The fast growing world of PR start-ups in India

The PR sector in India is growing. Earlier this year, MSL Group India’s Public Relations in India: Inside the Industry’s Mind and the 2013 Outlook pegged the growth of India’s PR business at over 20 per cent. This is comparable to the IT industry in India, though of course the overall size of the business differs greatly. A trait of a fast growing market is the success and dynanism of the start up businesses within it. These are some of the stories about start-ups and younger firms from the PR business in India:

  • In October 2012, 22 year old Vineet Waghmode, from Mumbai, started Picture Perfect Communications with one client who made wedding clothes. Six months later, Waghmode has signed on film star Arshad Warsi aka Circuit as one of his bigger clients.
  • In May 2012, three young professionals in their mid 20s, with backgrounds ranging from finance, advertising and PR set up ‘Beam and Words’ with verticals across PR, Digital Marketing, Design and Advertising.
  • In 2009, Neha Mathur Ratsogi, former employee of Burson Marsteller in London, started ‘WordsWork’ and has worked with clients as diverse as Thomson Reuters, Yo China!, Standard Chartered and high profile sports clients such as Laureus and their World Sports Awards, FIH and speedster Narain Karthikeyan.
  • Vivek Sood’s Regional Public Relations is three years old and is focused strongly on Tier 2 cities. Some of the clients Sood has worked with for regional PR are: Dabur, Toyota, Godrej, Hitachi and TVS.

In the fast changing world of PR, start-ups in PR are looking at initiatives from the media coverage driven world of celebrity PR to the strategic stakeholder challenges of corporate PR. What do these start ups want, what are their challenges. What does the PR business look like from their eyes? Read on.

Challenges: Retaining good clients, ensuring cash flow

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Vineet Waghmode, Director of Picture Perfect Communications, thrives on the highs and lows of celebrity PR, “Every day brings a new challenge and there is a sense of unpredictability which cuts out the monotony. Being just 22, I think the biggest challenge is getting the market price. Most clients see a young guy walking in and go just by face value rather than ability. Despite having a decent list of clients we still have to work at 20 to 30 per cent lesser than market price. For this reason, we give each of our clients a three month trial period after which we renew the contract with an enhanced price.”

Waghmode adds that the three month trial period helps clients to get to know their work and allows Picture Perfect space to build long term ties, “At the start, we looked at money as the primary objective and were looking out for just about anybody who could be our clients but down the line we realised it doesn’t work that way because there is no long term association. The main point here is to look for clients whose mandates we can do full justice to.”

26-year old Arjun Guleria, Partner and Co-founder of Beam and Words, says that while retaining talent is top priority, it's equally important to ensure steady cash flow, “This is particularly important for a start-up, what matters more and is of greater significance for any start-up is cash flows more than profitability – always try to maintain a buffer for contingencies and try to add value to clients over a longer engagement period.”

Retaining talent, up skilling

Quality talent, like for most of the PR business, is one of the biggest priorities for start-ups. Beam and Words, which follows the emerging trend of PR being part of an integrated communication organisation has both regular informal ‘catch us’ sessions to share experiences as well internship programmes to ensure ongoing training and knowledge sharing, “Since we have verticals across design, PR, and digital marketing, we have a rotational program for interns where they have the opportunity to rotate across different work even while they might have a core focus area,” says Guleria.

Specialist vs. General Firms

WordsWork which has a strong roster of sports clients says that picking a speciality helps start ups compete better. Says Neha Mathur Rastogi, Founder of WordsWork, “Clients realise the value of PR and its impact on business and are keener on specialists who can offer them real counsel and impact via their target media. Hence if you are a start-up, it is best to choose your domain and gain depth in the same to be able to create your own USP which helps you compete with the big league of generalist agencies within a short span of time.”

Unlike many other start up firms that tend to chose celebrity, F&B and fashion clients, WordsWork is also comfortable with the pressures of corporate PR. Says Rastogi, “Corporate PR requires an understanding of how big organisations function and of course an understanding of their industry as well. When we took on our largest corporate mandate with Thomson Reuters India, it had many layers in terms of divisions and regions. If you can spread a capable team across these layers and specialise in the kind of attention and industry understanding that is needed then corporate PR is not a challenge. Even for a start-up firm."

Other firms such as Regional Public Relations have chosen a different route and business model. The company concentrates on Tier 2 cities for large companies. For a country with a large media universe like India, such regional affiliations are necessary to ensure Pan India coverage, “We are taking PR beyond metro cities.  We also hope to set up a fully functional integrated PR Knowledge Process Outsourcing unit by 2015 which will provide all related regional PR services at the grass root level i.e media coverage, industry monitoring, media intelligence at the finger tips. We wish to create an eco system where along with an effective network of PR partners across cities of India, we can improve the quality of services.”

Fragmented PR business in India

Sood also says that better organised industry support for start ups and their needs will help greatly to grow the PR business as a whole.

Arjun Guleria believes that “The biggest problem facing the industry currently is that it is extremely cluttered and fragmented. While there are big players in the industry, it is going to be a while before PR as a whole starts consolidating – I think what we are going to see in a couple of years are niche firms focusing on a particular service or sector, as specialization increases. There is also a high attrition rate within the industry, and this stems from my earlier point of fragmentation as professionals jump from one firm to the next compounded by the fact that training for the team and its members are often neglected in many firms. There are however steps being taken in the right direction, with increasing initiatives within the industry, both offline and online, to work together, share experiences and grow together.”

This very vibrant business is undergoing the kind of challenge in its lifecycle that can completely redefine the way PR function in India. Perhaps the start-ups can show the way.

Written by Paarul Chand

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