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What skills do you need to lead a modern PR firm?

It has never been more challenging to be a leader. AI and tech are completely changing communication and reshaping traditional stakeholders such as the media. PR leaders are trying to find the sweet spot that allows them to build on their strengths and allow growth and change.

Modern PR skills trends

A recent PRmoment UK survey with Censuswide found the following top 5 trends emerging from that research about skills modern PR leaders require:

  • PR agency leaders believe in themselves, they have confidence in their abilities.

  • PR agency leaders' biggest issue is how to handle unrealistic client expectations.

  • PR agency leaders lack confidence in the business of PR and their ability to futureproof the agency.

  • PR Agency leaders want to get out of their own agency’s echo chamber.

  • PR agency leaders don’t have enough time.

We speak to founders in India to get their views on whether these trends resonate with them and what they think are the most important skills for leaders.

Navigating the Evolving Indian Market: What PR Leaders Need Now

Rishi Seth, former co-founder of Six Degrees PR and a recent investor in Bengaluru based, The PRactice, outlines reasons why PR firms could face difficulties.

Seth elaborates that these include, "A changing market structure - which has now definitely moved from media relations to integrated communications. Therefore the capability of the leader as well as the team might need to be updated or new talent brought in. Additionally, while quality talent has always been in short supply, with the new areas of services, the talent requirements also have changed. Assessment and recruitment of this talent might be a challenge"

Lastly, "Correlated to the above two points, the leadership of consultancies today are challenged by the squeezing of margins due to higher growth in salary as compared to revenue."

Rishi Seth, Comms Leader

What you need to be a successful PR leader

Seth has 5 clear suggestions for PR leaders today:

- Spend time understanding the new and incorporating them into the organization.

- Recruit talent which will help them navigate and pivot.

- Focus on the margins as much as growth.

- Do not reduce the fee or have open-ended contracts without pre-defined workloads.

-Don't offer huge jumps in salary which you cannot sustain.

Handling Client Expectations

Founders are also united that one of the top skills needed is handling unrealistic client relationships.

Rishi Seth, former co-founder of Six Degrees PR, says expectations become unrealistic when there is no clear scope of work, a lack of specific SLAs' (Service Level Agreements) and a lack of structure on the client's side.

Seth says, "Some of this could be out of the control of the agency leader and could be expected in a dynamic consulting sector like communications where the human element is involved.

However, to minimize this the PR client leader should try and make sure:

  • They have a clear scope of work and the resources which will be deployed to deliver on the mandate.
  • Clear SLA to define the rules of engagement.
  • Regular client engagement at the senior most levels along with all stakeholders on the client side to keep a check on emerging/changing/additional leads.
  • Clear responses on what can and cannot be delivered basis the capability of the firm and the team."

Don't rush the work contract

Aman Dhall, founder, CommsCredible

Aman Dhall, founder, of CommsCredible Consulting agrees saying, "Firms often prioritize quickly onboarding clients over clearly defining work contracts. This can lead to unrealistic client expectations and issues later on. I always say good input leads to good output. Clear terms and conditions from the start result in better outcomes.

Many consulting firms and communication heads keep terms vague due to the nature of how this industry works. There is nothing 'guaranteed' in outcomes if the process is weak or stakeholders are not cooperating on tight deadlines, in our industry. However, this becomes the prime facie reason for eroding trust in the consulting firm-client firm relationship. A sharper focus on contracts and clear goal setting is very critical for overall success on any account."

Tarunjeet Rattan, Nucleus PR

And the impact of intergenerational chaos client side

Tarunjeet Rattan, founder, of Nucleus PR and PRPOI, points out that clients across different generations create their own set of difficulties.

She says, "On one end there is the baby boomer senior set that wants to employ PR services with the same results they got 20 years ago, relying heavily on print. On the other end, you will find a Gen Z who has no idea what PR is and thinks it means press releases. And in the middle, you will find a Gen X who is trying to straddle both worlds."

"When the three ( Baby Boomers, X and Z) generations make up a single team, getting all of them aligned towards the same strategy, approach and deliverables within a quoted cost is one of the toughest tasks and triples the workload of an agency", adds Rattan.

The solution? Rattan recommends, "Based on the volume of work you hire, you can either devote your time towards getting all three generations on board if the cost is worth it or drop the account and work with one that understands your wavelength. Peace must be negotiated at the table for the agency to continue to work on the account."

One-to-one communication with clients

Girish Balachandran, On Purpose

Girish Balachandran, founder, On Purpose, suggests direct conversations while handling knotty expectations, "One-to-one communication with clients helps. It helps avoid a public negotiation in front of teams, which can be a tricky power dynamic. And there definitely is one! Transparency is key as are face-to-face meetings which have the power of making these conversations more human than over email, or even online calls."

Finding time for deep thinking

Balachandran admits one is always short of time as a leader, "On most days, I feel like a glorified WhatsApp coordinator and OTP-giver. The transactional nature of running a PR business can be overwhelming, even for those of us who consider ourselves workaholics (not glorifying!). We often find ourselves juggling a multitude of responsibilities - from managing client expectations and leading teams to addressing business and operational needs. While delegation is imperative, I believe a strong discipline of organising and prioritising is what helps navigate these demands effectively. Cultivating a culture of trust and empowerment within the team is important to enable focus on more strategic planning and high-impact activities, rather than getting bogged down in day-to-day operations."

Does work-life balance even come up?

Rattan agrees that time is always at a premium, "Most PR professionals when they transition from high powered one person teams at a mid-level to team manager senior level and are on their way to leadership roles/agency leadership find leading a team made of different mindsets, generations and attitudes one of the most daunting tasks."

She adds, "When you are not equipped with the right skills to lead a team you end up with a massive workload and an endless to-do list. If they somehow manage to survive, they carry this attitude and work style into agency leadership leading to a work culture that most youngsters do not want to be a part of because that's the image of success they have created."

Sharing her own experience, Rattan says, "I fell into this trap too. A couple of years into the business I was ready to drop. It took me a lot of soul-searching and looking inward before I realized how to recognize my patterns, break them and create a work culture I am proud of."

Today we have created a work culture at Nucleus PR that is synonymous with a positive environment, collaborative teamwork, strong trust and professionalism with boundaries that we protect at all costs."

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