great office atmosphere and ambiance will really perk up the employees to be more vibrant and energetic. Offices of Google is a live example in this context.

  10. Nice piece Vikram. Although I see this heavily skewed towards Adfactors and going gung-ho about it. I wonder if its a plug-in story. No offence pls!

  11. Interesting read, how PR industry is maturing, taking change in India!

  12. Thanks your feedback Murtuza, you are free to give your opinion and certainly no offence will be taken until anyone intentionally tries to degrade any individual or institution on this forum. Although I would like to clarify that the article was certainly not a plug, the first para was my experience on my visit to the agency and the rest is pure analysis on the Indian PR scenario. If you think that I am too gungo about the agency than even you are free to visit and see for yourself. The article was based on my personal observation and that could be same if it would have been any other agency. I have my own intelligence to analyse and state what I see and need not be obliged by anyone.

    Let me know where you work and introduce to the best practices and good things that differentiates your agency. I would be more than happy to write, afterall the forum was setup with an intention to share best practices.

    Best Regards,

    Vikram

  13. Hey Vikram,

    Appreciate your invitation; but I would not like to promote my company on a knowledge sharing platform.

  14. Nice read about the PR industry. I heard that Edelman’s corporate HO in Chicago houses 675 PR professionals. If that’s true, then that would be the largest single location PR office in the world.

  15. The Indian PR industry is far from maturity. First of all it requires standardization. Once standardization comes in then probably you will see the its effectiveness visible on mass scale. For standardization, you need research, some institute and/or government to engage Industry experts, mathematicians and economist for created formalized ways of working, the standard and the best practices. In entire mass communication process the PR industry seems to be bypassed by marketing and advertising.

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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