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What do expats working in India think of the PR market?

9th July 2014


The on-going evolution of the Indian market has brought in international PR professionals into the country. PRmoment India set out to find out what their experiences are, what opportunities they see here and what ought to change in the Indian PR market.

These expats are an adventurous lot with a liking for Indian food, Bollywood films and attempts to grapple with the great Indian jugaad!

These are their stories.

Challenges of working in India

Cornelia Kunze, Vice Chair Asia Pacific Middle-East Africa, Edelman, has spent over 20 years in communications, mainly in Europe. Of German origin Cornelia has been stationed in India for the last 20 months.


Cornelia Kunze: “PR is not a commodity – the expected outcomes from PR are moving up the value chain. Expectations are strategic and high, there is no reason why the PR fees should not increase!”

Cornelia says her main focus here is to expand the traditional notion of PR and get a share of the marketing budgets. Cornelia feels that, “In India you have some additional dimensions: the relatively young PR industry, a communications sector dominated by the ad agencies who are supposed to be the “creatives” and who deliver on that very well, an understanding of PR which is mostly focussed on media relations or “amplification” only, fuelled by the fact that traditional media still play a big role in this country. Media relations is an expertise which requires real skill and creativity, but it has been commoditised and price too often plays the biggest role in negotiations. Nowhere else are the prices as low as in India.”

Yu Yu Din, Head Digital Strategist at Genesis Burson-Marsteller, from Myanmar has spent 12 years in India, first as a student and then as a communications professional in the digital space. One of her first assignments in India was with 123Greetings.com.

Yu Yu Din feels that in India one of the biggest challenges is to keep tabs on the informal communication routes. She says, “I think cultures that historically have relied on oral storytelling and word of mouth have this challenge. Formal communications is as important as the informal day-to-day chit chat. It’s certainly different from western markets where things tend to be a lot more formal and the grape vine is pretty much ignored.”


Yu Yu Din: “In India one of the biggest challenges is to keep tabs on the informal communication routes.”

Yu Yu adds that, “I'm a Burmese, which allows me to make cultural connections faster, and think of markets that are not explored. It makes me think of rural and regional markets in India from a different prism because Myanmar is also just opening up and it has so many different regional languages, cultures, and customs.  “

Mabel Phoon, Executive Vice President, International Client Services, Weber Shandwick is from Singapore and has spent a year based in India. Mabel shares here first reactions to India: “When I first arrived in India, colleagues told me food and culture changes every 50 kilometres. India is a land of extremes and a melting pot of diversity – in culture, habits, language and religion. Learning to understand and navigate this, so as to help clients better engage with their stakeholders, is critical.”


Mabel Phoon: “Almost anything is possible even in a short time. Perhaps this stems from the universal Indian spirit of jugaar, but at times, this has also meant there isn’t the same rigour in deep-dive planning.”

What needs to change in PR in India

Cornelia says that one of the biggest challenges for not only India but across APAC is to make PR more strategic and raise budgets. She says, “I want PR to be a business partner to the CMO. The CMO needs our skills – because we are used to real-time marketing, a two-way dialogue and content-driven communications. All of that is required more than ever. We are creative – and the lines are blurring between the agencies, so let’s take that bigger role. This requires a different fee structure as well. PR is not a commodity – the expected outcomes from PR are moving up the value chain. Expectations are strategic and high, there is no reason why the PR fees should not increase!”

Mabel advises newbies to the Indian PR market to, “Expect the unexpected. Often, everyday things like the traffic and weather can impact even the well-laid plans. What has been impressive is the creativity and focus my colleagues bring to problem solving. Almost anything is possible even in a short time, and this has helped us deliver some amazing results for clients. Perhaps this stems from the universal Indian spirit of jugaad, but at times, this has also meant there isn’t the same rigour in deep-dive planning that you would find in other markets because things are so fluid here. Trying to find a balance between the two is an on-going goal of mine!”

What India has taught the expats?

Yu Yu says, “I have learnt patience and fluidity of life. The first three years were probably the toughest. I had to adjust to the life in Kolkata where coffee shops don’t open until 10 am and there was only dial up Internet, back in the day. This experience taught me to keep calm and not rush into anything.”

Cornelia says she is enjoying her time here a lot. “There are also many areas of expertise, where I find India outstanding: public affairs, corporate media relations and creativity. Besides, I have become an addict to Indian food (no, it is not too spicy), I learn Hindi and like to travel the country and watch Bollywood movies.”

Written by Paarul Chand+, PRmoment.in


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