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Inside the Industry’s Mind
and the 2013 Outlook
A report by MSLGROUP India
Part of the Publicis Groupe
MSLGROUP India is the nation's
largest PR and Social Media
network. Made up of two top
agencies, MSL India and 20:20
MSL, MSLGROUP India
combined includes 15 offices,
575 staff and an activation
network reaching an additional
125 Indian cities. With a proven
track record of servicing
multinational and Indian
corporations since 1989 and 40
senior counsellors with 15 or more
years of communications
experience each, clients, staff and
business partners benefit from
the depth and breadth of insight
and experience within its teams.
For 23 years, MSLGROUP's Asia
team has counseled global,
regional and local clients,
helping them establish, protect
and expand their businesses and
brands across this fast-growing
region. Today, MSLGROUP has
the largest PR, social media and
events teams in Greater China
(16 offices and 1,000 colleagues)
and India (15 offices and 575
colleagues) and is actively
working to lead the
development of the industry
with the regular publication of
innovative Learning & People
Development programs to
nurture talent. The MSLGROUP
Asia team includes 38 owned
offices and 1,675 colleagues in
Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou,
Chengdu, Hong Kong, Macau,
Taipei, Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore,
Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Delhi,
Ahmedabad, Pune, Bangalore,
Chennai, Hyderabad and
Kolkata. An activation network of
colleagues reaches an additional
125 Indian and 100 Chinese
cities and a strong affiliate
partner network adds another 23
Asian cities to our reach.
MSLGROUP Asia's teams have
been recognized as leaders by
multiple industry groups,
including most recently Hanmer
MSL India ('PR Agency of the
Year 2011' by PRCAI), Luminous
('Local Hero/Agency of the Year
2010' by Marketing Events Asia),
Genedigi Group China
('Innovative China SMEs' by
Forbes China), ICL MSL Taiwan
('Agency of the Year 2011' by
Taiwan Advertiser Associate), and
has won more than 50 awards in
the last two years. Learn more
about us at: asia.mslgroup.com +
Twitter + Facebook
MSLGROUP is Publicis Groupe's
strategic communications and
engagement group, advisors in
all aspects of communication
strategy: from consumer PR to
financial communications, from
public affairs to reputation
management and from crisis
communications to experiential
marketing and events. With
more than 3,500 people across
close to 100 offices worldwide,
MSLGROUP is also the largest
PR network in fast-growing
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:
Publicis Groupe [Euronext Paris
FR0000130577, part of the CAC
40 index] is the third largest
communications group in the
world, offering a 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 Worldwide, Rosetta
and Saatchi & Saatchi. VivaKi, the
Groupe's media and digital
accelerator, includes Digitas,
Razorfish, Starcom MediaVest
Group and ZenithOptimedia.
Present in 104 countries,
the Groupe employs
Executive summary.................................................... 04
What our last industry audit said................................ 06
India PR survey: High on growth, big on change......... 10
What to watch out for in 2013...................................... 24
The rise and rise of digital PR..................................... 30
What the media thinks about the industry................... 36
The agency-client marriage..........................................42
India’s PR landscape....................................................48
The public relations (PR)
industry in India is on the cusp of
a profound change. As it finds
itself speeding past the
Information Age and into the
Conversation Age, its scope is
expanding well beyond media
relations. Its strategic value is
finally being acknowledged.
As businesses realise that
communications have limited
value and that engaging
stakeholders through new tools
like storytelling and thought
leadership is the key now, PR is
finally coming of age.
Therefore, it is important to
understand the industry's state
of mind, what it considers to be
the biggest hurdles to its
evolution, the greatest
opportunities and how it sees
itself. It is important to give the
industry a voice.
It is precisely this that our report
aims to do. In an industry where
such studies are rare,
MSLGROUP India conducted an
India-wide survey - and,
importantly, across the executive
hierarchy - to ensure that PR
practitioners have their say.
From growth prospects to the
way new business is being
generated to the hottest new
trends, the study covers it all.
The results, as you will see, are
heartening as well as revealing.
In addition, this report
incorporates an equally vital
dipstick survey of the way media
- a key stakeholder - perceives
the PR industry. Mediapersons
listed several suggestions that
would make for a healthier
relationship with PR
practitioners, and these are
detailed in the pages that follow.
Finally, the report tackles
another prickly issue - the
relationship between agencies
and their clients. This
relationship is often
tempestuous, but it need not be
so. We examine the gap
between expectations and
reality on both sides of the
divide and suggest solutions.
MSLGROUP India hopes that
this report will launch
conversations across the
industry and among other
stakeholders. We want it to
become part of the process that
leads to a unified industry
approach towards the
challenges before us - from the
talent crunch to the gulf
between value delivered and
So, let's talk.
n January 2012, MSLGROUP India released the 'Public
Relations Industry in India: Challenges, Opportunities
and 2012 Outlook' report.
Among the issues it highlighted was the rapidly-growing
gap between the perception of the industry's size and
the reality, and the problems that creates. The report
pointed out that the focus was shifting away from the
real challenges: PR is an underpaid industry - hence, its
talent and infrastructure issues; the misconception that
agencies are making millions - giving clients the
opportunity to think they can afford lower fees; the
overall perception problem that the industry has - it is
often thought of as a collection of spin doctors rather
than of strategic communications consultants.
There are other problems - too many clients view PR only
in terms of media relations. While the average advertising
retainer is Rs 2 crore (about $450,000) a year, PR retainers
are in the Rs 20-lakh (about $45,000) range.
PR is a powerful business tool, but is rarely seen as one.
Clients' reluctance to recognise its value, the lack of a
fee-per-resource norm and under-cutting are responsible
for retainers not rising. Also, PR budgets tend to be static
and are the first to be slashed in bad times.
The shortage - and flight - of talent remains an
uncrackable code. This demand-supply gap will only widen
with time. It must be understood that it's not only about
retaining talent, it's also about finding the right people.
And it's a vicious cycle - with the abysmally low retainers
and salaries, talent will always look elsewhere.
Talent is a make-or-break issue for the industry, and
training could be a large part of the solution. Training
needs to be conducted across all levels (at MSLGROUP
India, 2%-3% of total revenues are spent on training,
which includes interaction with industry experts and
In the past, most industries joined hands with academic
institutions to evolve courses that covered relevant
subjects and produced employable professionals. It's time
the PR industry did the same.
It's not all gloom and doom, though. There is a growing
realisation that PR agencies are strategic partners, not
glorified couriers sending out press releases. Clients in
Understanding the Public Relations
Industry in India: Challenges,
Opportunities and 2012 Outlook
A report by MSLGROUP India, part of the Publicis Groupe
More than anything else, it's
India's economic growth that
will sustain us. The PR industry
will become critical for
established Indian companies
and foreign firms looking to
make inroads here.
India will eventually look to the industry for strategic
communications, which offers an opportunity to offer
integrated solutions, especially because the line between
PR, advertising and digital is blurring. Cost-effective
communications plans - those that span advertising, PR
and digital media - make sense to clients too. With the
advent of the Social Media Age, this new medium is slowly
becoming part of many companies' repertoire.
More than anything else, it's India's economic growth that
will sustain us. The PR industry will become critical for
established Indian companies and foreign firms looking to
make inroads here.
There are gaps in the industry, and yet there are
opportunities - partnerships. It's time to think of all
stakeholders - clients, employees, the media - as 'partners'.
The industry's success will depend on how it chooses and
manages these relationships. This is where we can raise our
skills and standards, help clients provide better briefs, raise
the standards of measurement and source and manage
According to the 2007 report, 'The State of the Public
Relations Industry' by Paul Holmes, the growth of PR
in the West has plateaued in the 9%-11% range. In
India, the industry is growing at least twice as fast.
The last decade has been one of unprecedented
growth, consolidation and globalisation for the PR
industry in India, but few understand how this will
impact communications professionals.
This is a significant shift for agencies, the media and clients.
Clients will need global thinkers with global mindsets.
It's time to gear up for that challenge.
PR is a powerful business tool,
but is rarely seen as one. Clients'
reluctance to recognise its value,
the lack of a fee-per-resource
norm and under-cutting are
responsible for retainers not
rising. Also, PR budgets tend to
be static and are the first to be
slashed in bad times.
or too long, the Indian PR industry hasn't had a
voice. While practitioners grapple with the many
challenges before it - from a fee-value mismatch
to a talent crisis - the lack of a strong industry association
and cohesion within the industry has meant that the issues
rarely get debated. As a result, the solutions - while obvious
- and a unified approach remain out of reach.
After the release of MSLGROUP India's 'Understanding the
Public Relations Industry in India: Challenges,
Opportunities and 2012 Outlook' report, the need to tap the
industry's mind was clear. There was an urgent need to
understand what the industry collectively felt about its
growth prospects, the way ahead amid the strong economic
headwinds and how it would evolve in a fast-changing
MSLGROUP India commissioned the Bangalore-based
market research and analytics agency Leadcap Ventures to
carry out a survey of PR practitioners across India to identify
the challenges that concern them the most, the
opportunities that they're eyeing and the evolutionary path
they expect to walk.
The survey - conducted in September 2012 - aims to finally
launch the debate that the industry so badly needs.
MSLGROUP India hopes it will be - to paraphrase
playwright Arthur Miller - the equivalent of the industry
talking to itself.
Sample size: 100, across three levels
Senior: Owners, directors, branch heads,
managing directors (38 respondents)
Middle: Senior managers, administrative managers
Junior: Assistant executives, trainees,
HR executives (31 respondents)
Geography: Six metros
Mumbai (17 respondents)
Delhi (17 respondents)
Bangalore (16 respondents)
Chennai (17 respondents)
Hyderabad (16 respondents)
Kolkata (17 respondents)
Survey included quantitative and qualitative questions
No stopping growth
The central theme that emerged was one of optimism -
51% of the respondents were bullish, asserting that the
industry would grow more than 20% over the next 12
months. Another 28% felt growth would clock between
10% and 20%.
Expectations within the industry remain high despite
slowing growth and global financial turmoil. It's also a sign
that the industry feels it is coming of age and that the
strategic value of PR is finally being recognised in a
landscape dominated thus far by advertising.
It’s no surprise, that 53% were full of optimism about the next year; 43% were somewhat optimistic. The pessimists – only
4% of those surveyed – were badly outnumbered.
The bedrock of the respondents' confidence was the fact that an overwhelming number of clients have left their PR budgets
untouched, despite the tough economic climate. While 63% of respondents said their clients' PR budgets are intact, 33%
said the budgets have in fact increased.
All figures in %
<10% 10%-20% >20%
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
What growth do you expect for your agency over the next 12 months?
All figures in %
Are you optimistic about the next year for business?
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
Somewhat Optimistic Highly Optmistic Somewhat Pessimistic Pessimistic
What have your clients done with their PR budgets?
All figures in %
Reduced somewhat Cut Drastically Untouched Increased
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
The implication: Corporations are understanding the role of
PR as a brand builder and in engaging stakeholders. The days
of one-way communication between stakeholder and
business, the industry feels, are fast receding. "PR will take on
a more mainstream role and drive a brand's perception and
marketing exercises. It is an invaluable tool in the shaping and
execution of marketing strategies. As such, PR is no longer an
allied function but an increasingly vital part of the marketing
mix," said Suranjana Ghosh, head (marketing), CNBC TV18.
No wonder that a significant amount of new business is
being generated from existing clients. While 61% said that
the overall quantum of new business was 'satisfactory',
25% said more than a fifth of new business was coming
from existing clients. About 31% of respondents said that
15%-20% of new business was coming from clients already
on their rosters, while 41% said existing clients accounted
for 10%-15% of new business.
Insignificant A little Satisfactory A lot
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
All figures in %
How much of your new business is from existing clients?
All figures in %
The exuberance percolated to respondents’ expectations
about the jobs the industry would create – 59% felt that
staff numbers would rise over the next year, bucking the
overall cautious hiring trends in the Indian economy.
Another 41% felt there would be no layoffs.
This is significant because allied industries, such as
media, have seen a reduction in staff counts over the past
24 months. While there have been only a few drastic cuts,
a few media houses are struggling and austerity
measures are expected soon.
Do you expect
staff numbers to
rise over the next
<10% 10%-15% 15%-20% >20%
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
Will Rise Remain Steady Reduce
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
All figures in %
The greatest growth, say respondents will come -
expectedly - from digital media over the next five years,
but there's also great emphasis on integrated offerings.
The first edition of this report had indicated that integrated
communications were the way of the future. The report
said in the chapter 'From traditional PR to integrated
"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
The industry clearly agrees - the second highest source of
growth, said the respondents, will be integrated offerings.
As Ghosh said: "Brands are reassessing their relationship
with PR agencies. From a client-vendor equation, PR now
needs to work more as a partner/strategic advisor for
brands. With a greater understanding of brands' long-term
goals and current market realities, PR should be able to
cross this hurdle more effectively." She added that
agencies could look to add services such as market
intelligence, thought leadership and - critically -
"seamless PR strategies" (integrated offerings, in
other words) "that straddle traditional as well as new
Sanjay Tripathy, EVP and head (marketing and direct
channels), HDFC Life identified internal communications -
as part of the integrated offerings bouquet - as an important
opportunity. "The PR industry can play a significant role in
internal communications. Today, every brand has
large-scale focus on employee branding, employee
retention, employee engagement and communications.
Employees are critical stakeholders for brands. The PR
industry must add this to their offerings to enhance their
scope and services," he said.
Among the verticals to watch in 2013, respondents
identified digital media as the hottest, followed by lifestyle
All figures in %
Digital/Socal Integrated offerings More aggressive NBD Vanilla PR
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
What will offer the greatest growth over the next five years?
Hottest verticals for 2013
Media and entertainment
services and insurance
While these are in line with expectations, industry
experts believe that some of them will jump to the top
over time. Healthcare, in particular, followed by retail -
India has recently thrown open this sector, allowing
greater foreign direct investment - and financial services,
which would include banking and insurance, are being
watched closely by the industry. All these sectors are
growing fast and are seeing increasing investment. In
some cases, foreign majors are expected to make an
While the overall mood within the industry is bright, there is
great awareness of the formidable challenges that it faces.
To an open-ended question on what to expect in the near
future, respondents listed five main challenges.
Media: This was the most critical challenge, felt
respondents across all levels. There were multiple issues
on their minds - from the sweeping changes that
traditional media is dealing with to the emerging social
media space. "We will face serious challenges if we do not
adapt to the new media culture," warned one respondent.
In traditional media, respondents felt that the rise in
the number of media houses, especially the
mushrooming TV channels, is posing a problem.
Dealing with these large numbers, and the increasing
fragmentation of the audience, is tough. Besides,
respondents pointed out, the "fight for space in
publications" is getting more intense.
The insertion of social media into the mix has changed
the communications game. Respondents felt that,
while adapting to it is crucial, it is also challenging.
Digital competition: In keeping with the above
sentiment, PR practitioners across all levels were
The talent crunch
certain that agencies would need to rapidly digitise and
build expertise in that field. This is because several
clients now put digital at the centre of their
While it offers the biggest growth area, it is also a huge
change from the way PR works today. "[Adapting to]
digital [communications] products will pose the biggest
challenge," said a respondent.
Technology: The challenge of technology is the
challenge of the unknown. Just as social media crept
up on them and suddenly became all pervasive, PR
practitioners were unsure of what new breakthrough
technologies would emerge in the future and the
impact that would have on the industry. Adaptability,
they said, would become critical to survival. Equally
important was the readiness for an "uncommon
change" in communications technology. "Technology is
our concern as people like new things, new upgrades to
every technology," said a respondent.
Innovation: The next stage in the evolution of PR
would revolve around innovation, most respondents
agreed. Terms like "new avenues", "new-era products",
"new trends" and "ideas" were used regularly.
It was generally unclear to most, however, what it
means in practice. They are under pressure, said many
respondents, to come up with "the next big thing" but
there is a dearth of creative minds that can come up
with such path-breaking ideas. This concern was mainly
expressed at the middle and junior levels. A fresh
approach to PR, they felt, could become a
Many respondents, especially industry seniors, said
that the demand for traditional PR was falling. While
knowledge of emerging trends was important, the
industry would have to find a balance - pointing again
to how critical adaptability is.
A few in the junior ranks felt that whatever the changes,
traditional PR would not die out. It would, they said,
continue to be an important part of the burgeoning
Perception of the PR industry: This was another
concern raised by the first edition of this report in
January 2012. Too many people, it pointed out, thought
of the industry as one large spin doctor or 'fixer'. Not
many understood its strategic value. As one
respondent said: "Our industry is not very popular."
Respondents - mainly senior level PR practitioners - felt
that the problem is two-fold. First, it's about creating
awareness about the industry in the minds of potential
clients. Second, there is a lack of understanding within the
industry itself of market trends.
As a solution, many felt that agencies should focus on
branding within the industry, as well as on quality. Other
areas to concentrate on included innovation and training.
Other challenges: Among the other pressing
challenges, talent topped the priority list - especially
among industry leaders - followed by the often
tempestuous agency-client relationship. Both these
issues deserve great attention and are addressed
separately later in the report.
While increasing competition was a concern too, many
believed that it was necessary and helped improve
The first edition of the PR report had highlighted the talent
shortage that the PR industry is facing. The report said:
“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
This was underscored by the respondents. What was
thought-provoking was how they ranked potential solutions
to the problem.
How should the industry deal with
the talent crunch?
It was revealing that raising salaries ranked lowest as a
potential solution, while a structured, stringent selection
process ranked first. Planned, consistent investment in
training ranked second.
It was obvious that money is not the main motivator.
CNBC TV18's Ghosh pointed out: "By spearheading thought
leadership initiatives, PR can create opportunities for
attracting a more involved cadre of professionals. An
attitudinal change - both, on the parts of agencies and
professionals, where PR goes beyond getting coverage but
works as an involved stakeholder for their clients - will help."
The education system is not geared to the industry's needs
- this was highlighted in the first edition of this report too,
and repeated by the survey's respondents - and it's time
PR agencies collaborated with training institutes to evolve
a curriculum that makes their students employable.
Several other industries in India - such as information
technology - have collaborated with academia in the past
and there is no reason the PR industry can't do the same.
The industry should standardise salary ranges.
Incentives, such as stock options, need to be worked
into compensation packages.
Employee growth is a priority – as indicated in the
survey – and it must be planned and communicated
early to them.
Mentoring is conspicuous by its absence. It is up to
agency heads to ensure that talented people have a
go-to person within the firm. These mentors can help
starters find their feet and share knowledge that would
otherwise take months or years to acquire.
Training must be implemented at all levels. Seniors
within the firm can be tapped for this, and external
trainers hired when needed.
* Average of the ranks
ATTRIBUTE WEIGHT* RANK
Stringent selection process 3.2 1
Invest in training 2.6 2
Offer fast-track growth 2.3 3
Offer higher salaries 1.9 4
When asked how they were dealing with a shift towards
knowledge-based communication, 41% said the focus was
on thought leadership to raise awareness and skills.
Many corporations across the world are recognising the
need to build their brand structure on a foundation of
knowledge. Brands now know that they need to build
relationships with their stakeholders to remain relevant and
matter to the communities in which they operate. They also
recognise that they no longer have a captive audience
through traditional media.
Aman Abbas, head of corporate communications, KPMG
India, said: “PR practitioners should understand business,
not just communications. Unfortunately, the orientation of
PR students is only towards transactional campaign
creation on campus. Even the juniormost in the industry
need to know how business is done and what impacts it and
its reputation. Industry needs to diffuse its focus from
means (press conferences, press releases) and focus on
how business objectives can be met through
communications. Not all industries require
Relevant, shareable thought leadership through tools such
as whitepapers, videos and blogs can help brands become
the trusted authorities in their industries and increase
This is an opportunity for PR, felt the respondents. Support
for thought leadership was the highest among senior staff
(43%) and the juniors (48%).
The way ahead
While the average annual advertising retainer is Rs 2 crore
($4,00,000), PR retainers hover around Rs 20 lakh
($40,000). Industry veterans said in the first edition of this
report that many clients are reluctant to recognise the value
of PR. Also, there's no fee-per-resource norm and
under-cutting is rampant, which is partly responsible for
retainers not rising.
While pointing out that the industry is multi-layered, with
services offered at different prices, Sudha Singh, former
executive director (operations) at Vaishnavi Corporate
Communications, had pointed out: "Most Indian agencies
short-sell their services for fear of not getting business.
There is an opportunity for us to review this as an industry."
Siddhartha Mukherjee, Business Head Eikona had a
different perspective: “The PR industry needs a single
[measurement] currency to create oneness and initiate
healthy dialogues between corporations and their
consultancies. With this, wealth will automatically follow.
Clients/Investors look for effective ideas and their
“Let us no longer boast of high annual industry growth
rates on small denominators. Here is where PR agencies
have paved the way. Starting with transforming into
consultancies, their thoughts and initiatives have changed
the PR matrix. Today, this tool, which was largely confined
to the PRO/corporate communications desk, is showing its
Bridging the fees-value gulf
Investing in thought leadership to raise awareness and skills
Hiring staff with competencies relevant to the change
Investing in training
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
All figures in %
How are you dealing
with the shift towards
knowledge-based PR? 20
There is a growing feeling within the PR industry that the
benchmarks are all wrong. While goal-setting and
measurement are part and parcel of every service,
measurement should include new media, rise in awareness
among stakeholders and impact on business results.
The survey showed a marked preference for measurement
based on outcomes (impact on business results) over
output (number of media mentions, press releases sent
out). While 63% preferred benchmarks based on
outcomes, 20% felt the final word should be left to the
clients' way of measuring performance. Only 17% felt that
volume of media coverage is the best option.
Putting outcomes before output was an idea that found the
greatest support among mid-level and junior executives.
Given that it is they who will eventually graduate to the
senior ranks and be in a position to effect the required
change, it is only a matter of time before new performance
measurement systems are introduced and become
As HDFC Life's Tripathy said: "The industry must work
together to establish a standard measurement matrix.
EAV [equivalent of advertising value] is obsolete in the
West; reach is the key now. Without standardisation,
results remain fragmented and return on investment
Measure outcomes, not outputs: These include shifts
in awareness, purchase behaviour, corporate
reputation, employee engagement and investment
decisions. Quantitative approaches such as
benchmark-and-tracking surveys can be supplemented
with qualitative methods to spot changes in purchase
behaviour and preferences.
Media measurement: Measuring the number of
mentions is generally meaningless. Media
measurement should include audience impressions,
quality of the media coverage (tone, credibility,
relevance of medium).
Social media: Right now, it's mostly about 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. The emphasis should be
on responding quickly, listening and engaging.
usefulness to the internal clients of this same desk -
marketing, financial and HR... and the CEO’s office.”
Respondents said that the focus should be on
improving quality of work and innovation, which in turn
would help them push for fees that match value.
Given the shift in communications technology, some
suggested that digital become the primary mode of
While some seniors said that budgets are entirely in
clients' hands and little can be done about it, others felt
that a premium could be charged for the adoption of
new communications formats and services.
All figures in %
Total Top Level Middle Level Low Level
Measuring outcomes, not output
Clients should have final word on criteria
Measuring spread of media coverage works just fine
How do you improve
PR performance measurement?
Digital technology has made the world a smaller place and
brand monologue is giving way to engagement (multiple
conversations on multiple platforms). Buying behaviour is
changing rapidly, as is the way stakeholders - consumers,
suppliers, employees, governments, communities -
Amid all this, there are five perceptible trends emerging in
the practice of PR:
Visual communication: Respondents believe that,
since 65% of their audiences are 'visual listeners', this
trend is the most critical. Good graphic representations
are critical to serve clients better, they felt in response
to an open-ended question. This is why a rising number
of communications include infographics, attractive
visuals or visual depictions of critical information.
Storytelling: There was a virtual consensus that
brands that tell their stories the best will be the ones
that stand out. Storytelling is only now being used as a
craft in marketing communications with organisations
as diverse as Coca-Cola and NASA adopting it to
convey their key messages to their stakeholders.
Respondents agreed that it is a critical element of PR,
from client engagement to ensuring the desired
outcomes. A key insight was that respondents felt the
use of storytelling increases audience trust, eventually
creating loyal customers.
Proactive monitoring: The discussions focused mainly
on social media - from evaluating conversations to
identifying the issues that matter to a brand's audience.
Not surprisingly, it was junior PR executives who
strongly felt that this was important to the industry.
Adaptability: Recognising change as a constant,
respondents felt that adapting to new tools and trends
is not an option but an imperative. They felt that the
ability and agility to adapt to an ever-changing
environment would spell the difference between
survival and obsolescence for agencies.
Quantification: Tying it with their thoughts on
performance measurement, respondents repeated that
the industry should focus on measuring outcomes, not
outputs. In the case of visual communication, for
instance, many said, measuring audience
comprehension should be the norm.
t's been a difficult year. The economic slowdown,
amplified by policy paralysis in the government and
a volatile political situation, hit the PR industry hard.
Communications budgets were slashed and many
corporations preferred to work on 'project' basis rather
than on retainers. Given the tough business environment,
those that persisted with retainers demanded more bang
for the buck.
While the PR industry managed to keep its head well above
the water, 2012 was a tough year.
Will 2013 be better? Given the government's renewed
vigour for economic reform and India's inherent economic
restraints, the outlook remains optimistic despite the
uncertainty created by political turmoil.
Digital communications - dominated by social media -
constitute the biggest opportunity for 2013 and we've
dedicated a separate chapter to it later in this report.
While the survey earlier in the report identified major trends,
there are others that MSLGROUP India has identified.
Among those that you can't miss is the evolution of content
as a branding and communications tool. Industry experts
believe that nothing sells better than a good story. However,
they caution, it's not just about telling a story but about
engaging your consumer. The key, they say, is to make your
story his/her own story.
Storytelling is also important as the realisation grows that
it's not enough to have profit as your sole objective.
Businesses need a greater purpose. The community
expects that if you're making millions, you need to make
millions happy as well. Consumers today relate to brands
that show heart. Social responsibility has moved from mere
support for projects to working towards social sustainability.
For PR professionals, 2012 marked a widening of the
scope of work and a deepening of the partnership with
business leaders, decision makers and subject experts to
benefit from the new wave of communications.
In 2013, more organisations will recognise the need
to marry marketing with reputation management.
Engagement has always been a key component of
the PR business, but in the Conversation Age of
today communicators are moving from monologue
The cornerstone of this engagement is content. Not
just creating it, but also managing it. Content that
informs and encourages conversations is relevant to
the target audience. It is shareable and it strengthens
customer loyalty. Corporations as well as PR firms are
now employing teams to specifically produce
Shashank Sinha, general manager and head (marketing of
direct sales), Eureka Forbes, said: "Communication is the
fine art of 'storytelling'. Telling a good story first involves
understanding the person listening to it - their interests,
worries and their lives. Listening is the first step to good
storytelling. Unfortunately, most of us seem to have no
time to listen. This is the key for the PR industry."
It is the digital revolution that has changed the way
companies are communicating. Consumers today
'experience' products and services online before buying
them. From researching a product's specifications to
looking for reviews, consumers rely on the online space.
It gives them a sense of empowerment as they now have
Engagement has always
been a key component of
the PR business, but in
the Conversation Age of
today communicators are
moving from monologue
a forum to share
their experiences and at
the same time become influencers
for a brand. PR firms are producing a variety
of content, from social media campaigns to white papers
and online games, to shape this consumer experience.
Earned media is now making way for owned media,
enabling companies to take control of their brand story
rather than relying on traditional media.
CNBC TV18's Ghosh said: "A PR agency mirrors the
personality of the brand it represents and is a
responsible brand custodian. The need for the agency to
exhibit immense agility and alertness in today's dynamic
times is critical. As disseminators of information and
trends, PR needs to
always be several steps
ahead and demonstrate thought
leadership and innovative solutions that
will help differentiate their clients' marketing
efforts in a crowded space."
Consumer marketing and corporate reputation building
will no longer be mutually exclusive as consumers have
greater access to information about the companies behind
the products they buy.
Globally, we have already seen several brands, such as
Volkswagen, McDonald's, Coca-Cola and Pepsi - as well as
non-corporate 'brands' such as NASA - using engaging
content tailored to their purposes to reach out to stakeholders.
In India, this is nascent, though automobile-to-software
conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra and the Tata Group
have taken an early lead in this.
Carol Cone, global practice chair of Edelman Purpose, told
the Holmes Report that 'purpose', which she defines as
"an organisation's values in action, manifest through a
variety of actions ranging from materials sourcing, supply
chain partners, CSR reporting, ethics and governance", will
be increasingly important in 2012, with companies focused
on how purpose can be "strategically integrated and
operationalised" throughout their organisations. This is
expected to take on a much larger scale in 2013.
MSLGROUP's PurPle is one such initiative. The group
believes that the meaning of being a good corporate
citizen has changed from Green (environment) to Blue
(sustainability) to PurPle (purpose + people).
Tomorrow's successful PurPle brands will be the ones that
work collaboratively with communities, governments,
customers and organisations to co-create solutions to the
world's toughest problems. Moving from corporate social
responsibility (CSR) to collaborative social innovation will
drive more rapid and meaningful change in society and in
business, because with collaboration and co-creation comes
shared value and a mutually beneficial shared purpose.
The intersection of three shifts in the business
environment has made it imperative for organisations to
bring purpose and people together:
Trust deficit: People have access to more information
than ever before and there is a lack of organisational
trust. In fact, trust in all organisations, including
corporations and governments, is at an all-time low.
Most organisations realise that corporate reputation
and consumer activation are interlinked as consumers
become critical of communications campaigns that are
not rooted in authentic, long-term commitment.
People power: People have new sources of power and
many believe that only they can come up with
innovative solutions to our most pressing problems,
not governments or corporations. Building and
communicating purpose-led business strategies must
put people and co-creation at the centre.
Quest for meaning: People are searching for
meaningful connections with communities and
organisations around a shared purpose and expect
organisations to enable such connections.
Organisations need to inspire, organise and energise
all stakeholders to collaboratively work towards their
In the Information Age, a product doesn't always speak for
itself. The greater a company's transparency, the more
connected its customers feel. It is this connection that
makes consumers believe in a brand.
Liz Kaplow, president of New York's Kaplow Communications,
said in the Holmes Report: "The modern consumer wants
to know the brand behind the product and the company
behind the brand - and they have the resources to find out.
This means that companies now have to ask themselves
'who are we and what do we stand for?' Naturally, this has
made authentic CSR an integral part of a company's
forward planning and initiatives.
"Authentic CSR means it is integrated into the company's
corporate DNA, so that it is evident in everything the
company does. This includes marketing and social media,
CEO thought leadership, employee relations, and more.
Authentic CSR is not about whitewashing a company's
image. It's about supporting humanity, being passionate
about a cause, and connecting emotionally with consumers
who at the end of the day want to know that companies
care about the world and the people in it."
Businesses with purpose
Healthcare is expanding swiftly in terms of revenue and
employment in India. According to ‘Healthcare in India –
Emerging Market Report 2007’, authored by
PriceWaterhouse Coopers, “during the 1990s, Indian
healthcare grew at a compounded annual rate of 16%. Today,
the value of the sector is more than $34 billion. This
translates to $34 per capita, or roughly 6% of GDP. By 2012,
India’s healthcare sector is projected to grow to nearly $40
billion. The private sector accounts for more than 80% of
total healthcare spending in India.”
Globally, life expectancy is on the rise and with growing
awareness about healthier lifestyles, healthcare products
are striking gold. It helps that healthcare is a priority for
For PR companies, there lies a great opportunity to partner
with healthcare firms – as well as allied verticals, such as
diagnostics and pharmaceuticals – to bring about a lifestyle
change in customers.
Pascal Beucler, senior vice-president and chief strategy
officer, MSLGROUP, wrote: “Firms in the healthcare sector at
large need to not only rediscover their social purpose, but to
also put it at the core of their businesses, and to consider it
when engaging with all stakeholders.”
MSLGROUP recently conducted the survey ‘You Share, We
Care!’ that outlined the views of 70 managers across Europe.
The importance of digital communications came out strongly
in the survey. Managers were aware of its impact on their
industry, and believed that companies needed to become
storytellers – creating contexts to explain to people what
they do, and to highlight the company’s social values. These
managers want to become protagonists in the debate about
health. The findings showed:
Nearly two-thirds of the managers interviewed thought
that social media offered an opportunity.
Most managers believed that the web will dominate
healthcare conversations in the future.
Patients are key stakeholders in the healthcare
ecosystem, thanks to the digital revolution.
In this vein, 61 managers out of 70 thought that digital
communication offers a great opportunity to help
improve medical treatment/therapeutic adherence.
Twitter, in particular, can play a role in the dialogue
between doctors and patients as it represents a tool for
Most managers also viewed blogs as important in
healthcare communications, potentially impacting how
influential doctors and key opinion leaders are on the web.
A corporate communication head (name withheld on request)
observed: “Specific to healthcare, there will be more pressure
because of changes in the regulations that govern the sector.
Communication will be scrutinised even more and it will be a
greater challenge to drive the PR agenda using traditional
media. Building credibility will be tougher than ever.”
If high-level appointments are any indicator, the healthcare
opportunity is clearly evident at a global level too. Recently,
Shellie Winkler was named as MSLGROUP’s North America
practice director for health and corporate practices, while
Amanda Sefton was named global healthcare practice
director at Ketchum. Meanwhile, US-based Finn Partners
launched Finn Partners Health, a dedicated national practice
led by Miriam Weber Miller, a 20-year veteran of healthcare
marketing and communications.
It won’t be long before high-level appointments are made in
India too to lead the healthcare practice.
imply put, digital PR is the use of the internet to
promote campaigns and to share information.
However, it's not as simple as it sounds.
Increasingly, small and big businesses are embracing the
digital space as a strong marketing tool. The success of a
company depends on the network of people it reaches out
to, not only in terms of numbers but also the right
messaging. It is extremely important to cast that net wide;
the higher the number of people that know about your
products and services, the higher the probability of you
being talked about in the social space.
"With the advent of social and digital media, every brand
has the ability to publish its own story and every consumer
and influencer has the opportunity to respond," Kaplow, of
Kaplow Communications, said in the Holmes Report. This
presents "an even more exciting opportunity to use social
and digital channels to get to know your audiences better,
to listen to what they are saying and what they want, and
deliver even better service".
The recent 'Rise of India's Digital Consumer' study by
comScore found that India is the fastest growing online
market and that its explosive online growth will continue,
as most online categories have below-average penetration
compared to global averages.
The internet has empowered people by giving them an
engaging platform to express their opinions, share their
likes and dislikes and post their reviews. These opinions can
both, draw traffic to your website or digress it. This makes
potential advertisers out of visitors to your site.
Experts suggest that consumer behaviour today is
influenced by the digital space and understanding it
well will help in devising the right strategies to maximise
The comScore study pointed out that 75% of the Indian
audience is below the age of 35 years, making it one of the
world's youngest online populations.
Brazil Russia China India
48.9 52 49.1 59 322 336 44.5 62.6
* Source: ‘Rise of India’s Digital Consumer’ study by comScore
Unique visitors (in millions)
15+ age, home and work users
July 2011 July 2012
Unique visitors growth comparison
For those in the communication business, therefore, the
dynamics of delivering a message have changed.
Marketers have to do away with 'monologue' as the digital
media has created the space for a 'multilogue' where
there is conversation happening all around us. It is these
conversations that are shaping brands.
Consumers are no longer buying products, but the
experience. This experience begins at the consideration
stage, continues to the buying of the product and finally
its use. At each stage, consumers are relying on social
media to enhance their experience. Product endorsements
no longer bear the same significance - it's other
consumers' views that seal the deal.
HDFC Life's Tripathy pointed out: "This means acquiring
more relevant skill sets, more learnings, and more
creativity and innovation. More customised, value-driven
PR campaigns in the digital space would be the key
focus in 2013."
All this has significant implications for the PR practitioner.
The digital space is an addition to the communications
armoury. The new role broadly involves:
Advising: "We believe the best course of action is..."
Counselling and deriving meaning: "We believe the
best course of action is... and here's why." At this
stage, the PR practitioner will need to get involved in
the business challenge before the client. He/she will
need to truly understand the array of tools at his/her
disposal. There is a critical need to involve
consumers, motivate and involve them and seek their
feedback to make them feel empowered.
Change in the PR practitioner
Demographic distribution - youth driving growth
Demographic distribution of UVs in %
* Source: ‘Rise of India’s Digital Consumer’ study by comScore. UV: Unique visitors
All online activities need to be understood in terms of their
return on investment, that is, measurable results are the key.
While it is possible to measure web traffic, marketers are
sceptical about the value of online PR.
Herein lies a big opportunity. PR professionals need to
impress upon clients that embracing digital PR would be an
additional resource that strengthens the objectives of
traditional PR. Industry observers believe that digital PR is no
longer a new strategy but part of the regular hygiene factors.
PR companies can use multiple online forums like blogs,
Facebook and Twitter to engage and sustain public interest.
Podcasts, publishing information online, and tailored online
media campaigning are also fast gaining popularity. All
these tools can be tangibly measured.
A Holmes Report article summed this up: "Today, the brand
is no longer determined by what the company says about
itself; it's determined by all the things that are said about
the company by others, in the real world (over garden
fences, in hair salons, the supermarket checkout line, over
drinks and dinners) and in digital and social media."
"I foresee more and more activities around the digital
space," said HDFC Life's Tripathy. "With shrinking marketing
budgets across industries, companies would remain
steadfast on value-added, cost-effective mediums for
'engagement and connection' with their customers and
other key stakeholders. The digital boom cannot be ignored
by any brand."
Among the key values that companies will need to
emphasise online are: transparency (the greater the scrutiny
you allow, the more trusted you are), dialogue (one-way
communication is in steep decline) and engagement (invite
consumers to be 'part of the brand').
Tell a story: Audiences need to identify with a piece of
information. People are naturally drawn to experiences
that they can relate to. Ensure that your data has statistics,
visuals, testimonials that lend credence to your pitch.
Be a good listener: A digital platform leaves enough
room for scrutiny, so be open to all kinds of feedback.
Social media is a two-way street; people will expect
your response to their communication. A well-initiated
conversation often inspires participation and a
well-moderated one can help your purpose.
Be earnest: Be consistent with your messaging and
always share accurate information. With the great
volumes of information at their fingertips, your
audience will always cross-check the authenticity of
what you claim. Any discrepancies will deal a blow to
Reach out to social media influencers: Your network
must have bloggers, influencers, journalists and writers
from related industries who are more active online.
Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin are increasingly being
used by individuals and corporations to connect with a
wider network. Through the right networking, you can
influence a media mention.
Build brand loyalty: Engage your audience by creating
content that is not only informative but which holds its
interest. Curate the content in a manner that makes
your audience champion your cause. Ensure that you
have the audience captive on its first visit; you may not
get a second chance.
Create a social media newsroom: A robust online
presence makes it easier for journalists to gather
information that can beef up their stories. The right mix
of interactive elements, videos and photos provides a
360-degree view of your organisation. It also gives them
a chance to connect with other bloggers/visitors to
verify information. Make this your central resource for
information. As a PR professional, it is vital to stay
How to optimise social media in PR
Digital media trends
abreast of the evolution of news consumption. Digital
presence is definitely a defining change.
Ghosh, of CNBC TV18, said: "The digital medium is no
longer a retrospective or force-fitted part of the overall
brand marketing strategy. It is an integral part of the
marketing mix. Akin to marketing strategies which now have
digital woven in from Step 1, PR also needs to reflect the
same technical dexterity and immediacy. In this era of
instant feedback, PR is a vital ally to manage the responses
a brand evokes on its social media or online platforms.
Hence, PR needs to leverage the viral ability of digital and
amplify a brand's message effectively."
Online video soars
in travel, search, social
networking and news,
Growth to continue in
retail, games and health,
as they are below
The key drivers are
content and accessibility
The coupons category
has shrunk by 38% as
players have moved to
Online video viewers in
India have grown by over
The engagement has
reached 3.4 billion
videos every month
52% of the videos
belong to the
YouTube’s top channels
Video advertising has
with growing inventory
* Source: 'Rise of India's Digital Consumer' study by comScore. Graph based on July 2011 and Jul 2012 data for 15+ age, home and work users
* Source: ‘Rise of India’s Digital Consumer’ study by comScore. Graph based on July 2011 and Jul 2012 data for 15+ age, home and work users
July 2012 Reach %YoY Growth %
Video Viewers (in millions)
Min per viewer Videos viewed (in billion)
32.4 34.8 42.3 44.5
Oct 2011 Mar 2012 Jun 2012
Jun 2011 Jun 2012
he media is a key stakeholder for the PR
industry. Media relations are among its core
activities and rarely is a PR plan drawn up
without a media angle to it.
The digital age is changing the way consumers interact
with the media and brands. Round-the-clock news, the
internet and social media have created an aware,
empowered consumer. This is, in turn, altering the
relationship between the media and PR professionals.
However, the media and the PR industry enjoy a strange
relationship - deeply symbiotic, yet edgy.
It is important, therefore, to understand what makes this
relationship tick, what the points of conflict are, as well as
the potential solutions.
For this, MSLGROUP India conducted a dipstick
qualitative study, interviewing journalists across media -
websites, TV channels, newspapers, magazines - to
gauge their perceptions of the PR industry. The objective
was to understand whether journalists were being
suitably supported in their day-to-day news gathering
and allied activities.
Journalists were asked to detail the problems they faced
while interacting with PR professionals and suggest
changes. Apart from that, we included multiple-choice
questions to get specific replies on key issues.
The primary objective was to assess perceptions of media
The PR industry and its efficacy in supporting journalists
Emerging trends in news media and its PR implications
How to make PR more effective
Twenty-one depth interviews were conducted among
journalists in Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Kolkata and Pune.
Among the key themes that emerged was that, while PR
professionals broadly understand their clients' businesses
and their operating environment, this understanding is not
fully communicated to journalists. Apart from that, there
exists considerable scope to improve the working
relationship between PR professionals and the media.
A common complaint was that PR professionals do not
fully understand the different genres of media they interact
with and are generally unaware of the beats and repertoire
of the journalists they interact with. As a result, journalists
often receive communication on sectors, products and
issues that have no relevance to them or are not suitable
for the media outlet they represent. Background research,
the journalists pointed out, is conspicuous by its absence.
As a result, journalists who have to complete a
multitude of tasks every day are often disturbed by calls
from poorly prepared PR professionals or are spammed
by irrelevant press releases. This puts great strain on the
A senior features journalist at the 'Hindustan Times', one of
India's leading dailies, said: "Too often, PR professionals
send me listings for 'your new products column'. Even a
cursory reading of the supplement I work for will reveal that
we do not, in fact, have such a column. There is nothing
more annoying than fielding these calls day after day."
This was echoed by a senior editor at 'Business Today'
magazine: "Clients of PR companies want the press
release reproduced in full in every publication and
broadcast on every TV channel without any supplementary
questions asked. Even when PR people know there is no
story in a particular piece of information, clients force them
to push it."
News trends and implications
Another common complaint was that PR professionals are
not well informed about media deadlines. This problem
has become even more acute as the news media has
broadly shifted to a 24x7 role. Journalists stressed that PR
professionals should spend more time in understanding
how their target media function, in terms of the story
gathering and editing process and the need for client
responses based on the nature of the medium.
In addition, journalists wanted a shift from the
"stereotypical silence" every time clients find themselves
in an uncomfortable situation.
To rectify these problems, journalists stressed that senior
PR professionals must work closely with their juniors. They
also suggested seminars and discussions with journalists,
as well as an emphasis on training.
A senior news editor at the Mumbai-headquartered daily
'DNA' said: "PR professionals need a thorough knowledge
of the set-up and functioning of the newspaper or TV
channel [they are dealing with]. This can be done through
interaction and being in constant touch with what's
happening in [those media outlets]."
A senior financial journalist added: "It's getting complex;
different newspapers have different deadlines. Apart
from that, deadlines themselves are dying in the wake of
24X7 media and it is a big challenge for the PR industry,
as even a millisecond's delay in receiving information can
make a difference."
Customising press releases
With the news media getting fragmented into various
genres and mediums, there is need to tailor press releases
to the media outlets they are sent to. A one-size-fits-all
release doesn't work anymore, many journalists said. They
also emphasised the need for releases to be better written,
to contain fewer clichés or unnecessary praise for clients.
A release that keeps in mind the above, would enable
developments in a particular sector or firm to be
understood quickly and reported appropriately.
For instance, a 30% rise in quarterly profits could be
potentially big news for a start-up, but may not be
appealing to a journalist. However, if that 30% profit is
accompanied by a comparative analysis that shows it as the
highest in that quarter across the sector it operates in
could trigger suitable interest.
A senior news editor at 'The Times of India', India's
most-read English daily, said: "There is a gap in the
understanding of the saleability of a development or press
release and the needs of the media. This should be
We do need each other
Despite everything, journalists recognised that the PR
industry serves a vital purpose, that of a conduit between
them and industry. Journalists highlighted that, with the
business world getting more complex and senior company
officials travelling across several times zones or within the
company, interaction between them and India Inc has
As a result, the role of the PR professional in balancing the
needs of the client and the media has become critical. In
this regard, journalists suggested that PR professionals
inform the target media of client/sector developments on
a regular basis rather than only when coverage is desired.
This would help journalists tracking the client/sector
considerably and build a long-term relationship with the
A senior editor at the 'Hindustan Times' in Delhi said: "PR
has close synergies with the media." Added a senior news
editor at 'DNA': "The print medium is dependent on the PR
industry for many stories."
While the role of PR professionals is getting more
recognised, journalists did not want to get "over-friendly"
or "too close" to them. This was attributed to the often
conflicting nature of their jobs.
While acknowledging that PR professionals invest
considerable time in building relationships with the media,
journalists wanted the relationship to be "need-based" and
"professional". They wanted to maintain a distance.
That was largely because the PR industry is focused on
achieving their clients' needs, while the media is looking
for stories that matter to their readers. Sometimes, the two
are mutually exclusive.
A senior features editor at 'The Indian Express' daily said:
"A lot of thought goes into building better relations.
However, over-friendly behaviour puts off journalists, and
PR persons should be wary of that. Nevertheless, I have
come across PR persons who are extremely professional
and helpful." Added a senior journalist at the 'Hindustan
Times': "All the energies of PR professionals are
concentrated on getting the next media mention. There is
too much focus on short-term coverage rather than
long-term association with a journalist."
Research journalists and media needs: No two
journalists - or media outlets - are the same. Their
needs and approaches towards a story are dictated by
the nature of their readership. PR professionals need
to do their homework before approaching a journalist
for a story. Journalists repeatedly complained that they
are bombarded with irrelevant press releases and calls
on subjects that don't matter to them.
An effort must be made during the
relationship-building stage to understand the
journalist's beat and readership, and a suitable
database of media contacts maintained for future
reference. This database should be easily accessible
by staff across the PR organisation.
Understand and respect deadlines: Be aware of the
deadlines for different media and respond
appropriately. Senior PR professionals could work
closely with new entrants or hold training sessions to
ensure that they are aware of these deadlines.
In case a client does not wish to respond to a query,
communicate that to the journalist quickly enough for
him/her to work around it and yet meet the deadline.
This would also result in a strong relationship with the
Build long-term relationships: Journalists
complained in the survey that PR professionals usually
focus on ensuring that their client is mentioned in the
coverage. This creates unnecessary tension. Establish
a balance between client needs and on building
long-term relationships with journalists. This could be
facilitated by regular visits to the journalist's office or
through web chats. Help the journalist get access to
information or people when he/she needs them and
the favour will be returned.
Customise press releases: Press releases often
contain clichés and unnecessary details, which may
not be relevant to the journalist. Ensure instead that
the press release has the client information that is
relevant to the journalist it is sent to. Also make sure
the significance of the development is explained in a
simple manner. As far as possible, customise press
releases for different types of media houses, which
would help you get significantly more suitable
responses. For instance, a release about the IT sector
could be written from a business point of view for a
pink paper (growth, forex earnings, impact on share
price) and in a completely different way for a general
interest newspaper (the products/services it makes
available, jobs on offer).
Jaideep Shergill, CEO, MSL INDIA
Every year, India Inc invests crores of rupees in what is a
fragile, sometimes tempestuous relationship - the one with
its PR agency.
While it's a tough marriage intended to produce measurable
results, the marketing or academic literature focuses on
what makes for a successful relationship and the causes of
its failure is skewed. Indeed, there is an archives worth of
material that helps businesses select a PR agency, but little
on how to ensure the relationship is mutually fruitful.
It's time for both, client and agency, to realise that the best
PR begins with a healthy relationship. It needs to be a
partnership in which clients see the agency as an extension
of their marketing teams, while agencies need to invest time
in understanding the clients' businesses and their needs.
Too many relationships are spoiled because of unrealistic
expectations. "I want to be featured in The Times of India" is
absolutely the wrong way to start off. Sure, all of us want the
best coverage and the most from our PR budgets, but not
everything about you will get featured in the leading
publications. Instead, work with your agency to secure
coverage in media outlets that target your audience. There
may be several small- or medium-sized publications and
online communities worth exploring. Often, it's these that
deliver better results.
Remember, agencies can't make magic happen if you aren't
receptive to ideas. If you are hiring a PR agency, make sure
you're willing to take its counsel.
What’s straining the agency-client
Pitching and re-pitching: Before inviting agencies to
pitch for your PR business, know what the campaign has to
achieve, set out the objectives and be honest about
budgets. Would you buy a car without knowing what kind
you wanted - sedan or SUV? Or how much you can spend
on it? Buying PR services isn't different in that sense.
The brief: Producing a concise-yet-thorough brief is
the foundation for success. It will enable the agency to
respond intelligently within the financial parameters set.
Think hard about what you want from your agency. PR is
not about column inches, but creating a personality for
your company that in the end leads to the achievement of
When calling for a pitch, keep the shortlist, well, short.
Respect the time and effort that goes into understanding
your business to prepare the pitch. Even a simple pitch
might take several days to get right. Also, it's a good idea to
have the agency present its credentials at its office. This
gives you the chance to see the company in action (Is the
environment good? Is it adequately staffed? Is it buzzing?).
Make sure that the people making the pitch are the ones who
will handle the account. All too often, the best resources
make the pitch, but others actually manage your work. PR is
an ideas-and-people business; the team is the operation.
Don't be swayed by size - big companies are not
necessarily better than small ones. Sometimes, in large
firms, resources are spread thinly over several clients.
Don't think short-term either. Look for a company that you
are comfortable working with for three to five years at least.
Budgets: Some clients don't reveal their budgets, thinking
that it would drive down costs. However, what it means is that
PR firms can't understand how many resources to commit.
If you want results, lay your cards on the table.
At the same time, understand clearly how you are being
charged - per resource hour, out of pocket expenses,
taxes, handling charges of third-party invoices - before
signing the contract. A full understanding of these issues
will rule out unpleasantness later.
Reviews: Once you've selected an agency, build a review
process into the contract. This will ensure that the operation
stays on track. Ask for a start-off meeting at which objectives
and benchmarks for the review process are set.
Remember that a PR firm is only as good as the
information you provide. Keep it in the loop when it comes
to business developments and invite its representatives to
be part of your marketing conversations.
An increasingly common problem is the decreasing time
PR firms get to respond to a crisis or achieve an objective.
The PR firm can't work magic. Planning in advance and
communicating constantly with the consultancy will help
keep the objectives-deadlines balance optimal.
Base evaluations on financial as well as emotional criteria.
Trust and honesty are key. Keep the agency informed
about your objectives and priorities; adjust expectations to
the situation. For this, a honest discussion is essential. At
the same time, the agency must regularly inform the
client about the state of work and results.
It's important for clients to involve decision makers from
the word go. This reduces misunderstandings. The agency,
on its part, should ensure that the best people are on the
account to achieve the best results.
Repitching and business assurance: If there are
problems with the campaign, most agencies will make the
adjustments required in the teams managing the account.
Detail your reasons for seeking a change of team and the
agency will most likely oblige.
Changing the agency would mean restarting the
communications effort from scratch - from providing
detailed briefs for fresh pitches to dealing with an agency
that may not understand you as well.
If you find a need to change the agency nevertheless, the
norm across the world is that a sufficient notice period is
given. In the case of advertising, if the agency has invested in
resources just for your account, the notice period can be as
long as six months. This is only fair since the agency needs
to reallocate those resources or consider scaling down of
operations. This needs to be replicated in the PR industry.
Too many agencies are wondering, "Will we have this
account six months from now?" When the agency is unsure
of the relationship or whether it's appreciated by the client,
it doesn't perform as well as it can. If you're not happy, tell
your agency what's wrong. Don't be afraid to challenge it.
Ask the outrageous questions. When those are answered,
you get great work.
Differences in expectations: Client expectations
should be coordinated with the agency. This is important
for the agency to decide how to meet client needs.
It's important for the agency's expectations to be detailed
too. These could coincide with the client's, but may differ
Knowing the objectives leads to good PR. Clients should
be clear about what they want to achieve. "Get us as much
press as you can" is not good enough. Communication
objectives need to be aligned with business goals and your
The communication gap: Communicate clearly your
values and what you stand for.
This helps the agency understand your business and
culture; and vice versa. Industry experts agree that
agencies and clients who communicate well have longer
This doesn't mean there will never be disagreements.
However, effective communication will help you overcome
The agency expects good feedback from you. Tell them
if the results are satisfactory, and give constructive criticism
when required. Nobody likes a silent partner. There's no point
reserving comment till a half-yearly review when the damage
can't be undone or when it's too late for a course correction.
The bottomline: the agency is your strategic thought
partner. Treat it so.
Services and fees: Most large clients nowadays look
for a range of services. It's no longer enough to offer only
media relations; agencies must invest in social media,
content and creative services too. Agencies must offer a
wide variety of services in order to meet the needs of
Agencies are being asked to deliver more - at the same or
lower prices. Some of it is justified because technology
allows you to do more for less. But, most often, it will only
result in a loss of quality. Don't fall into the trap of treating
ideas as commodities; you run the danger of the worst
ones being funded the best.
There's no generally accepted formula on fees. Inevitably,
clients and agencies differ on what is fair compensation.
Focus on the difference good communication makes to your
business goals while understanding the effort, resources
and strategic inputs the agency brings to you. Keep the
conversation about value, not price. Once both understand
the value being delivered, the negotiations get simpler.
Lastly, pay your bills. Agencies will work better for those
who are prompt with their payments. If you're erratic with
your bills, chances are that your work will lag clients who
pay within a reasonable time.
Clients and agencies who understand the above will have
the best partners wanting to work with them. Teams will
look for creative solutions and even over deliver at times.
The full picture from the client; the brief is often unclear
Treat the agency like a strategic thought partner.
Understand that effective communication is vital for
business success. A cultural fit is important too; it helps
deliver better service
Be fair in your evaluation. Provide good feedback,
appreciate the efforts that worked
Change people, not agency.
Make good use of agency's resources
Agreement on goals
Fair evaluation of results
Cooperation and honesty
An understanding of our business
Creativity, good service
High-quality people on the account
Willingness to accept suggestions, constructive criticism
Range of services
AGENCY EXPECTATIONS CLIENT EXPECTATIONS
Client will only invest in a relationship if he/she can see
that the resources that he/she is getting are meeting
expectations. Agency must invest in people, keeping
talent satisfied and motivated
Communicate the importance of input information from
the client and its impact on the PR campaign
Building a relationship takes time. Agency cannot expect
client's trust immediately
Invest time and knowledge to deliver a clear and
comprehensive feedback about the problems you
are trying to solve with marketing communication
Don't take the agency for granted. You may be
the one writing the cheques, but money doesn't
solve every problem. Both parties need to invest,
adapt and be flexible
Understand how activities are structured in the
agency. This will help you understand the nature
of the work and the need to adapt certain processes
to achieve objectives
FOR THE AGENCY FOR THE CLIENT
THE EXPECTATIONS MATRIX