GBM’s Prema Sagar on her 25 year PR journey

Over two decades ago, Prema Sagar sat at the Park Hotel at Connaught Place, on the brink of her journey in PR. From running a printing business, Sagar moved to PR and Park Hotels was one of the first three clients for Genesis PR. All serviced by just three people that made up the company.

In December 2005, Burson-Marsteller acquired Genesis Public Relations, one of the first such acquisitions in the PR space in India. While there are still a few large independent PR firms in India, the era of international takeovers that began with Genesis and Hanmer over a decade ago, might just be over. Sagar says, “It’s going to be difficult to acquire now. If you do, look at the cultural fit first”.

As GBM marks its 25th anniversary, Sagar shares her views on the future of PR, in this free-ranging interview with PRmoment India.

“It seems like just the other day, when we started out. From where we were then, and where are we now. At that time, PR meant media relations, today it means bots and AI”, says Sagar.

 2018 is the year of GBM’s people

PR professionals today are under tremendous pressure to manage an evolving profession, skillset and rising client demands. Not surprisingly, then, Prema Sagar is focused on supporting GBM staffers through this process.

“2018 is the year of our people”, declares Sagar. “ We will spend more time with our team, and will mentor them on working with each other, with themselves and with clients.”

Sagar also makes a case for giving young people at work more space. She said, “They are getting lost between us old people. They need much more space to be heard, so that they don’t go backwards. We don’t hear enough from them.”

Prema’s dream client is Elon Musk for the cutting edge work his companies are doing.

Sagar shared that GBM would be changing the firm’s in-house training programme to meet the goal of self-management. Currently, the GBM School of Learning has two programmes, ALP and LEAP, designed to support learning for young PR associates and for emerging leaders.

PR trends for 2018

Commenting on what would shape PR in 2018 and beyond, Sagar said, “The biggest trend is digital, not social. PR has to go deeper into digital. Social media is just another channel, but we have to learn more about digital. This means understanding BOTS, AI, for example.”

GBM has already woven in a fair amount of technology in its’ trend spotting initiatives such as GBM Live! Newsroom. Sagar shares that its better for PR firm to buy the latest tech and use it to build unique properties rather than develop their own IP for tech.

Sagar also added that going forward integrated communications has to, “Move closer to marketing. This also means differentiating corporate business from brands.”

Sagar said that companies need to understand what they stand for as a firm, over and above individual products that make it up. It means that companies need to look at how they have grown and how they plan to bring it all together.

Sagar also made a pitch for having one agency to handle all brands within one firm, as is the practice in countries such as the United States. At present, companies like the Tata Sons, can have as many as 21 different agencies handling its communication requirements.

GBM in its Genesis PR avatar helped launch the iconic ‘India Habitat Centre’                                                               

Future growth areas

GBM plans to focus on its,  ‘Health and Wellness Practice’ in 2018, Sagar saying, “It has to grow much more.”

In keeping with the growing shift to digital, this too will remain a growth focus for GBM. 

GBM Alumni

GBM has been home to many of the current PR leaders and influencers in India. Prema Sagar says she is very proud of people like Nandita Lakshmanan at The PRactice who has done a lot of work for tech. Sagar also commends PR Pundit’s Archana Jain for her work and understanding of luxury PR, Avian Media’s Nitin Mantri for his clearheaded vision and MSLGROUP’s Amit Mishra for his great ability to build very good relations with people.”

Last but not the least, Sagar says she is proud of PRAXIS's Amith Prabhu for the way he has built up a community for PR.

As the year draws to a close and GBM gears up for its next innings, at the heart of it is the foundation and direction provided by Prema Sagar, the first lady of Indian PR:

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