A Brighter Light Shines on Big Business in India

12 years, 2 months ago


Communicating in the world’s largest democracy presents opportunities and challenges at a time of growing international interest in India and increasing scrutiny of big business. By Senjam Raj Sekhar.

For a communications professional, India is a unique country with its distinctive trends, behaviour and rules. The opportunities presented in one of the world’s fastest growing economies are huge, and so are the challenges.

The first thing that strikes a person is the enormous contrast to be found in the
country. It is more akin to a continent like Europe but with perhaps more diversity. People speak in over ten thousand languages. Here you will find indigenous Negrito, Mongoloid and Austric race coexisting with Aryan and Dravidians.

India is not just the birthplace of major religions like Hinduism and Buddhism, it is also home to the descendants of lost tribes of Israel and world’s first Christians. Not just culture, doing business in various parts of India requires different approaches.

For example, setting up business in the state of Bengal requires a completely different method from a state like Gujarat. And there are 35 states and union territories in
India (compare this with 28 member states in the EU!)

Democracy on a massive scale

India is also the world’s largest democracy, which means equal rights, freedom of speech, civil liberties for its people. But it also means that organisations are under much greater scrutiny.

The three arms of Indian democracy – executive, legislature and judiciary – are strong influencers in India and require complex navigation skills. The judiciary is a strong
independent institution that is bogged down by an enormous number of cases across its various courts. In the Indian parliament in the first three quarters of 2008 alone, 45 questions were raised on various companies ranging from Indian ones like Reliance to Citibank, General Motors and Vodafone.

A vibrant democracy has also spawned a strong culture of protest. Remember, it is the nation that invented the mass non-violent protest. Land acquisition, health issues, environment – are all issues that lead to pockets of loud resistance and protest.

All international organisations are well represented here from Greenpeace to PETA and Amnesty. Then there are formidable home grown organisations like Centre for Science and Environment and Navadanya. Companies at the receiving at end of the stick have included some of world’s, and India’s, largest companies – Coke, Pepsi, Dow, KFC, Posco, Tata, Reliance.

International coverage

The good news is that international media are covering India like never before. A few years back, only war, terrorism and natural disasters took India into the pages of international newspapers. Now even quarter results of Indian companies make news.

The foreign correspondents based in India are not just specialists in international relations and politics, but those who are experts on business, technology, stock markets and retail. The likes of CNBC, ABC, CNN are here in partnership with local TV channels. The print media is also here with full force. WSJ is here in partnership with HT Media’s business title Mint, FT is looking at an edition. Fortune and Forbes are preparing to launch India editions.

At a time when the newspaper market in many parts of the world is shrinking, Indian media is seeing good growth, despite the economic slowdown. India is now the second largest newspaper market in the world, much ahead of United States. Not just print, television is also seeing an avalanche of 24 hours news channels – more than 80 at last count.

There are six national English business newspapers and five 24-hour business news channels. This means increasing competition among journalists for news and exclusives. ‘Breaking News’ has become a cliché in Indian television journalism where every news item is announced and touted by all news channels as “breaking” and “exclusive”.

Corporate consolidation

Indian companies are now very active on the international M&A front. Some of the biggest acquisitions in the last two years have been by Indian companies like Tata, Aditya Birla Group, Suzlon, Infosys, ONGC. They range from solid old world economy companies like Corus and Novelis to iconic brands like Jaguar, Land Rover.

In the year 2007 alone, M&A deals made by Indian companies abroad exceeded $33 billion. This was a growth of over 118 per cent from 2006. This means Indian companies are more globalised than ever before – from adopting the best standards from corporate governance to corporate communications. Communications is also acquiring strategic importance for helping the integration process.

The internet is rapidly becoming a popular medium. There are around 50 million
internet users in India and growing. The second largest traffic in the world for popular sites like Google, Yahoo, Orkut, Linkedin, already comes from India.

Blogging is also in full swing – India again provides the second largest traffic for popular blogging platforms like blogger and wordpress. There is a significant number of bloggers and many of them have left full time jobs to pursue blogging as a profession.

PR moves to centre stage

The influence of PR has definitely increased among Indian companies. Corporate communications/Public Relations no longer has an adjunct role but an important corporate function.

For many organisations, PR is not just a tactical short-term publicity tool but an integral and strategic part of any communication plan. The PR agency industry is making some serious money. The industry has seen some big M&A moves: Genesis was acquired by Burson-Marsteller and Hanmer & Partners became part of Manning Salvage & Lee.

However, the PR industry faces some real challenges, among them the mushrooming of small ‘Mom & Pop shop’ PR agencies, availability of good talent and PR professionals getting caught in the dull quotidian fix of press releases and AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent).

As India takes its rightful place in an increasingly flat world, Indian PR and corporate communications professionals will have an important role to play in telling the India story to the world and in guiding the reputational destinies of corporate and non-corporate India.



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The Author

Senjam Raj Sekhar

Senjam Raj Sekhar is senior corporate communications leader, columnist and writer. He has spent over two decades building brand & corporate reputations across South Asia, UK and Africa. He has worked for companies like Flipkart, Bharti Airtel and Samsung

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