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The growth of Indian public relations

The start of the 24 hours television news cycle in India in the mid 2000s and the rise of the brash, young and lightening fast TV reporter in India, hurled the PR industry in India, head first, into facing the biggest communications challenge it had ever seen. This was the point where the PR industry in India was just beginning to get the attention of the global PR agencies. Today, the big Indian PR agency with the international tie up and even ownership has firmly arrived in India, a 21st century trend first seen in the Chinese PR industry in the 1980s.

Today there are a slew of international agencies in the Indian PR industry, either through acquiring an Indian firm or on their own. These include Genesis Burson-Marsteller, IPAN Hill + Knowlton Strategies, MSL India, which is under Publicis Groupe’s communications and engagement company, the MSL Group and started out as Hanmer MSL, Ketchum Sampark, Edelman,Text100, Fleishman-Hillard, Waggener-Edstrom, Weber Shandwick which was earlier Corporate Voice | Weber Shandwick and APCO.

Prema Sagar, Principal and Founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller, a company formed by the acquisition of Genesis Public Relations by Burson-Marsteller in 2005, says “The last five to six years have brought the greatest spike in international tie-ups in the PR industry, due to increased foreign investment.”Sagar adds that sustaining this trend will depend on the state of the economy; "It’s hard to say if the trend will last, it has already moved so quickly. The way I see it, if India’s economy continues to develop and companies continue to invest here, then more tie-ups will happen.”

With the recent slew of economic reforms to address the investment climate, rolled out by the UPA Government to boost a slowing economy, experts hope that the economy will get back on track with growth beyond 6 percent; this could then fuel further growth for the PR sector in the future.

PR strategists believe that international communications firms will require the expertise of a local firm to navigate this very diverse and complicated market, making a tie up inevitable and a smart business decision. The opening up of the Indian economy along with a very active TV news and online social media is pushing the boundaries of what constitutes news, bringing fresh challenges to the PR professional.

Radhika Shapoorjee, President of IPAN Hill+Knowlton Strategies, India, which announced a change in its name to IPAN Hill+Knowlton Strategies in September 2012, as part of its global shift in corporate identity, says, “The Issues for India are emotional, the voice of civil society has struck a huge chord in driving public sentiment, therefore pressure groups and NGOs will become increasingly large, complex and powerful and public affairs and corporate affairs functions will become as critical as management and marketing for a company. As the PR industry in India evolves, so will the greater demand for the more consultative and advisory aspect to agency offerings increase. So too will research and digital PR become more integrated in to strategy and public advocacy programs.”

This trend is seen across sectors and geographies. Shapoorjee says that  public affairs advocacy across a wide array of verticals, including Healthcare & Pharmaceuticals, Oil, Gas & Power, Energy, Defense, Aviation, Financial Services, Food and Agriculture, Retail, Infrastructure, Information, Communication & Technology (ICT) will grow along with the demands of MNC’s in India.

As per the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry (ASSOCHAM) in India, the Indian PR industry is growing at an annual rate of 32 per cent and is likely to double its size to over US$10.56 billion by 2012 from over US$6 billion presently. A recent study on the PR industry, however, by the MSL Group, disagrees with ASSOCHAM’s estimates of the PR industry in India, saying that “a recent Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India study pegged the size of the industry at a wildly inflated $6 billion whilst MSL Group's research points to $140 million being a more true representation.“

While the industry slugs it out on the actual size and growth potential, there is no doubt that companies in India are relying more on PR professionals to shape their brand image in the current economic environment that combines complex growth with an active social media and civil society.

Commenting on the drivers of growth, Genesis Burson-Marsteller' Sagar says, ”Companies who as recently as five years ago were sceptical of hiring an outside firm for their communications needs, today recognize that to reach their stakeholders across markets and mediums requires deep understanding of the media, and expertise from working in individual markets. Once one company gains a competitive edge through a targeted and successful communications platform, their competitors take notice. We are living in an information age and the best companies understand that communication and dialogue with stakeholders is essential to success.”

Clearly the action has now shifted from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean and Indian PR is poised to ride this trend.

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