To survive every Asian PR agency must be an integrated, digital, marketing firm says Harjiv Singh founder of Gutenberg

Change is the only constant. This line, attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, was written for PR in 2017. Today, across the world, the industry stands at the crossroads between digital, content, video and mobile. It is in a unique place to leverage these mediums. But in order to succeed, traditional PR agencies have to evolve.

PR goes digital: The India story
The Indian market is still at an early stage of digital and PR industry growth. However, a study by Public Relations Consultants Association (PRCA) estimates that the PR industry will touch US$ 315 million by 2020. Meanwhile, several industry surveys confirm that growth in the digital industry is accelerating. A 2016 CII-KPMG estimates that digital ad spending in India will surpass US$2.7 billion by 2020. In this scenario, can the industry in India kickstart its growth with “digital”?

The PR industry has been quick to seize this opportunity. Like in other sunrise sectors, communications organizations in India are joining the digital bandwagon. Today, most large advertising agencies, PR firms, and direct marketing companies are digital.      

What’s more, with digital PR, companies can finally measure their impact in real time. Studies say that in-house respondents in India are more confident of measuring the ROI of digital PR as compared to traditional PR activities. Clearly, digital is not just improving the PR industry’s reach - but also its credibility.

The era of visual, mobile storytelling arrives
Content is at the heart of the paradigm shift that is reshaping the PR industry. As a younger generation who have not cultivated the habit of reading go online, text and long-form content is passé. For these millennials, content is king. But for storytelling to engage this audience, content has to be visual.

But information consumption among millennials is not only video based. It is also mobile. With PRCA estimating that mobile will account for 25% of PR firms’ revenue by 2020, it is becoming necessary for communications agencies to engage in different conversations for their clients. This is especially true in ASEAN, where AT Kearney forecasts that most citizens will be “digital natives” by 2025.

In essence, great storytelling remains central to public relations and building great brands, both in Asia and globally. But the industry must embrace new technologies to tell these stories. 

Enter the digital integrated communications agency
As digital, content, video and mobile gain prominence, the role of PR is changing across the world. In Asia too, every PR agency must become a digital integrated marketing communications firm.

Organizations that make this transition successfully will thrive. Gutenberg did this when we moved from addressing a market of US$14 billion (PR) to addressing a market of US$227 billion (PR/Content + Digital + Video + Mobile). With this, our addressable market size became 16 times larger than the one that we had previously addressed. 

Tomorrow’s’ trends: Creating global brands

As the world becomes a global village, the Indian PR industry is increasingly setting its sight on world markets and speaking across national boundaries. To succeed, it must learn from India’s leading global industry—the IT Services sector. For the last 20 years, this industry has built the India brand globally. Indian PR can learn from its example.

While doing this, PR must retain local understanding.

However, though this is crucial, India’s success will finally come from its ability to grow, invest in, and build global brands. We still do not have a global consumer brand like Samsung, Apple, or Sony that is easily recognizable in the B2C space as an Indian brand. This needs to change. With companies like Mahindra and Mahindra, Hero Motors and Enfield working to do just that, we should expect to see these brands become successful in the coming decade. 

Harjiv Singh is founder & CEO of Gutenberg

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