The PR industry in India needs to market itself better to attract quality talent

To an outsider, the PR business mainly consists of talking to reporters and achieving coverage. But this is a complex and growing industry covering media relations, internal communications, building relationships with shareholders including analysts, crisis management and public affairs.

Growing pains are now inflicting the PR industry in India, it faces the problem of how to find, train and retain talent across the board. The cycle of dealing with a large and complex media and policy environment with regional implications , the business challenges of delivering on squeezed margins further reduces time and money spend on training and attracting top talent. This is no different from the problems faced by the TV news industry in the ‘90s and the ‘00s, a problem that still persists there. However, brand PR India has a chance to refocus its priorities in this service industry, keeping the business challenges in mind.

Sanjeev Roy, Founder and Managing Partner of Bullzi Inc, an executive search and training firm, says that, "There is a shortage of the 'right' talent for PR primarily because at the entry level, the 'right' talent today has many options that promise better pay and because PR as an industry has not necessarily marketed itself properly to those coming into the market for jobs as an exciting and rewarding career option. This problem gets compounded later as the brightest five to twelve year old PR agency professionals consider a 'client' side job more remunerative and rewarding. This may not necessarily be true (as some realise a couple of years in these corp com profiles).”

Experts also say that specifically to attract good talent, PR agencies should look to hire young fresh talent from colleges at the undergrad level and put them through year long induction/training programme before throwing them into the job. Adds Roy, “This will give them a pool at lower costs from which people with true passion and aptitude for the business will be available for the future.”

Qualities of a PR professional

  • Good communication skills
  • The ability to reach out to people
  • Good command over language
  • Be interested in corporates and how they manage their image
  • A focus on digital PR
  • Think on your feet

Agrees Rajesh Pandey, Managing Partner of Clarity IMC, a Bangalore based independent PR agency, "What we need is a clear hiring and grooming plan – from college to first two years at least. Even if that means keeping a few executives on the bench. Currently, hiring is more like fire-fighting at the last minute."

Industry experts also admit that the seniors in the industry are often hard pressed for time, and unable to dedicate enough man-hours to train the newcomers. Often freshers are expected to manage assignments independently. “A bit of easing pressure off them, and simple things like a weekly meeting focused on training will go a long way in retaining good talent,” suggests Pandey.

Once the industry manages to attract the right talent, the challenge is retaining good people. One of the factors that affect this is better pay scales. While insiders are cagey on the levels of pay, they do say that at an overall level, PR as an industry should look to improve its’ ability to get remunerated better by clients. This will create the necessary cycle of better salaries, better talent, better services to clients, better remuneration.

Says Roy, “Currently a very large part of the industry is commoditized. Conversations with clients are around sq. cm. of coverage. That needs to move to a consistently more strategic approach and differentiated service offerings from agencies. Even in today's market, there are some who get better paid better because their offers are very well defined and they have created their entire organization around delivering high quality to that positioning. The quality of conversation they have with clients is different.”

The industry also needs to invest in the development of their first line of leadership - people who have graduated from being individual contributors to leading small teams. The skills need to be upgraded to equip them to have the 'better quality of conversation' with clients. The experienced leaders should actively pursue a mentorship programme and take a few young leaders under their wings to help them grow.