Why India must avoid Britain’s blunders in PR

The massive growth in public relations in India since the 1990s is astounding. As a relatively new industry, Indian PR is ideally placed to avoid four of the blunders that are holding back the British PR industry. Here’s what the British have got wrong.

Firstly, too much of the British PR industry fails to measure its effectiveness properly. The result is that clients have little idea whether their PR expenditure is delivering an improvement to their bottom line. The campaigns may well be very successful, but few PR agencies show this convincingly. They instead present clients with a count of how many press mentions were secured, or a figure for how much this coverage would supposedly be worth if bought as advertising.

Clients get even more perplexed when agencies try to prove the merit of social media campaigns. Agencies brag about “likes”, “followers”, “engagement” and “conversations”, none of which matter. After all, as any business with a call centre knows, conversations and engagement cost money. Yet the tools of digital PR let companies’ measure leads and sales. Indian agencies, with a booming technology industry at their doorstep, would do very well by using some of that tech expertise to build even better tools for tracking sales.

Secondly, the British PR industry has underinvested in skills. The result is that journalists are pestered with phone calls from untrained practitioners, who have never read the publications they are pitching to and have no understanding of the journalists’ interests. Many junior PR staff don’t stay in the industry long. Stressed by the demands imposed upon them, and without the experience, knowledge or training that’s necessary, they switch careers as soon as they can.

What clients want is for the consultant who’s working on their PR to remain the same. They’re annoyed when an account executive quits. They know it will set back their PR. Truth is, twenty-something graduates in London switch jobs a lot. I suspect the situation will improve in British agencies, with the introduction of the PR apprenticeship scheme. This trains school-leavers, who may well view the apprenticeship as life’s golden ticket – with PR as a permanent career choice, rather than just something to dabble in straight after university.

Thirdly, businesses outside the FTSE100 find it difficult to source good agencies. The vast majority of PR practitioners in Britain aren’t a member of a trade body and aren’t engaged in any form of continuing professional development. One small PR agency boss told me that her job is to “keep hold of new clients for as many months as possible”. There’s something seriously wrong when retained clients feel they need to sack agencies so quickly.

Fourthly, British agencies have failed to explain to clients enough about the work they do. I have read pitches from agencies where serious nonsense is being peddled about how in a matter of weeks the agency will deliver massive sales increases. The reality is that a year is a good length of time for a new agency to prove its worth. That’s why Britain’s Public Relations Consultants Association is right to suggest a 12-month minimum term for PR retainers.

Of course, the British PR industry has some of the greatest PR consultants in the world. It is making a significant difference to the bottom lines of many businesses. The Indian PR industry could pick up some useful techniques from Britain – but it should also be aware of the things to avoid.

Alex Singleton is author of The PR Masterclass out now from Wiley

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