The two month old Modi government has managed to revive the perception that the economy is back on track. The monsoon that has partly revived and the latest macroeconomic figures for industrial productions, exports and services all show an uptick. Retail inflation is also cooling. But what about PR?
Will the PR sector see strong growth in the remaining half of 2014?
Jaideep Shergill, CEO India, MSLGROUP, says that: “Inquiries, in fact, have been picking up since March. I believe that they will pick up significantly in the third quarter. As the economic recovery gains steam, we’ll see an uptick in business.”
Varghese M. Thomas, Director of corporate communications, India and SAARC region, Blackberry says, ‘you can’t cure a patient until you know what he suffers from’. Varghese adds, “Based on my experience, I would say most importantly, listen to your clients and make PR integral to client’s growth and profitability by repositioning all your PR efforts with a focus on your company's strengths, values and deliverables. Last but by no means the least, build trust with various stakeholders through quick and responsive two-way communication.”
Jaideep agrees that, “It’s been clear for a while that integrated communications are the future. But, have all agencies understood that and invested in it? Many have, some haven’t. The best way to revive growth is to understand the requirements of this time and making sure you can deliver accordingly.”
Jaideep says that the upticks in enquiries since March are also significant because of the nature of these inquiries. “Gone are the days when clients would ask for just media coverage and measure performance against ad value equivalents. What we’re seeing now is true strategic consulting demands.”
Can PR budgets be raised?
Tarunjeet Rattan, managing partner, Nucleus PR feels that raising budgets, “Is one of the greatest challenges that the new PR professional faces today – budgets have remained at the same level for many years now. A lot of clients are still viewing PR and measuring its success according to the 'number of articles’ delivered. It needs to change. Only when we showcase to clients the effectiveness of the counsel we bring to the table will the budgets change.”
Jaideep explains that, “the problem over the last couple of years has been two-fold: a slowing economy – communications budgets are always the first to be slashed at such times – and the change in what stakeholders expect in terms of communication and commitment from businesses. Budgets were flat because the traditional way wasn’t delivering. Now that PR agencies have understood that and are adapting, budgets are picking up again.”
Jaideep says that, “PR budgets are expanding substantially as agencies offer more wholesome services. We are seeing immense growth in digital, of course, but also in content, crisis communications and public affairs.”
T. Anand Mahesh, managing director, Mavcomm Consulting feels that, “companies would be willing to raise budgets in case of crisis management situations, the launch of a very important product or service, which are critical to companies further growth, and if the agency can integrate their offerings with business consulting, social media utilisation and creation of fresh stakeholder engagement platforms.”
How much should PR budgets rise?
Jaideep says that, “I’d like to see PR budgets rise upwards of 20%. This would allow agencies to bring a truly strategic approach to the table by investing in capabilities and talent.”
Tarunjeet agrees saying, “We need to stop marketing our services as 'pay per article' or be judged according to the 'number of articles'.”
Tarunjeet says that budgets need to be raised by a good 40% to give PR professionals their due. But admits that, “PR professionals need to prove their worth for that to happen.”
T. Anand Mahesh, says that, “I don’t agree that PR budgets are flat. The agencies delivering sustained value are getting incremental budgets every year. Brands have to see the value being brought in by PR to increase their spending. It’s our responsibility to show clients the additional benefits with the increase in PR budgets.”
Varghese points out that the cornerstone of PR used to be the creation of word-of-mouth, endorsements by celebrities to create credibility, authentic user statements and so on. “Fundamentally, you can see that the emphasis was on control (some may call it propaganda) of the message. If the message could be shaped before being delivered, PR had achieved its goals. Today the scenario is somewhat different. PR professionals and their plans must give up a degree of control. Instead, the focus must shift to creating trust. PR is quickly moving towards building relationships. It is focusing on two-way communications and motivating target audiences into desired action.”
Varghese advises that, “If this can be articulated well to the client, I wonder why any company/organisation would be hesitant to raise their PR budgets. But so much is certain: the future of PR remains exciting because of its ability to shape the world.”