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Why does Adfactors PR succeed when some independent firms didn't: Former Sampark PR Managing Partner, Raju Kane, shares his views

Raju Kane, former managing partner, Sampark PR

The nineties was when PR business grew in the country. Dr. Manmohan Singh’s reforms had unshackled the economy and Indian companies were looking to grow – both in terms of business as well as reputation. Many global giants were also entering the market and were keen to establish their presence.

"In that decade N S Rajan, Bela Rajan started Sampark Communications Pvt.Ltd from a little cabin lent by our first major retainer client. Several PR agencies were set up around that period -- Perfect Relations, Genesis, and Capital Images – come to mind. Roger Pereira was already a veteran in the industry working with several MNCs, as was Rajeev Desai of IPAN who famously advised  former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on his 1984 general election campaign."

Then- there were agencies being set up by advertising networks – Mudra had Mudra PR, and Lintas had Lin Opinion. Some advertising agencies specialised in financial communication – specifically IPOs' with small but strong PR teams – come to mind: Clea, Adfactors, Sobhagya and Image Ads. Clea and Adfactors later started dedicated PR outfits.

Most of these agencies have been acquired or folded up like Sampark. Many of the stalwarts who founded these agencies – N S Rajan or Sunil Gautam to name just two – have also retired.

One agency stands tall – Adfactors PR.  PRovoke Media's latest ranking puts Adfactors at number 60 among the world's top 250 PR firms with a fee income of 58,358,145 US dollars (approx. INR 485 crore). It is Asia’s largest independent agency. In fact, such is its dominance in the Indian market that its revenues are more than the next top 3 agencies put together. How have they managed to do this?

Most of it has to do with Madan Bahal and Rajesh Chaturvedi. 

Madan, for example, the co-founder and managing director of Adfactors is now nearing almost 70 years of age. Yet he routinely, happily, works 70-80 hours a week. His energy levels can put a man half his age to shame. But it’s not just his energy that is responsible for Adfactors PR’s incredible success. It has more to do with his vision and risk-taking ability.

 Adfactors routinely demanded and got much higher monthly retainers than other firms. Under Madan’s leadership, Adfactors has grown 17% year-on-year. It is difficult to imagine the effect of this compound annual Growth Rate (CAGR), so let me put this in context.

When I rejoined Sampark as its managing partner in 2007-8, Sampark's revenue was in the 20 crore range and Adfactors PR’s revenue was in around ₹40 Cr. By the time N S Rajan retired, in 2021, Sampark had grown to about Rs. 30-35 crore and in 2020-21 Adfactors PR’s revenue was ₹245 Cr. 

What this growth has done is it has allowed Adfactors PR to do things other agencies can only dream of.

I remember meeting Madan, soon after the firm had moved to its new headquarters in Kamala Mills compound. It was, of course, the first PR firm in India to lease out an entire building. When Madan showed me around the new office, it was clear that almost half the space was going to be empty. “Oh, it will be filled in a couple of years,” Madan said off-handedly. Sure enough, in a few years not only was the building fully occupied but the firm had leased out another huge space close by.

This massive growth has also allowed Adfactors to invest huge amounts in the learning and development of its people. A few years ago, the firm issued Amazon Kindles to each executive to encourage a reading habit. It routinely sponsors its people for executive courses at Mudra Institute of Communications, Ahmedabad (MICA) to further hone their skills. More recently, it organised intensive training on the use of AI for communications for all its 1,200-plus employees.

But Adfactors PR success also holds the mantra for other smaller agencies. I can sum it up with a few ground rules.

  • Never lose sight of profitability while taking on a client. Often agencies take on clients at marginal pricing. The fact is clients who pay X or 2X will often have similar demands. However, the internal cost structures would be radically different.
  • Attract and retain top talent. This sounds difficult for smaller firms because they can’t pay top dollar. But you will be surprised as to how a great culture can often stump higher pay in terms of attractiveness to a potential employee.
  • As much as your budgets allow, invest in your team’s learning. A more skilled team will often be able to attract premium pricing because of their performance.
  • Think long-term and invest for the future – be it in infrastructure, people or systems. This may affect profitability for a year or two but will pay off handsomely in the future.

None of this is easy. Some of it may sound contradictory. But managing growth never is. If it was, there would be dozens more Adfactors PRs in the industry today.

Raju Kane is an author and media professional and was the former CEO and managing partner of Sampark PR.

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