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Reinventing the Agency Model

In the first of PRmoment India’s series of interviews with agency leads, Nikhil Dey, President of Genesis Burson-Marsteller talks to PRmoment India about how agencies must re-invent themselves for the future.

PRmoment India: How should the agency model reinvent itself for the future?

Nikhil Dey: We announced the concept of the GBM Newsroom in January 2014. This was in response to how an agency of tomorrow should position itself. The GBM Newsroom has enabled us to take the lead from traditional media practices and meet the growing need of digital media by giving clients actionable media intelligence, creative content and distribution channels, all at a fast pace. With these three core functions, GBM Newsroom has allowed us to keep pace with a rapidly changing media landscape.

For us, the GBM Newsroom is not just about collecting or analysing data. Our team of experienced journalists and seasoned public relations professionals mine data from all media verticals such as television, print, online and social, to provide media insights to clients. Each client team has access to media intelligence related to a single client and its key competitors. However, the GBM Newsroom team takes a sectorial view, which is much broader because the universe of data available to them is wider compared to a single client media monitor.

Even though the GBM Newsroom is at a nascent stage, it has already provided real-time analytics to manage crisis, helped to plan effective media outreach and to build strong media relations, therefore making the consultancy more valuable to clients.

PRmoment India: How does the newsroom contribute to results via creative content?

Nikhil Dey: I’ll give you a recent example. We have a client in the consumer technology sector who wanted to organise a photography workshop on a Sunday. This is a classic case where the client-agency relationship gets tested. First of all, the workshop was being held on a weekend. Secondly, the workshop was being conducted by a world renowned wildlife photographer who was not a company spokesperson.

This is where The GBM Newsroom came in and took up the challenge of increasing the shelf-life of content available at a regular photography workshop. Our team went in and shot three videos – a three minute capsule that was used for internal communications, a clip on ‘Quick Tips for Buying Your 1st DSLR Camera’, and a ‘Quick Guide for Better Wildlife Photography’. We generated content keeping editorial interests in mind.

This is the change that is needed. Instead of sending just a press release, we want the media to see the stories in a more visual way – so that the essence of the story doesn’t get buried in 1000 words. It’s all about the power of a horizontal approach to pitching a story.

PRmoment India: Are clients willing to pay for these additional services? Such as investment in video material….

Nikhil Dey: We produce all our content in-house. Our in-house team comprises of video editors and former journalists from television media so we can deliver good quality video content. We are betting on scale given that our focus is on video for daily storytelling. While we did the first set of videos and infographics on a pro-bono basis to test our capabilities, we are receiving requests from clients for paid material. For example, the videos we made at the photography workshop generated enough interest internally with the client that they have sought The GBM Newsroom's service to create a set of additional videos now – which they are willing to pay for.

PRmoment India: Is the traditional agency structure dead?

Nikhil Dey: We are reorienting our agency structure – the challenge is to be able to do this with focus and speed. For example, our new initiative, Step Up, which caters to the communication needs of the start-ups and investor networks, announced in March 2014, is an employee led idea born out of corridor conversations. It is built by a passionate young team of communication professionals within the organisation with rich experience of working with start-ups. Most of the start-ups are also being headed by young people. Step Up now comprises of 12 people who provide affordable service offerings to clients, keeping in mind various challenges faced by early-stage ventures. We are also ensuring to retain talent by staffing Start Up using our own existing teams. Our young leaders are vying for opportunities to grow.

PRmoment India: Can an agency be all things to all people?

Nikhil Dey: This is not a new issue. I believe that a public relations professional has to be a jack of all trades and master of one. The core offering will always be traditional corporate communications. The heart of our business is PR and public affairs. Under our public relations we provide integrated communication campaigns across four practices namely, corporate and financial, brand and consumer, telecom and technology and health and wellness. Then there are the Centres of Excellence such as Corporate Responsibility, Digital Studio, Client Studio, Step Up, The Outstanding Speakers Bureau, The Content & Design Bureau, Crisis & Issues Cluster and The GBM Newsroom. This means that my team can run an integrated communication programme and not just plan the PR around an event. If we have read the needs of our clients and the evolution of PR correctly, then this is what clients will additionally want, customised centres of excellence, which also fuel the passion of our teams. The costs of these services are not included in our regular retainers.

PRmoment India: In a way is this upselling?

Nikhil Dey: It’s not upselling but value addition. PR is not last mile communication. PR is about doing well and getting credit for it. The basic proposition of integrated offerings is that people don’t have time anymore. So how does the agency business make sense today? If you find value for the client, if you are ideas driven and results oriented and you can offer that additional piece of value you will be able to bill above the retainer.

PRmoment India: Do you see clients raising budgets?

Nikhil Dey: Why do clients not want to raise money? It’s because as an industry, PR is fragmented. There is undercutting. If you want an industry wide answer, the answer is that you have to differentiate yourself. Tomorrow I could launch my own PR consultancy, but Nikhil as Nikhil will not be able to bring in the value of Nikhil as Genesis Burson-Marsteller.

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