The glittering world of Bollywood PR

Ah Bollywood. The very word conjures up images of elaborate dance numbers, romance and movies high on emotions. But Bollywood is also one of the biggest industries in India, expected to touch 4.5 billion dollars by 2016 (Source: DI International Business Development (DIBD)).

According to DIBD, Bollywood has been growing steadily at 10 percent every year with revenues already at 3 billion dollars in 2011. And movies are no longer about song and dance routines, creative and relatively small films such as Shahid, Gangs of Wasseypur, Citylights, The Ship of Theseus and The Lunchbox are also finding an audience.

This brings us to PR. Some of the most interesting PR and marketing communication campaigns are taking place in Bollywood. Last July, The Ship of Theseus, presented by Aamir Khan’s wife Kiran Rao, ran a digital campaign that required people to vote to watch the film in their city.

Bollywood PR is also a type of PR where, more than any other category, perception through consistent PR is truly reality.

Personal Branding, Integrated Marketing Communication and Bollywood

While PR in Bollywood is still disorganised, some of the bigger agencies now treat PR campaigns as an integrated exercise which can often concentrate on personal branding, not just celebrity management.

Anna M.M. Vetticad, journalist and author of The Adventures Of An Intrepid Film Critic points out that PR and marketing have become far more closely intertwined. She adds that, “Today there are many more media platforms – mainstream and off-mainstream – available to PR and marketing teams, most stars no longer opt for an aura of unavailability to the press, and PR for stars and their films is a year-long exercise irrespective of whether a film is nearing release or not.”

According to Parag Desai, CEO, Universal Communications, “Personal branding relies on intangible attributes and the use of personal nuances to create an image. This is increasingly becoming important thanks to the instant access we have to celebrities through social media and the public scrutiny they face.”

Universal Communications has handled PR for films such as Golmal, Jab We Me and Rockstar.

Personal branding can often mean being published at any cost.  The rise of the tabloid culture and the existence of sites such as mean that being seen perhaps leads to an opportunity to get work. Harshita Vaishnav, PR and social media professional, and owner of The Fan’s World, says, “Clients these days don't care if a negative or a positive story is published. It’s a different ball game all together. Being written about is what matters sometimes.”

Harshita adds, “Today an A-lister gets covered easily and the media needs them but when you have a B lister – semi known – clients it’s a tough job. The link ups and random celebrity spotting where viewers think “Oh my god this celeb was spotted with so and so”, is in short a planned PR paparazzi.”

Beyond Personal Branding

Anna, however, feels that while the gossip press is still very much a part of a star and film PR strategy, multiple brand endorsements and the numerous glamour magazines on stands now help stars to stay visible and relevant all year round in kosher ways. Even without the help of the gossip press, and while they are themselves out of circulation due to their shooting schedules.

Anna adds, “For films, the trickle of promotions begin many months before release. Then as the release date gets closer the potential audience is bombarded with information and images from the film 24x7 through a plethora of activities ranging from media interviews to press conferences, theatre visits, on-ground activities in malls and other places where the public tends to congregate. Other types of promotion include stage performances, appearances on high-profile shows on general entertainment channels, multiple trailer releases, ensuring radio and TV play the film’s songs and social media activities and traditional hoardings and posters.”

Anna says that, “The entire strategy is geared towards creating a frenzy around the film and getting the maximum viewers into theatres on the film’s opening weekend before negative reviews and negative word-of-mouth kick in just in case the audience and/or critical response to the film is not favourable. It is also done before the audience’s attention is diverted to the next option as a wide variety of entertainment options are available to them at all times.”

Has PR in Bollywood changed?

Rising PR Budgets

Archana Sadanand, Proprietor, Imagesmiths, who has handled PR for clients such as Aishwarya Rai and Imran Khan, says that, “PR in Bollywood has changed drastically over the years....first it was just plain vanilla PR in a limited number of magazines catering to this specific industry but over the years this has changed totally. Personal PR, marketing, social media management, talent management and agencies all play an important part in the PR.”

Anna says that, “The difference between film and star PR now and when I joined journalism in 1994 is so vast that 20 years back seems like many worlds away. In those days, film PR involved issuing a brochure and photographs to film journalists, perhaps holding a press conference and a premiere, and sometimes, star visits to theatres after the film’s release. Star PR involved planting occasional rumours about an actor’s or actress’ love life in the film press especially close to a film’s release, interviews were rare and access to the star was controlled by a single all-powerful manager/secretary. Gradually those brochures became glossier and star availability for pre-release interviews began to increase.”

Parag says that he would not term the change in PR as mature or immature. “It has definitely become more structured and regulated, given the increase in marketing and promotional budgets. More than just new techniques, it has been new media outlets that are being innovatively used these days to provide audiences the exciting movie content.”

Anna says that the budget for publicity and marketing of films is nowhere close to the percentage of the film’s total budget that is set aside on an average for a mainstream Hollywood film, but feels that, “The Hollywood model is certainly where Bollywood is headed. The release of information about films and stars is micro-managed now by an entire team, sometimes by multiple agencies, who decide what should be circulated as a rumour and what should be released as confirmed news, when, where and how.”

Anna adds “Since everyone with a decent budget is doing the now-standard media interviews, reality TV appearances, theatre visits, multiple trailer releases and so on, each film must find a way to stand out from the crowd by finding unique ways to promote aspects of the film that are its USPs. Those who’ve managed to crack this include Aamir Khan in his role as producer and actor, and actor Vidya Balan. Others too must find ways to do the essentials and yet also do something that no one else is doing with each film.”

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.