Understanding the Public Relations Industry in India: Challenges, Opportunities and 2012 Outlook
A report by MSLGROUP India, part of the Publicis Groupe


Comprising Hanmer MSL, 20:20 MSL and 2020Social, the MSLGROUP India includes 16 offices, 575 staff and a countrywide activation network. MSLGROUP offers 360-degree communications solutions to a clientele comprising more than 150 top Indian conglomerates and MNCs. Our range of services includes PR, creative services, events, interactive/digital, financial communications and rural marketing.

Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest Group and ZenithOptimedia. Present in 104 countries, the Groupe employs 50,000 professionals. Web:| Twitter:@ PublicisGroupe| Facebook: www.facebook. com/publicisgroupe

From The Boardroom
The PR industry in India is suffering from the growth pangs familiar to every evolving industry. Growth brings with it excitement, sparks passion and creates opportunities. But it also presents challenges. The Indian PR industry’s stumbling blocks echo the challenges that other service industries have faced in the past, such as a talent shortage, the struggle to match fees to value delivered, measuring performance accurately, to name a few. In addition, with the global economic outlook looking bleak for 2012, how should the industry respond to the anticipated slash in budgets? What will be the long-term impact on the PR industry? Can India rely on its growth rate to bail out the industry, or should we be looking for new ways to innovate our business? In light of recent developments within communications in India, many leading players are asking these very questions. We hope that this report puts the industry in perspective and kicks off a frank debate on the roadmap that PR in India so desperately requires.

MSLGROUP is Publicis Groupe’s PR, speciality communications and engagement group, advisors in all aspects of communication strategy: from consumer PR to employee communications, from public affairs to reputation management and from crisis communications to event management. With more than 3,000 people, its offices span 22 countries. Adding affiliates and partners into the equation, MSLGROUP’s reach increases to 4,000 employees in 83 countries. Today the largest PR network in Greater China and India, the group offers strategic planning and counsel, insight-guided thinking and big, compelling ideas – followed by thorough execution. Learn more about us at: www. + http://blog.mslgroup. com + Twitter: @msl_group + mslgroupofficial


Publicis Groupe
Publicis Groupe [Euronext Paris FR0000130577, part of the CAC 40 index] is the third largest communications group in the world, offering the full range of services and skills: digital and traditional advertising, public affairs and events, media buying and specialized communication. Its major networks are Leo Burnett, MSLGROUP, PHCG (Publicis Healthcare Communications Group), Publicis Worldwide, Rosetta and Saatchi & Saatchi. VivaKi, the Groupe’s media and digital accelerator, includes Digitas,

MSLGROUP India management board
Hanmer MSL CEO Jaideep Shergill, Hanmer MSL founder Sunil Gautam, 20:20 MSL and 2020Social MD Sunil Agarwal, 20:20 MSL VP (operations) Chetan Mahajan, MSLGROUP Asia president Glenn Osaki, MSLGROUP Asia VP (operations and client solutions) Josh Shapiro and MSLGROUP chief strategy officer Pascal Beucler Write to the MSLGROUP India management board via





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2. The beginning 3. Challenges a. We’re smaller than you think b. Fees c. We need a makeover d. Talent e. Training 4. Opportunities a. From traditional PR to integrated strategic communications b. Specialty communications c. Hot on growth d. Bridging the compensation gap e. Performance measurement 5. What journalists want 6. What clients want, what the industry thinks a. PR as a strategic communications tool b. Low retainer fees c. Talent shortage d. Measuring performance 7. The future lies in our backyard


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8. Industry landscape


The practice of public relations (PR) is roughly a century old, but it remains an evolving industry in India. Indeed, while the industry has notched up annual revenue growth of 30%, this number tells only part of the story. Galvanised by a booming economy and an explosion in media (spanning traditional media, TV, digital and mobile), PR is gradually being employed as a powerful, strategic tool. Nevertheless, recognition of the industry’s potential has been slow, with many clients viewing it only in terms of media relations. The challenge is to hasten this change in perception, and help companies adopt strategic, specialty communications in order to engage and influence a savvier audience.

This is, however, only one of the challenges facing the industry – extremely low fees and an inability to attract and retain talent are among the others. A misconception amongst some clients on the flawed image of the industry – in particular, a perceived lack of emphasis on training and a false impression of inflated revenues – also remain concerns. We spoke to industry thought leaders to understand the issues PR companies and professionals are dealing with every day and to detail possible solutions. We asked them for their views on what needs to be done to make sure PR takes its rightful place in the strategic communications arsenal of India Inc. While the analyses and potential solutions are varied, there is consensus that the PR industry needs to come together to set benchmarks for fees and salaries and to partner with institutions to create training courses and performance measurement systems that take into account the quality of engagement, not just the spread of media coverage. Unity, it seems, is the way ahead.


The beginning
Professional public relations (PR) services came into their own in India only in the early 1990s. Before that, the industry was largely unorganised – with individuals offering media relations only, or advertising agencies dabbling in PR on the side. India had a few things going for it. Firsttier economic reforms had unleashed the country’s growth potential. The PR industry was nascent, and newfound demand meant it too could grow quickly. The internet, the growth of media, 24/7 news cycles – and, in more recent times, social media – were powerful tools that could be exploited.

little more than media relations. Over time, as brands found the need for broader communications guidance, PR firms took the first steps towards becoming strategic advisors. Some firms expanded their product offerings, setting up creative and financial communications divisions. In recent times, several PR agencies have set up digital communications divisions. As more global firms – such as Edelman, Ketchum and MSL – enter India by setting up offices here or acquiring local agencies, the Indian PR industry is rapidly becoming an important piece of the large global communications jigsaw. Not only are acquired agencies handling work for their parents’ international customers, but they now also enjoy access to world-class training and global best practices. The next decade is likely to be one of discovery – of new markets and strategies – as the economic centre shifts from West to East.

These factors compelled a number of agencies, such as Hanmer & Partners, Adfactors, Perfect Relations and Genesis, to provide PR services as their core function. The PR industry has travelled a long road since then, helped along by Indian corporations going global and global firms coming to India. These firms need to build new brands and raise awareness of those that exist, and PR firms are playing a crucial role in this effort. The last decade has been one of growth and consolidation. Hanmer & Partners, 20:20 Media and 2020Social were acquired by and integrated into the MSLGROUP, while Genesis was taken over by Burson Marsteller. Several new agencies were born, many of whom specialised in specific sectors. For instance, Text 100 focuses solely on technology. This is a far cry from the early to mid-1980s when PR agencies started off small, often not more than three or four people strong and a few lakhs in billings, and offering


We’re smaller than you think
Confusion and misunderstanding plague the PR industry in India. A recent Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham) study pegged the size of the industry at $6 billion (Rs 27,000 crore) and predicted that it would grow to $10.56 billion (Rs 47,520 crore) in 2012. Assocham based its prediction on corporations expected to invest in PR services to help bolster their brand image and bottom lines. While the reasoning is correct, the numbers are a gross exaggeration.

The income of smaller agencies and independent professionals would likely add on an additional Rs 200-300 crore (about $40 million). Overall, that’s Rs 700-800 crore (about $140 million). (See ‘Industry Landscape’ on Page 22) Hence, there’s a vast gap between what the market says and what independent surveys claim. There’s more supporting evidence. Many independent surveys say the size of the Indian advertising industry is Rs 10,00012,000 crore ($2.2-2.5 billion). This begs the question, how can the PR industry, which is much smaller, clock Rs 27,000 crore? Such flawed estimates take the focus away from the real issues: the industry suffers from serious talent and infrastructure issues. Furthermore, there is a legacy of distrust between clients and agencies – the former feel the latter can afford to charge less Similarly, talent expects much more from their employers than ever before.

Our estimates put the combined revenue for India’s top 10 agencies – such as MSLGROUP India, Adfactors, Vaishnavi (which recently shut down), etc – in the region of Rs 400-500 crore (roughly $100 million).

Considered the poor cousin of advertising, PR is underappreciated – the average advertising retainer is Rs 2 crore ($400,000) a year, while PR retainers are in the Rs 20lakh ($40,000) range. The reluctance of many clients to recognise the value of PR or paying for it is a longstanding issue. That it’s still an evolving industry is evident from the fact that there’s no standard fee-per-resource norm and under-cutting is rampant, which is partly responsible for retainers not rising.


PR budgets tend to be static and are the first to be slashed during bad times. This, in turn, leads to demotivation and exacerbates the industry’s perception problem. As Jaideep Shergill, CEO of Hanmer MSL, says, “There is always a tussle with clients regarding PR budgets. They are the ones controlling the money. Whenever the markets are down, budgets are slashed.” At the Holmes Report’s inaugural In-House Roundtable in January 2011 – attended by communications directors from Microsoft, Philips, Bharti Airtel, Nokia and Mahindra – all attendees agreed that agencies need to be paid more. They pointed out, however, that their own budgets were not increasing.

We need a makeover
Most experts agree that the PR industry has a PR problem. Many stakeholders, including media and businesses, think of the industry as one large spin doctor. The experts also point out that many clients don’t recognise the wide-reaching analysis and research that goes into understanding their needs and delivering what is required. Sometimes, clients see PR as adding less value than, say, brand ambassadors. These clients are willing to spend millions on a brand ambassador but are unwilling to pay even a few lakhs to a PR agency. And, finally, many clients believe there are gaps in the services on offer. According to Nicholas Archer, vice-president and head of group public relations and international government affairs for Suzlon Energy: “Most PR firms are either strong on strategy or tactics… Both would be wonderful!” Here’s how PR helps businesses: it improves revenue, profitability, customer base, shareholder perception, competitive edge, media exposure and awareness. It is a powerful business tool, but how often is it seen as one?

The problem is that corporate communications functions are a relatively recent phenomenon, and until PR is accepted as an investment rather than an expense, fees will continue to be a problem. As one agency CEO wrote to her peers, “What is the point of having all these international brands set up shop in India when they continue to operate in the Rs 1.5-lakh range?” While pointing out that the industry is multilayered, with services offered at different prices, Sudha Singh, former executive director (operations) at Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, said: “Most Indian agencies short-sell their services for fear of not getting the business. There is an opportunity for us to review this as an industry.” At the same time, costs are not falling. Salaries and infrastructure are major cash drains, impacting training, innovation and service quality.

Photo by Rickydavid on Flickr


There are, of course, problems within the industry. In November 2010, the media alleged that Niira Radia – who headed Vaishnavi Corporate Communications – acted as a power broker during government formation. This set back the image of the PR industry, reinforcing negative perceptions.

retain talent. This affects quality of output, and until productivity rises clients are unlikely to loosen the purse strings. Organisation leaders play a critical role here. It is up to them to create and maintain an atmosphere that staff find supportive and to keep the vertical and horizontal lines of communication open. Employees need to be told how they are contributing to the organisation. Their goals and values need to be kept in mind and their growth planned accordingly. This is still lacking in an industry that is otherwise growing fast and adopting best practices from across the world quickly. One critical factor that has been ignored almost across the board is mentoring. Again, organisation leaders must ensure that talented people, once hired, have a go-to person within the firm. These mentors can help starters find their feet in the firm and share knowledge that would otherwise take months or even years to acquire.

If you’re part of the PR industry, you’ll know how acute the talent shortage is. As firms scramble for competent people, salaries get inflated. With fees already so low, profitability is affected. This demand-supply gap can only widen over the next few years. If salary costs become prohibitive, PR businesses will suffer. “The biggest challenge facing the Indian PR industry is the rising cost of talent. If client retainers increase by 5% annually, the cost of providing the same services rises by 20%. No industry can survive this unless it innovates,” says 20:20 MSL and 2020Social MD Sunil Agarwal.


• Attracting talent: With its rapid growth and huge number of young people entering the workforce, this problem is amplified in India. There is little in the way of formal training (see next section), and no benchmark for compensation.
Industry veterans agree that a standardisation of salary ranges is essential. Incentives and benefits, such as stock options, also need to be worked into compensation packages, and these need to be communicated clearly.

• The flight of talent: If the PR industry is to sustain double-digit growth, talent could become a make-or-break issue. Some estimates say the industry will absorb 10,000 to 12,000 professionals a year. But industry sources say that over 70% of PR professionals at entry levels shift to greener pastures within a year.
This shift happens not just within the industry but also to the communications departments of corporations, which pay far more. The PR industry, quite simply, cannot match the salaries or the benefits offered. Many professionals choose the money despite the PR industry offering greater job satisfaction and challenges.

• Managing talent: In an environment of low fees and fierce competition, PR agencies struggle to attract, nurture and


“The migration of mid-level agency executives to the client side is a challenge. There are very few new senior PR professionals in the pipeline today. Yet, the key differentiators amongst agencies are talent and experience,” said 2020 Social’s Agarwal. It’s up to the industry to take the initiative to develop talent. This brings us to the next challenge.

expands beyond traditional PR, the skill sets required in communications professionals are also changing. The industry needs a common approach to the retention-and-attrition problem. This needs to start from the interview stage and continue throughout the professional’s tenure with the agency. It should involve talent management, career growth, guidance and career development plans. Training should be implemented across all levels. (At MSLGROUP India, 2-3% of total revenues are spent on training, which includes interaction with industry experts, hands-on training and the like.) In the MSLGROUP, training is instituted at the local and organisation levels. At the local level, senior staff conduct training sessions on their expertise. Practice heads of financial

Hiring is just one aspect of the talent issue; retaining it is the other side of the coin. PR firms currently invest little in upgrading employees’ skills. Indeed, most of the learning is on the job, according to MSLGROUP India research. As the industry



communications, for instance, would share insights on the nuances of their field. Also, outside experts are invited to make staff aware of issues that might affect them – such as the impact of the economic downturn on business or how media houses are changing to adapt to the digital age. The group also offers a mobility programme that allows staff to spend time and train in other offices globally. Similarly, various PR firms invest differing amounts in training their staff. On the academic front, there are several institutions – with competencies ranging from good to average – that offer PR courses in India.

Rajesh Pandey, managing partner at Clarity IMC, points out that “fresh graduates are attracted to the industry primarily due to the glamour and growth quotients. Some feel the gift of gab is good enough, while others think all they need is good writing skills. The ‘scientific’ and ‘strategic-cum-analytic’ aspects are not prepared for. Some switch professions early, which is good, but others stick around, thinking they will learn the ropes in due course.” He added: “To correct this, we should engage with communications institutes to develop industry-ready curricula and supervisors should spend some time mentoring their wards.” Many industries such as information technology recognised the demand-supply gap of professionals and joined forces with academic institutions to evolve courses that covered relevant subjects. This resulted in graduate professionals that added value to the industry. The PR industry needs to follow in these footsteps.

While some are reputed – such as the Xavier Institute of Communications (Mumbai) and Symbiosis Institute (Pune) – the vast majority are looking to cash in on newfound demand for industry specialists, and offer little value to students. Faculties are often weak and lack industry experience.


From traditional PR to integrated strategic communications
Clients in India will eventually look to their agencies for strategic communications, not simply for media relations. This is already happening. Companies such as Wipro ask their agencies to help them understand how best to communicate their messages and present them in a context that is meaningful for clients, analysts, investors and journalists. Since the Indian PR industry is still nascent, there is an opportunity to offer integrated solutions, especially as the line between public relations, advertising and digital is already starting to blur. As a result, many agencies have invested in creative and digital arms. Cost-effective communications plans – that span advertising, PR and digital media – make sense to clients too. With the growing adoption of social media, there is a combination of options available. Social media is catching up fast with traditional media and is becoming part of

many companies’ communications approach. PR professionals can create tailored communications strategies and content to reach audiences and monitor the landscape for stakeholder sentiment. The approach would, of course, vary from client to client depending on their communications. For instance, a fast moving consumer goods company would prefer a combination of advertising and PR, while a technology start-up would use targeted PR for specific audiences. This is also a significant opportunity to reposition the industry, from a traditional PR deliverer to a strategic communications consultant. Meenu Handa, Microsoft’s director of corporate communications, believes that PR will be recognised as a strategic tool for two reasons: “One, the implosion of digital and social media – which is all about two-way engagement, and the PR industry has always operated in that environment. Two, the imperative need for organisations – including government, businesses and NGOs – to be extremely transparent in their communication in order to build and retain trust. Again, that is a space PR has always operated in.”


Specialty communications
The ‘umbrella’ PR organisation is unlikely to disappear, but it may need to develop special skills to thrive. PR is as good as your product, service or idea – not the other way around. Here’s where service innovations will play a critical role. • Niche PR: This involves the creation of small, specialised teams within organisations or as separate entities. Niche PR can address the really small segments or have a tiny-yet-unique
Photo by scottwills on Flickr


offering. For instance, specialists in Indian languages or in developing content. The current economic crisis might spur the rise of niche PR agencies, offering communications services in a single sector or aimed at a particular ethnic group. While such agencies are rare in India, they are making their presence felt abroad. For instance, Performance PR is a Londonbased sport and automotive PR specialist that launched its first office in Dubai a couple of years ago. “We’ve got all the big agencies and this is the logical step forward, where you will get targeted public relations companies that give you an expert view on a specific area,” said Noel Ebdon, managing director of Performance PR Middle East, in ‘The National’ ( His company handles regional clients such as Fast Rent A Car, ProTech and Alex Renner Motors. The news site also quoted Simon Moyse, Finsbury’s chief executive for the Middle East, as saying that the disruptive effects of the financial crisis have created opportunities for such firms. “Companies are increasingly looking for strategic communications advice, given the effects of the global economic crisis,” Moyse said. This is a phenomenon likely to be replicated soon in India.

Niche PR provides better value than general-purpose agencies since they are more targeted. This makes the PR campaign more affordable. PR professionals with niche experience are viewed as experts because they′ve built up experience and made important connections in that field.

• Social engagement: Social networks have become ubiquitous, and online behaviour is having significant impact on the behaviour of consumers and business. Rarely is a product purchased in urban India unless it is researched online and opinions sought on social media.
Just as the Internet has made the media borderless, online media will become increasingly important. Such a scenario would make PR more important, as traditional advertising is reaching fewer people, and the true value of online advertising is yet to be calculated. Investments in digital infrastructure and skills today will see a big payout in the future. Implementing a social engagement strategy is now fundamental to a PR campaign. Social media campaigns might focus explicitly on connecting clients directly to consumers or even on building relationships with influencers. We have already seen examples of brands successfully using social engagement to achieve different goals in India. For instance, Indian Premier League cricket team Royal Challengers Bangalore (RCB) ran a talent hunt to select three fans for an online reality show where they had full access to the players. The objective was to build a highly engaged community with regular content created by players,



experts and fans. Consequently, the RCB community has more than 500,000 fans across channels. Variations of this model can be applied to campaigns for a variety of goods and services, from fast moving consumer goods to global events. This can be achieved by becoming part of the community of your clients’ consumers, joining the conversation to learn more about their needs. Use the tools that consumers are using, be it Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, podcasting, QR code technology or something else.

Since they already have the branding and brand management expertise, PR firms are in a unique position to take advantage of this opportunity. They simply need to adapt their expertise and techniques to offer a service that spans employer branding, EVP and employee engagement. The approaches could be online and offline to help talent understand the brand experience. The scope of employer brand management could go beyond communications to incorporate every aspect of the employment experience, including the people management processes that shape the perceptions of existing and prospective employees.


• Employer branding: It’s not just the PR industry that’s facing a talent crisis. Attracting, motivating, developing, rewarding and mobilising employees are top priorities for all businesses.
The term ‘employer brand’ was first used in the early 1990s to denote an organisation’s reputation as an employer. Since then, it has become a buzzword among global managers. ‘Employer brand’ can be defined as the image of your organisation as a ‘great place to work’ in the mind of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market (candidates, clients, customers, key stakeholders). Just as a customer brand proposition is used to define a product or service, an employer value proposition (EVP) is used to define an organisation’s employment appeal. Organisations are increasingly using the marketing techniques of branding and brand management to attract, engage and retain talented candidates in much the same way that marketing applies such tools to attracting and retaining customers. Employer branding is rapidly becoming integral to business strategy.

Hot on growth
Despite the global economic troubles, India continues to grow at 7%. Imagine the growth when the good times return! Not only will the PR industry continue to grow, it will become critical for established Indian companies and foreign firms looking to build brands here. The industry is also discovering new verticals – healthcare, for instance. A Rs 1,62,000 crore ($36 billion) industry today, it is growing at a rate of 15% and is likely to be a Rs 12,60,000 crore ($280 billion) industry by 2022. With the advent of private players such as Fortis, Wockhardt and Apollo – all of whom are conscious of their brands and the need to grow – demand for PR and an integrated strategic communications approach will be felt strongly. Media and entertainment is another promising industry, expected to grow at 14% per annum, according to Deloitte’s ‘Technology, Media & Telecommunications Predictions 2011 , Indian Perspective’ report.


That apart, the public sector, the environment and corporate social responsibility (CSR) are all emerging as growth areas. Globalisation will mean a need to develop a global perspective. As clients look to expand outside India, PR firms will find themselves becoming global players. This widens the opportunity in terms of customer base, investors, coverage and acquisition targets.

Bridging the compensation gap
Many of the industry’s problems are self-inflicted. If clients don’t understand the value of PR, the industry is clearly not telling the story well enough. As mentioned earlier, undercutting and poaching of talent are harming the industry. One results in the retainer threshold remaining low, the other affects the bottom line. There is an opportunity for industry leaders to get together and agree on the road ahead.


Photo by just a hero on Flickr

• Agree on certain standards: Agencies don’t need to undercut to survive. There are enough opportunities for all. Situations where a mid-sized firm responds to RFPs (requests for proposal) quoting Rs 3,00,000 or more and one of the top five agencies responds to the same RFP at Rs 1,50,000 damage the industry in the long run.
We must demand transparency from potential clients about PR budgets at the outset. No business will want to pay more for a service they feel they can get cheaper elsewhere. The only way the industry can tackle this is by standing united.

a cost implication and results in high attrition rates. Industry leaders need to agree on a fair salary range. A strong industry association could take the lead on this count. While this would not solve the problem of the corporate world headhunting talent, it would establish an industry benchmark and would keep employee expectations real. It would also help reduce the rapid intra-industry movement of talent. The frequent exit of team members handling a particular account could turn off clients and create an impression that the agency they’ve hired is unstable. This could affect their decision to retain the agency once the contract ends or even create doubts that it can deliver on the brief.

• Benchmark salaries: The industry is grappling with a talent shortage. This has resulted in a bidding war for the talented. This, in turn, has

Performance measurement
The first step is to get an industry-wide consensus on standards, skills, requirements


and deliverables. We need a clear vision on whether clients see PR agencies as vendors or consultants. Clarity IMC’s Rajesh Pandey said the need to strengthen our evaluation models can’t be emphasised enough. “Instead of talking the language of ad-value equivalents, we need to talk in terms of how a PR campaign changes an entire viewpoint. The ‘creativity’ factor in developing campaigns should be charged separately just like boutique advertising agencies do,” he said. There is a need for benchmarks and it is through an industry-wide debate that a framework for performance measurement can be evolved.

• Media measurement is about quality: Measuring the number of mentions in print or on the air is generally meaningless. Instead, media measurement should involve audience impressions, quality of the media coverage (tone, credibility and relevance of the medium to the audience, message delivery). • Social media can be measured: There is no single ‘metric’ for social media measurement. The parameters would depend on the campaign objective. Right now, it’s mostly about statistics such as how many likes have been achieved on Facebook or the number of Twitter followers.
But it’s not about the numbers; it’s about managing reputations online. The emphasis should not be on erasing negative comments or mentions, but to respond quickly and engage. PR practitioners need to listen to conversations and address the issues raised thoroughly and honestly, not react in a knee-jerk manner. Businesses need clearly-defined goals and outcomes for social media. Evaluating quality and quantity is critical, just as it is with conventional media and measurement must focus on ‘conversations’ and ‘communities’.


• Why it is needed: Goal-setting and measurement are fundamental to any service. Goals should be as quantitative as possible and the target audience defined. Measurement should include traditional and social media, effect on awareness of stakeholders, as well as impact on business results.
To measure business results for consumer or brand marketing, models that determine PR’s effects on sales or other business metrics, while accounting for other variables, are preferred choices.

• Measure outcomes, not outputs: Outcomes include shifts in awareness, behaviour related to purchases, corporate reputation, employee engagement, public policy and investment decisions. How you measure the effect on outcomes should be tailored to the business objectives of the PR campaign. Quantitative measures such as benchmark-and-tracking surveys are preferable; qualitative methods can supplement them. Such research can identify the change in purchasing, purchase preference or attitude shifts resulting from the PR initiatives.

• Transparency and reliability: PR measurement should be transparent. For media measurement, mention clearly the source along with analysis methodology.
For surveys, make clear the methodology (sample, margin of error, geography, etc), the questions (wording and order) and statistical methodology (how specific metrics are calculated).


What journalists want
While the PR executive-journalist relationship can mirror a simple marriage of convenience, the irony is that it is deeply symbiotic – one cannot do without the other. So, what exactly do journalists expect from a PR executive? • Clarity, specifics: Most journalists work to a deadline and long releases that are all over the place don’t help. A well-written, yet short press release is more valuable than one that says in 1,000 words what can be said 200. • Kept promises: Never promise what you can’t deliver, especially ‘exclusives’ that mysteriously appear in every newspaper. This hurts credibility. If you can’t promise that one-on-one with your client firm’s CEO, say so. Promising the interview and then making excuses for why it can’t happen only intensifies the lack of trust that the PR industry sometimes suffers from. • Understand what makes for news: Journalists are tired of PR firms pushing stories that are inconsequential. Yes, your client doesn’t understand this, but good journalists won’t fall for piffle and bad journalists are of no use to you in the long run. • Respect deadlines: Respect the journalist’s time. Your tardiness could lead to you missing out on coverage and destroying your agency’s image. • Be well informed: There’s nothing more embarrassing than calling up a journalist to request coverage and then not knowing basic information about your client – size, location, turnover, etc. It does your client a disservice, the exact opposite of what you were hired to do.


What clients want, what the industry thinks
PR as a strategic communications tool
Recognition for [PR as a strategic communications tool] will become more significant for two reasons. One, the implosion of digital and social media – which is all about a two way-engagement, and the PR industry has always operated in that environment. Two, the imperative need for organisations – including government, businesses and NGOs – to be extremely transparent in their communications in order to build and retain trust. Again, that is the space that PR has always operated in. Meenu Handa, Director (corporate communications), Microsoft PR will still continue to play largely the role of media relations. Communicating to the external world through the media has strategic value. It may not be very highly valuable from a strategic perspective, but it is moderately so. Also, today the distinction between PR and other BTL activities are getting blurred. For instance, who owns sponsorship – PR or Marketing ? These are strategic questions that have no easy answers at this point. From a purely strategic perspective, PR will have to be part of integrated marketing communications at a product/ solutions marketing level. From a corporate perspective, it must work in partnership with investor relations Ravindran Subramanian, independent PR professional; former DGM (corporate communications), Tata Communications

Low retainer fees
How you arrive at retainer fees is usually a business decision for an organisation. You can either be a volumes player or you can be a strategic consultant, where you are not just a post office but a consultant/ partner to your clients by helping them define their communications goals. There will always be different kinds of players at different levels of the food chain. But, it is a fact that most Indian agencies short-sell their services for fear of not getting the business. There is an opportunity for us to review this as an industry. Sudha Singh, former executive director (operations), Vaishnavi Corporate Communications (now shut) Historically, PR grew from the shadows of advertising and somehow it still looms. The moment a PR person is asked to show value or justify deliverables, the tendency is to fall back on good old ad-value equivalents. We need to strengthen our evaluation models. Instead of talking the language of ad-value equivalents, we need to show how a PR campaign changes an entire viewpoint. The ‘creativity’ factor in developing campaigns should be charged separately, just like boutique advertising agencies do. Clients have tendency to get ideas from various agencies and finally sign on the basis of budgets/operational ease. Rajesh Pandey, managing partner, Clarity IMC, a PR agency


Talent shortage
Talent is the number one issue [when it comes to what PR agencies lack]. Meenu Handa, director (corporate communications), Microsoft


I think [the talent pool] is growing in India, but we need to keep in mind that it is a nascent industry and so it will take time to mature. Nicholas Archer, VP/head of group public relations and international government affairs, Suzlon Energy Ltd The industry is faced with a serious dearth of talent. There are several levels to this. At the fresher management trainee level, programmes in universities and colleges are seriously inadequate. Who is designing the curriculum, who is teaching it, and what is the industry’s involvement in these programmes? Very little, as far as I understand. This is the first gap.

The problem with most PR agency personnel is their low level of knowledge. Most of them come with the proposition that they know journalists. To be able to command the respect of corporations, they must go beyond that and display a knowledge of industry trends, an ability to read/interpret basic balance sheet numbers. Also, basic knowledge of marketing is a must. PR agencies need to invest in training. The answer lies in short-term training programmes and an MBA. Ravindran Subramanian, independent PR professional; former DGM (corporate communications), Tata Communications

Measuring performance
Take very, very specific challenges and deliver. Only then will it be seen as tangible results. Krishna B. Mariyanka, director, Aikya Global Innovation [is the key]. Every client has a different yardstick for measuring performance and the agency needs to adapt to the client’s business goals. There cannot be a ‘my way’ of evaluation thrust upon the client. To raise standards, the seniors need to be early on the latest technologies and methodologies. Rajesh Pandey, managing partner, Clarity IMC, a PR agency Performance measurement is the key to changing the industry dynamics. We are often responsible for the image that we promote (all fluff and no substance) – for instance, we are at pains to say that PR is not quantifiable. There is a need for the industry to define standards of performance and excellence and individual companies to show some initiative and innovation in creating standards. It is possible and it can

Once the student has completed the programme he/she is uncertain about how to proceed – because there are few graduate employment schemes at PR companies. Hence, the industry loses the opportunity to identify good talent and nurture it. The second issue is the nurturing of existing talent. Most companies operating in this environment do not have an institutionalised process for it through training and mentoring initiatives. There is also no sharing within the industry – on best practices, we can all learn from each other The third issue has to do with who is identifying talent for the industry, and how? What are the parameters? There is a motley bunch of recruitment consultants who have no idea what the industry needs? That part of the chain also needs strengthening. Sudha Singh, former executive director (operations), Vaishnavi Corporate Communications (now shut)


be done. Every campaign has an end goal, and the output (performance) should be measured against that goal, in the backdrop of established sops. Standards would be automatically raised when there is more engagement within the industry on best practices, not just in client

servicing but on how we conduct ourselves as good corporate citizens, nurture talent and promote the industry Sudha Singh, former executive director (operations), Vaishnavi Corporate Communications (now shut)



By Sunil Gautam, founder,


The future lies in our backyard

As clients slashed marketing budgets and downsized on the back of the economic turmoil that set in a couple of years ago, several global PR agencies suffered enormous losses. As they battled to survive, they turned to higher growth markets like India and China. In many ways, India took a higher priority because of its large English-speaking base and stable political governance. With the entry of these players, the maturing of the fledgling PR industry began in right earnest. Today, corporations’ need for image building and strategic communications is well understood. According to the 2007 report on The State of the Public Relations Industry by Paul Holmes, the growth of PR in the West has plateaued in the 9%-11% range. India and China, however, are growing four times as quickly. “The greatest future in growth is expected to come in China and India, with good prospects for growth in Eastern Europe (particularly those countries recently admitted to the European Union) and in the Middle East (albeit from a very small base),” the report said.

Also, Asia is becoming increasingly important as the wealth of its residents increases alongside the size and success of its companies. There are two trends, apart from the ones discussed in this thought paper, that I see impacting our industry.


Media, marketing and technology are changing
Even five years ago, online research before a purchase, review blogs and social media were unheard of. Today, they are ubiquitous. The internet is influencing consumers. This is an opportunity. The longer we hang on to traditional PR tools, the tougher it will become for us. It’s not as if traditional PR practices – media relations, events, etc – will disappear. But the definition of ‘mainstream’ PR practices is changing for good. We can either adapt to this new world, or perish.

2. The world is changing. And it’s not
We have succeeded in meeting several challenges head on. But many age-old ones remain. Rising prices, the rich-poor


gap, illiteracy… We can put a man on the moon, but cures for diseases such as HIV and cancer remain out of reach. There are gaps in the PR industry too, and there is an opportunity – partnerships. Perhaps it’s time to think of all stakeholders – clients and employees – as ‘partners’. Our success will depend on how we choose them and how we manage these relationships. This is where we can raise our skills and standards, help clients provide better PR briefs, raise the standards of measurement and source and manage talent better.

That the rise of India and China will have a major impact on the global economy is known. But few understand how it will impact communications professionals. We’ve already discussed how the last decade has been one of unprecedented growth, consolidation and globalisation (see ‘The Beginning’) for the PR industry in India. This is a significant shift for agencies, the media and even clients. We will need to understand how it impacts global markets and global companies. Clients will need global thinkers with global mindsets. It’s time we gear up for that challenge. The opportunity is before us. It’s time to reach out and grab it.



Agency Started in Founder CEO/MD/ country head Benita Botany Offices, network locations 3 Staff strength >50 Specialisations and additional services Lifestyle & Fashion PR Annual revenue Website Key Clients Acti Media 1998 Amitabh Saksena Madan Behl, Rajesh Chaturvedi Nikhil Khanna >Rs 5 crore (>$1 million) Rs 60+ crore, ($13+ million). Includes media commissions, etc >Rs 10 crore (>$2 million) Puma



Madan Behl



Finance, IPOs, real estate. Recently launched media and entertainment, and consumer and lifestyle practices General PR with strengths in aviation and lifestyle. Rumours are that BM is looking to acquire the agency.

L&T, Maruti, Aviva Life Insurance, Jet Airways

Avian Media


Nitin Mantri


Rolls Royce, Airbus, MTV, BP, Thomas Cook

Concept PR

Vivek Suchanti

Vivek Suchanti



Investor relations, IPOs, sports marketing. They also have an advertising division General PR

Rs 35+ crore ($7 million) Rs 25+ crore ($5.5+ million)

Rajasthan Royals, Oberoi Realty

Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick (Interpublic Group) Edelman


Atul Ahluwalia

Dilip Yadav



http://www.webershandwick. asia/

TATA GROUP, Hero Honda, Honda Seil , LG Mobile & Laptops, Whirlpool , Boeing

2006; launched as R&PM, taken over by Edelman in 2008 2010

Roger Perreira established R&PM

Robert Holdheim

7 offices


Public affairs, social media. Network includes specialty firms Blue (advertising), StrategyOne (research) and BioScience Communications (medical education and publishing) General PR

Rs 25+ crore ($5.5+ million)

Tata Teleservices, Jaypee - Buddh International Circuit

Flieshman Hillard (Omnicom Group Genesis BursonMarsteller (WPP Group) Good Relations (Chime Group)


Yusuf Hatia



>Rs 5 crore (>$1 million)

Nokia, TCS


Prema Sagar

Nikhil Dey

7 offices


Public affairs, digital marketing

Rs 30+ crore ($6.0+ million)

Vodafone, Adidas, United Colors of Benetton


Anthony B M Good

Deepak Kanulkar

6 offices, 40 network locations


General PR

>Rs 5 crore (>$1 million)

Crossword, Cartier, Radio City


Hanmer MSL


Sunil Gautam founded Hanmer & Partners, which was acquired by the MSLGROUP in 2008 Sunil Agarwal

Jaideep Shergill

8 offices, 35 network locations


Integrated communications; has a creative division too. Has media and entertainment, investor relations, social media, events, etc, practices

Rs 35+ crore ($7.5+ million)

Bharti Airtel, HCL Infosystems, Fortis Healthcare, Star Movies, Star Gold, FOX International Channel - India, Himalaya Drug Company

20:20 MSL


Sunil Agarwal



Technology PR

Rs 18+ crore ($3.5 million)

Canon, Volkswagen, Haier, Verisign, Google

MSLGROUP INDIA (Hanmer MSL + 20:20 MSL) COMBINED REVENUE: Rs 53 crore ($11 million) Imprimis PR Integral PR IPAN Hill & Knowlton (WPP Group) LINOpinion PR (Interpublic Group) Madison PR 1999 1999 1988 Aman Gupta Deepak Talwar Radhika Shapoorjee Aamer Ismail Aman Gupta Sharif Rangnekar Vinod Moorthy 2+ 6+ 5 offices, 20+ network locations 3+ 25+ 100+ 150-200 Healthcare and an offshoot of Perfect Relations Public affairs, general PR General PR >Rs 5 crore (>$1 million) Rs 15+ crore ($3 million) Rs 20+ crore ($4+ million) Rs 15 crore ($2+ million) Apollo Hospital, Idea Celluar Reckitt Benckiser , Barista Lavazza, Deloitte India, Imagine Channel Microsoft , Hyundai, Rolls Royce, Sony Set Max Polaris, Force Motors, JP Morgan, Sodexo, AXN


Kavita Lakhani


Lifestyle PR. Lintas is the sister ad agency


Sam Balsara

Veena Gidwani



General PR, also has specialised functions in the form of advertising, media, out‐of‐home Public affairs, corporate

>Rs 5 crore ($1+ million) >Rs 10 crore (>$2 million) >Rs 10 crore (>$2 million) Rs 35+ crore ($7.5+ million) Rs 10+ crore ($2+ million) Rs 20+ crore ($4+ million)

P&G, Cadbury, Marico, ITC, Britannia, GM, SpiceJet Yahoo! India, Reebok

Mutual PR


Pravin Dubey and Priyadarshi Sharma Shailendra Singh, Harindra Singh Dilip Cherian, Bobby Kewalramani Nandita Lakshmanan Bela Rajan

Harsh Wardhan

7, including network 5


Percept Profile


Rahat Beri


General PR

Percept Picture Company, Universal, Sahara One, Cholamandalam Carrefour, Coca-Cola, Diageo India, Marico, Godrej, Mercedes Benz, Skoda, Fiat, Condenast India Qualcomm, Oracle, Infosys

Perfect Relations Practice (Omnicom affiliate) SamparkKetchum (Omnicom Group) Text 100


Bobby Kewalramani Nandita Lakshmanan NS Rajan



Public Affairs, healthcare, celebrity management Technology PR

http://www.perfectrelations. com/


3 offices



6 offices, 100 network locations 4 offices


General PR

HDFC Bank, Siemens


Rowan Benecke (APAC Head)

Sunayna Malik


Technology. Sister company Vox PR focuses on lifestyle and luxury

Rs 20+ crore ($4+ million)

Samsung, Nasscom

* Sources: Company websites, industry estimates. Agencies sorted by alphabetical order, not size


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