Postcard from India

One of the world's fastest-growing economies has a PR sector supporting change as well as effecting it.

If anyone had doubts about the power of PR and comms in India, the past year saw those doubts laid to rest. From the use of innovative campaigns during the general elections to the swashbuckling crisis management by several companies, we were witness to the true impact of ­building and sustaining reputation, targeted messaging and persuasive delivery of communication – both for the good and the bad.

India has entered the era of disruption at various fronts. Behemoths, whether at ­government level, business level or in civil society, no longer find they can take the consumer or the citizen for granted.

India is a country of young people, and therefore there is little patience with the long-winded way in which services have reached people until now. Businesses are expected to be prompt, agile, accessible and aspirational if they want to engage gainfully with stakeholders. PR and comms have to play their part in ensuring that ­perception  matches – and even causes – ­action that shows the industry understands its role in taking the India growth story forward in an equitable manner.

The PR and comms industry has been ­going through a shift in perception as well. From supporting change to effecting change, the industry is increasingly being seen as a worthy partner to invite to the ­decision-making table. It is a fragmented industry adding up to, by some estimates, more than US$200m. Most of the ­business rests with the top ten companies. However, given that a fifth of India’s GDP comes from entrepreneurs, the boutique firms and ­individual consultants form a ­substantial chunk of the industry.

The expectations of the industry have ­expanded to include far more than just media relations. There is integration across different domains, which doesn’t just add to the complexity of services offered by ­existing PR agencies, but also brings into the sphere of the industry agencies that offer niche services, such as digital marketing firms, domain-specific firms and even ­second- or third-level advertising firms.

There is a need for agencies to provide ­customised solutions, thought-leading ­initiatives, integrated offerings, accurate and actionable insights, creative story-­telling and measured counsel. In comms, disruption is often associated with digital media. While that will continue to steer the course for the industry, there will also be ­disruption in business models, in the way comms is measured, in the way disparate comms offerings will converge, and in the way comms will help companies project transparency and integrity.

The days of counting coverage, if not over, have overlapped with days of measuring ­impact. It’s about quantity plus quality – not just the former. It is, therefore, critical for a comms agency to keep an eye on the ­evolving industry requirements and ­innovate to stay ahead of  the  game.

With the media industry in India going through its own churn, companies are ­dealing with a shape-shifting environment in which to communicate. Both the ­opportunity as well as the challenge for the PR industry is to stay ahead of this curve.

Prema Sagar is the principal and founder of Genesis Burson-Marsteller

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