Should agencies refuse media only briefs?

India has one of the largest media industries in the world – with more than 70,000 newspapers and over 690 satellite channels (more than 80 of which are news channels) and it is also the biggest newspaper market in the world in multiple languages – over 100 million copies sold each day.

With such a large range of media options, the PR business in India has a challenge to move beyond ‘media relations’ and convince clients of the benefits of integrated communication strategies’. The PR business in India cannot stay immune from the massive change happening in the communication business, yet are clients ready to treat PR as a complete business tool?

Are clients ready to move beyond media relations?

Vivek Sengupta, Founder & Chief Executive, Moving Finger Communications says: “Unfortunately, many clients are not ready to do so. This happens, in part, because the media in India are so vast, various and variegated that addressing all sections of the media is in itself a humongous enterprise.”

Vivek says he does not refuse media only briefs: “If that's what a client wants, that's what she'll get. The Indian media are ubiquitous. Ignoring or neglecting them is anything but desirable. However, focusing on the media to the exclusion of everything else is equally undesirable.”

Valerie Pinto, CEO, Perfect Relations, agrees that: “If the task is specific and activity restricted I don’t see why a media specific brief cannot be taken. However, as a PR specialist, it is our expertise to identify the best possible means to reach the consumer and recommend the most suitable plan to achieve the right outcomes.”

Valerie adds that that there are only two sets of clients today: “One that is convinced about an integrated approach and one that is waiting but watching. Nobody can take away the importance of traditional media’s impact and clients fully recognize that. However, new media is evolving and clients are increasingly adapting to keep up with the changes in the way the audiences consume information today.”

Valerie adds that this is reflected in the substantial increase in queries and mandates that Perfect Relations has received that go beyond driving coverage and eyeballs. She gives the example of “The Rolex Awards for Enterprise”, a Rolex initiative to identify and award enterprising individuals who have helped humanity, where Perfect Relations managed not only a public relations campaign to highlight these individuals to the Indian media but also marketing and events management.

Valerie points out that: “This ensured consistency in the award’s identity and purpose with event thematic, and managing the guests attending the Awards ceremony. I have no doubt that we should see an increased focus from agencies, as well as clients, towards more stakeholder driven mandates in the near future.”

Have media only briefs led to commoditisation of the PR process?

Vivek Sengupta agrees that PR has become commoditised due to media only briefs: "To a degree and from one perspective, yes. But when you say "commoditised", I fear that you are underplaying both the role of the media in PR and the critical importance of strategic media relations. I would underplay neither.”

In a previous interview to PRmoment India, Nandita Lakshmanan, Founder and CEO, The PRactice, had pointed out: “It really is a vicious cycle isn't it? Just see the dozen odd RFPs one gets - these are media relations ONLY briefs that show the function at our client's side hasn't evolved. We also see the unhealthy practice of budgets not being listed in the RFP. I believe this is unique to India, but I fail to understand the logic of doing so. Unless the PR function hasn’t evolved within a corporate it is unlikely the PR manager is unaware of budgets allocated to them."

However Nandita does feel that change is happening and going in the right direction but it needs to be pushed more. She says: “The number of integrated campaigns with public relations at the core is seeing a slow increase. Client acknowledgement of the value PR firms bring is still wanting, and it would help to have vocal ambassadors who push the need to expand the scope of work in RFPs for public relations and communication strategies.”

Valerie Pinto believes that: “The perception of Public Relations in India has also evolved. Once just a part of the services offered in a marketing mandate, PR today is a formidable stand-alone tool in a corporate arsenal of building an image, sustaining it and protecting the company’s reputation.”

Valerie adds that: “As the Indian PR industry matures; disseminating brand news and insight to the media will only be a small part of the approach that agencies will adopt.”

It is clear that while refusing media only briefs is not happening in large numbers, there is a move by PR professionals to help clients understand the complete business value of a PR strategy.

Written by Paarul Chand