ITL #291 -  Defining the curve: the changing nature of India’s PR industry

1 year, 10 months ago


Strategy and outcome-focused agencies are benefiting from the massive changes sweeping through India. By Jaideep Shergill.

India’s public relations (PR) industry is at an interesting phase of evolution. The waves of consolidation are behind us with virtually every major agency now part of a global network, learning from and adapting to global experiences and practices. The next phase is about how it sees itself.

But first, data. Estimated at Rs 1,120 crore ($165 million) in 2016, the Public Relations Consultants Association of India expects the industry to achieve revenues of Rs 2,100 crore ($309 million) by 2020.

What does this expansion mean?

While the comprehensive consolidation at the top of the pyramid has channelled growth mainly to large players, the output-focused model is almost completely irrelevant now. Brands expect agencies to focus on strategy and outcomes, often insisting on inputs for the larger marketing efforts.

Lack of speed

The problem with very large agencies is that they are slower in responding to this changing reality. They certainly have the resources but institutional change is tougher to effect. Lack of speed is a disadvantage with large networks.

This is precisely why smaller, strategy-focused agencies are making a mark. These range from boutique strategy consultancies – like Pitchfork Partners – to specialists in industries such as healthcare. These players are offering bespoke models based on results that deliver better return on investment. An increasing number of marquee brands are now shifting work to such smaller consultancies because of the attention senior hands can afford them and also the true strategic edge they offer.

This is evident from how intensely clients are demanding more involvement of the senior leadership in consultancies.

It’s never been a tougher time to do business, and it’s never been tougher to preserve reputations. As the media landscape transforms and power shifts to its consumers, brands are understandably on edge.

This translates into, among other things, data becoming a powerful driver of communication. It also has an impact on measurement – a serious challenge that the industry hasn’t been able to get its head around. Not only is PR starting to use data to understand audiences and behaviour, it is also being used to develop new outreach programmes.

Gaining mindshare

We believe that owning the digital topography is critical. Gaining mindshare is tough and it’s getting tougher with all the noise out there. Audiences are diverse and choose different locations to ‘park’ themselves in.

Add to this the demand to be societally good, and the challenge from advertising agencies that are eating into the PR pie, and the battle for truly engaged audiences is well and truly on.

Some other trends to watch out for:

  • The spread of fake news. How brands counter it will make or break their reputations
  • No one cares about paid, earned or owned media anymore so long as brand/business and audience objectives are met. Among other tasks, media buying is no longer media agencies’ job

Firms that can manage these challenges effectively are the exciting ones. And they’re coming to life in India. They are completely in tune with today’s audiences – stretching from customer to talent to regulators.

They also mark a milestone in the changing relationships with brands. Such firms are happy to have the bulk of their revenue come from project-based engagements, enabling a greater focus on outcomes. They are usually better also at specialised services like brand experience and influencer marketing.

We believe that the PR industry in India is on the verge of creative destruction – and it’s a good thing. In this scenario, size won’t necessarily be the advantage. The ones that survive will be the ones that not only stay ahead of the curve, but also define it.


The author

The author is co-founder of Pitchfork Partners, a strategic communication consultancy. Earlier, he was India CEO of MSLGROUP, the leader of its financial communication practice across Asia and part of the network’s Asia leadership team.




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The Author

Jaideep Shergill

The author is co-founder of Pitchfork Partners, a strategic communication consultancy. Earlier, he was India CEO of MSLGROUP, the leader of its financial communication practice across Asia and part of the network’s Asia leadership team.

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