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India PR Industry year end review, look ahead at election year 2024

It's that time of the year again, to review the year gone by. At a time when AI shook up every industry, including PR, PRmoment India speaks to a range of PR leaders to find out what were the drivers for 23 and what trends will influence 2024.

2023 Milestones: A year of consolidation, muted growth, brand launches and mergers 

Archana Jain, PR Pundit Havas Red

Archana Jain, CEO, PR Pundit Havas Red

The growth momentum in the global PR industry has been stronger in India. And it has been a great year for PR Pundit with two memorable milestones:

  • We marked 25 years of the company.
  • Then we changed our status from “domestic and independent” to “global and networked,” by becoming a part of Havas’ global PR network, Havas Red, and joining the Havas India family."


Arwa Husain, director, Adfactors PR 

Arwa Husain, Adfactors PR

 "The year previous to this was high growth coming out of COVID. I think all of us, across the board, had growth in 2022. I would say the first 9 months have been muted this year. We will still do 10% of growth and there is still a quarter left, which looks very different from the last nine months. So, we should close the year upwards of 450 crores."

 I represent the financial services practice at Adfactors PR. And in the early part of this year, the financial Services practice reached 100 crores. So, that is what was the biggest excitement for me. And then again,  it's not the destination, but the journey itself of 17 years building this."

Atul Sharma

Atul Sharma, CEO, Ruder Finn India and Head - Middle East, president, PRCAI 

"We realised that we needed a second brand in India, not only to manage conflict but also for the different work which was coming to us for which we needed a different set of individuals with different skills. And therefore, Thunder is our proposition for the digital design and advocacy space, wherein we are trying to do some very different, meaningful work." 

Vandana Sandhir, Six Degrees BCW

Vandana Sandhir, India Lead, Six Degrees BCW and chief client strategy officer, BCW India

"It has been a measured year. It's about where can we leverage the new age of media, and partner with our clients to help them support government policy. So that their credentials to continue to have a licence to operate in India, solidifies and grows from strength to strength. 

And that's a crucial one given that we enter into our biggest event next year, which is our general elections. There is also AI as the new normal. We just got out of COVID. And now we're adapting ourselves to AI, as well as our clients to be able to deal with this behemoth, which will pretty much shake up everything."

Nitin Mantri, Avian WE

Nitin Mantri, regional executive managing director (APAC), WE, and group CEO at Avian 

"Everybody, including us, closed last year in March on a big high. But the growth this year has been massively muted. Things are there. But things are not happening at the same pace. It's like there's a pitch is happening and then the clients go silent for six months or three months. Or procurement gives you some absurd figures to deal with. You can't even have a conversation on that figure. 

There are two reasons for this. One globally, tech is not doing well. And many of us who are global firms we do get some business globally, but that business is muted as well. And two, there is there is a global impact on India as well. The global impact of the wars is being seen here as well. I know that the figures, probably the indexes in India, don't say that, but you can feel it in the market.

Abhishek Gulyani, Hill and Knowlton India

Abhishek Gulyani, CEO, Hill and Knowlton India 

"2023 was a great year for us in terms of how we've been able to expand our services, we've added new sectors, new services onto it. We've integrated a lot of creativity and innovation, and we've added a lot of data and insights into what we are doing. And there's been a great response from the market, 

Looking at it from an agency perspective; how are we going to be advisors, to organisations, both from a geopolitical perspective and just the journey that India has made on this whole 'Global South' conversation. How are we helping organisations build up conversations around climate change.

Secondly, data and insights are going to be very critical. And I think that is going to be a differentiator. Every CEO, right now asking or looking for visibility. But with visibility, they are also asking, why is this happening?  

So how can we involve ourselves a lot more as advisors? How can we be creative partners? How can we speak to the range of clients internally not only corpcomm? Can we speak to the marketing guys? How do we engage with the CEOs, that's going to become even more integral in 2024?"

Abhilasha Padhy co- founder and jt. managing director at 80 dB Communications

Abhilasha Padhy, 80 dB Communications

"It's what everyone said its been muted but interesting, I think interesting, because we're doing a lot of more integrated work this year.  I think we have immersed ourselves deeply in it this year. So be it newer platforms, or new formats of content, video, or audio, we're working with clients on newer mandates. 

That's also allowed us to go to our existing clients with similar kinds of offerings."

Jaideep Shergill, CEO and Co-founder, Pitchfork Partners 

Jaideep Shergill, Pitchfork Partners

"Following relatable influencers has significantly increased the likelihood of consumers making relevant brand purchases. This is in contrast to following celebrities with whom they may have never had any interaction, as consumers are considerably more likely to make purchases influenced by those, they find relatable. 

In addition to these developments, the creator economy in India has seen remarkable growth, soaring to Rs 1,300 crore by May 2022. Amid these developments, our influencer marketing services have gained immense traction among our current clientele, and we've expanded by providing comprehensive influencer marketing solutions, to ensure smooth integration into our clients' marketing strategies."

Look ahead at 2024: Year of General Elections, Cost of talent, Reputation and Fake news, AI

PR leaders share opportunities and challenges for 2024

Nitin Mantri, Avian WE, pointed out, " We have to watch out for talent cost. It's not about talent acquisition anymore. It's about talent cost. I'm seeing that across APAC, by the way. Singapore talent cost has gone through the roof. You go to Australia you can't find people, talent costs have been something to watch out for."

Mantri also added that a lot of 2024 will be shaped by geopolitics. At last count I heard was about 20 plus countries going for elections next year, which includes India, the largest democracy in the world. It also includes America. It includes the UK. So major elections on three major continents. And you've got these two wars happening in the middle of the world. And with AI, there will also be an incremental shift in productivity by using AI."

Atul Sharma, Ruder Finn stated, "I feel that 2024 will be determined by a stable government, so it's going to be a very, very hopeful year. But, I also believe that, so far the trends that we've seen, whether it's been crypto, or NFT, it hasn't changed the way that PR has functioned. 

But I feel that AI, especially, the whole generative piece is going to shake the very structure of the way our industry is because it is something which I see right at the entry-level people adapting to so fast. Probably I'll not be relevant anymore if I don't pick up all those skills. So I feel that our cost structures are going to change. If AI gets adapted the way it is." 

Arwa  Husain, Adfactors PR felt that in 2024, "Reputation is going to be of paramount importance, and every time reputation is important, you know that they need a communications person because that's where the CEO is most challenged on.

Earlier, you would have spurts of fake news that would happen. But today, you will be solving more than far more three times what we were solving earlier. Therefore that vigilance, that the CEO, or the CXO level needs, becomes essential."

Vandana Sandhir, Six Degrees BCW concurs, "We have AI  staring at us and a huge disinformation, challenge coming in. That's something that gives us sleepless nights. How do you address the CEO's request saying, "Hey, I've got this message that's floating around WhatsApp, how will it impact my brand?"

Here we leveraged AI, we've come up with a set of tools, with Decipher,  where we can look at any message on any platform and be able to use analytics to predict the virality or the impact on reputation. I think that's a delight for a CEO. And I think that's the sweet spot for us that, you know, we need to build on."

Abhilasha Padhy, 80dB Communications believes that there is already a lot of involvement between communications and CEOs and the C-suite. We are personally involved not just with the brand handles but also with their own handles. Social agencies also have a role to play. But they're very sanitised in their approach. As PR and reputation management professionals we understand the impact, a tweet, an Instagram post or a video going viral will have on a brand more than social agencies is what our understanding has been."

Abhishek Gulyani, Hill and Knowlton India agrees saying, " We're already doing it, we're doing a lot of predictive analysis right now to be involved in conversations, data and insights. It is critical to identifying and also really deep diving into what your audiences are doing. Because I think that's the information that clients expect across all levels. There's also a lot of predictive work that's happening from our side on risk advisory, where you should be able to look at parameters, where we've evaluated what happened five years back when a similar risk factor appeared, and we could map it to current business impact. 

And overall, from a PR perspective, I think it's just a great time to be a PR professional right now. It's going to get better the way our industry is heading, the kind of data that's coming in, the kind of creativity that's coming out of different agencies. It's just I think it's a great time to be alive as a professional right now. So I think I have all hope for 2024.

Archana Jain, PR Pundit, Havas Red, feels that "The industry must learn to overcome the shortfall in available talent with smarter use of AI! I believe it’s a win-win! If we look back in history, everyone thought art (oil and watercolour paintings) would perish when photography dawned on the horizon but on the contrary, the value of art today bears testimony to what our craft is capable of and AI cannot be debilitating. I am optimistic that reason will prevail in the world. On the economic front, the strength of our Indian economy and foreseeable stability in governance forebode well for our growth trajectory." 

Mantri sounds a note of caution saying, "Can we do what others (consulting) are meant to do? Absolutely. We just have to get the right people. I think that the kind of divergence between law, economy and policy is going to be very important as we go forward. And therefore, you know, I mean, look at our government relations practice, which is Chase, we have lawyers, we have people from the Big Four in that practice now. 

But in reality, it's a slow process, it's not going to happen overnight, it's slow. I don't know what percentage of agencies on this call worked directly with CEOs, but I will say that percentage is still very small."

Campaigns of the year: Memes, standalone creators and Microsoft 

PR leaders pick their favourite and not so favourite PR moments of the year.

Barbenheimer 

For Sharma, "It was the whole Barbenheimer Heimer thing. With the confluence of these two movies, there was an entire campaign which probably benefited both movies.

Sam Altman wins, BBC loses 

Mantri gave a thumbs up to the way Microsoft managed the Sam Altman issue. He says, "I think it was brilliant. How quickly they moved on whether they were hiring him or not hiring him. I'm sure a lot of things happened in the background, but they managed the whole crisis.  The share price of Microsoft was falling when they fired Sam Altman Right. And how they kind of steadied the narrative and it went back up. It was it was quite commendable.

Mantro also gave a thumbs down to the BBC, "A big miss, what was BBC did with Gary Lineker. That was so badly managed. To ask him to step down because he wrote something against the government. The other thing was Prince Harry. And his Netflix series, which we thought would do well, but it didn't.

Urban Company's Chhota Kaam

For Gulyani, it was an Urban Company Chhota Kaam campaign, " Through this thought-provoking campaign, they have attempted to underline the importance of skilling, and why everyone should be respected for their work, irrespective of the job they undertake. The narrative of the film is about the dignity of labour in our society. It raises a fundamental question about what is ‘respectable’ work, and reinforces the idea that anything worth doing is worth doing well.'

Dove Stand up for #KidsOnlineSafety

For Padhy, " The campaign that stood out for me was the Dove Stand Up for Kids online safety campaign. And I think maybe it was very close to my heart because I have a 13-year-old and the way they focused on the toxicity of social media and the mental health crisis in the teen amongst teenagers. In fact, I showed it to my daughter as well. And she was also taken aback at the kind of impact it could have on a young mind.


SVC (Shamrao Vithal Co-op. Bank Ltd) moment marketing 

For Husain, "There was the SVC crisis that happened and the leverage that Shamrao Vithal Co-op. Bank Ltd, a Mumbai based bank did. Because in India people were confusing the rebranding to SVC to the SVC Silicon Valley Bank. But as we see at the moment marketing that they did, around it created a lot of conversation."

YouTube and Neeraj Chopra 

Sandhir gave a heads up to how YouTube highlighted the connection of Olympian gold medalist, Neeraj Chopra with YouTube. We had YouTube launch him as part of the 'Creating for India' Series. This was inspired from Chopra saying that he actually picked the sport after looking at it on YouTube. 



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