India’s Geographical and Business Offering Challenges

12 years, 6 months ago


The Indian PR industry is coming of age but differences with the west persist, writes Nitin Mantri.

PR in India goes back to the days when most Public Sector units (PSUs) had their Public Relations Officers (PRO’s) or Liaison Officer acting as the veritable ‘fixer’ who arranged travel, boarding, hospitality and media relations. But over the last 15 years with liberalisation of the economy, PR in India has slowly but steadily developed into an integral part of the marketing mix.

The arrival of MNCs also opened up opportunities for the international PR agencies and some of them opened local operations. But it is only now that the big boys – WPP, Omnicom and Publicis are seriously looking at investing in India.

Over the last few years, there have been improvements in several areas, most notably in professionalism, better understanding and management of the media including use of non-media channels and finally educating clients on how effectively to use PR. Another indicator of the industry’s move towards sophistication and maturity is the formation of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India, a trade association to encourage and promote the progression of PR in India.

We must also give credit to what the industry, through the earlier agencies, have achieved – building a cadre of professionals, creating enough demand for introduction of professional courses and introducing concepts beyond media relations such as CSR.

Talent Shortage

However, there are several more areas to improve upon. The industry is crying out for good PR professionals and there continues to be a lack of talent. There is a need for more organized and recognized training and recruitment, standards of delivery, measurement and a more transparent fee structure. There also seems to be a lack of practices in certain key sectors – healthcare, financial services and public affairs. These are still at a nascent stage and need the help of the industry to develop and educate.

In India media relations continues to be the most important tool of PR and the one of the key challenges is to reach out to the huge numbers of publications, and now channels. Geographical reach is difficult even for large agencies. Monitoring therefore is a massive task.

I have had the good fortune of having worked in the developing and the developed world. This has given me the insights into what we can learn from each other. While the practices of PR are largely similar across the two markets, the big difference being appreciable, primarily because of the environment in which they co-exist. While PR is a well-leveraged tool in both markets, the advantages of playing in an evolved economy bring in subtle differences in the way the client’s strategic and global needs are met.

A mature market brings into force, practices that can be regarded as more professional. While the processes used in India are similar though not consistent, the PR industry in the west is more mature, in that there is an implicit recognition of responsibilities by all parties involved – the client, agency and media (though journalists are tough to deal with in all continents!).

Integration Differentiation

Another key differentiator is an integrated communications offering. To quote Sam Black, “firms are increasingly realising that a proactive, comprehensive and integrated approach will be required for coping with a changing business environment.” Evolved markets are increasingly recognising this and offering services, which include marketing consulting, analyst relations, design, financial PR, online PR, etc.

So where traditionally, firms may or may not have included these as part of their remit, the big and mid size agencies have actually created specialised offerings within the firm for revenue generation. In India, we are witnessing similar trends, either through formation of partnerships with specialist firms, in-house expertise or a combination of both.

Furthermore, there are opportunities in the west to not only service national accounts but also plan and implement global campaigns. So far, ‘Global’ had meant North America, Europe and Japan, but increasingly this difference is also going away with the emergence of the Indian and Chinese MNC’s, providing them with strategic and global PR opportunities.

Perceptions of Offshoring

Our global clients face contrasting communications environments in different parts of the world. Let’s take the outsourcing/offshoring issue: In Asia, the offshoring trend is seen as hugely positive for the overall economic development of the region. But, the companies benefiting from this model and the providers need to be careful in extolling the virtues of offshore outsourcing in Asia, as this is now a global issue.

We live in a world where the media is global and it doesn’t take time for ‘good’ news to be transformed into ‘bad’ news in other parts of the world. As issues start touching economies across the world, it is crucial to take a global approach to communications strategy. In fact, it’s the classic ‘think global, act local’ – something that India needs to start embracing in its communications!

Other differences include infrastructure and implementation issues such as the increasing use of Internet related tools including virtual press rooms, electronic mailing, web casts, etc.

To conclude, PR in India, from a discipline perspective is similar to its counterparts in the west. It is the state of the economy, which is making the PR industry respond and adapt differently. While basic client education issues continue to be addressed, the key challenge for the PR fraternity in India is to position themselves as communications consultants.

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The Author

Nitin Mantri

Nitin Mantri is the Chief Executive Officer and Business Partner of Avian Media, a leading independent communications firm in India. He is also the President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI), the apex body of communications and public relations consultancies in India, for two consecutive years. Nitin was recently elected President of the ICCO APAC Regional Board and is a full member of the Global ICCO Executive Committee.

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