Regional PR in India should have automatically been a high growth segment of the market, given the range of diversity in India. But, it has suffered from the same bias that dominates the media. English speaking media is considered more important than regional media and therefore, PR has been concentrated in the metros.
While regional PR players say that his attitude is changing, it’s change that is slow.
Nikhil Harindran, account director with Kochi based ResPublica, Consulting feels the change is seen in certain sectors of the market, “Regional PR brands have been emerging strong contenders to major agencies in respective markets of late. There are many such examples where regional outfits are winning PR mandates in closely fought pitches, one may attribute this to personal connects, regional preferences or cost advantages. The trend is more prevalent in government and public sector accounts.”
Nikhil Harindan feels regional PR partners are the best way for national firms to expand services with limited extra cost
Harindan adds that, “Major agencies have started looking at their regional affiliates to partner with them in national business development and servicing as well. Many of the affiliates businesses are owner driven with promoters having significant experience and they deliver better than own office with resources on role. This also helps agencies increasing toplines without incurring additional capex.”
Mukesh Kharbanda, MD, of the Chandigarh based Fuzion PR Pvt. Ltd. and one of the fastest growing regional PR firms, says that the media saturation in metros and increasing content hunger in regional supplements/editions, is what is driving the current interest in Regional PR.
Mukesh Kharbanda : Bullish on regional PR Growth
Kharbanda feels, “Regional PR is bound to grow at a great pace for at-least the next 5-6 years.
The space should face some stagnation post that as digital would take a major chunk of mind-space even in regional centres by then. But then, that gives rise to a new and very interesting dimension - 'Regional Digital'. We have started working towards it already and hopefully would be able to offer clients a unique proposition by mid next year.”
However, other regional players such as Nikhil Aboti, co-founder of Kinesis Communications, an Ahmedabad based PR firm feels there is no change in how brands see regional PR, saying bluntly “There is no shift, whatsoever. While, there is a lot of talk on how regional PR consultants have an important role to play, they are still perceived as cheap, execution specialists by the national & international players. This is a classic underestimation, considering that PR as a discipline now relies heavily on local knowledge and network. On the other hand, with the emergence of regional brands and businesses, regional PR consultancies have started establishing a national presence.”
Nikhil Aboti says change how you view regional PR as an add on service
The Regional PR contract
Regional players point out that the way the contract is structured between larger PR agencies and their regional affiliates is still unchanged.
Shishir Somani, founder & CEO, Archer Public Relations says, “This is still one of the most critical partnerships in the industry. However, it is no more a ‘buddy type’ affiliation. It has become more of a transactional relationship. Affiliates at times are put into open tendering process where the accounts and finance departments of agencies and clients take the front seat and the feeling is more of a service provider and not of a partner.”
Shishir Somani shares how PR differs in regional centres:
Presently, we are working on a campaign ‘Airtel Payments Bank starts pilot services in Rajasthan’, which is launched in Jaipur and is being covered nationwide. The expectations of the communication team are very high, especially because of the timing, when almost every pocket is hardly having any useful currency.
The three aspects where it is felt that the campaign is different are:
- Being a pilot project, there is a belief that if the campaign would be successful in Rajasthan, it would do well in other parts of the country.
- The message is flowing from region outwards.
- There is delivery pressure in region, more because of the positive response from lot of local celebrities, politicians, bureaucrats and the CM and her office.
Aboti agrees saying, “I think, with account fee of national PR consultancies going down by the year, even the affiliate partnership model is threatened. There are more and more instances when large PR firms look for cheaper alternatives to their affiliate partners. This means, lesser commitment for lesser money for their clients. “
Harindran, however feels that, “ Many agencies partner with regional affiliates in pitching clients as well as in servicing; the latest trend is consortiums with regional affiliates that handle major accounts from/in the regional markets.
Potential industries for growth
Harindran feels that with the advent of IT and increased capital availability, you can see many new companies coming up from regional markets and establishing their presence nationally and beyond. Many of these companies driven by new generation entrepreneurs are passionate about using PR as well as digital media to scale up. If you look at a market like Kerala, there are many such national players from verticals including Tourism, IT, ITES, Ayurveda, Textile, Gold, Food Products, Healthcare, Banking and NBFC. Reginal governments, departments, corporations, and public sector companies are also started using PR increasingly in the national level.”
Aboti points out that, “With the coming of e-commerce, regional brands and businesses are keen to expand their markets. Regional PR consultancies have also strengthened their position and provide them with contextual advisory based on their on-ground experiences. It is a perfect marriage of ambitions. Like-wise, national brands are also keen on connecting with their TG with region specific communication. Which is why there is immense potential for regional PR in healthcare, education, arts, lifestyle and social sectors, as the need for regional expertise in these sectors is crucial.”
While the larger regional PR players say, they are poised for a boom in the next 5 years, other players believe unless the transactional model between national PR firms and regional PR changes this growth could remain in the realms of debate.