Why the startup culture in India is creating a burgeoning specialist PR market

The opportunities presented by the Indian market, have now led to greater space for differentiated and strategic PR offerings and specialists in certain areas of the economy. Time was when PR consisted mainly of media relations, which mostly meant issuing press releases, holding press conferences and taking the reporter out for a drink. While that still happens, the opening of the Indian economy had already begun to plant the seeds to change this approach to PR in the ‘90s and right through the ‘00s.

One of the biggest trends of the new Indian economy has been the rise of the 'startup culture'. Experts estimate that there are at least 60 seed and angel funds in India, this year alone, by September 2012, there were an estimated 69 deals worth $17.07 million. This is up from 16 deals worth $9.39 million in 2006. This represents a huge business opportunity for the PR industry, to take up specialised PR for Indian startups.

The PRactice Seed, part of The PRactice has done just that. Set up in 2009, it offers a brand and corporate communication strategy, for startups as a specialised service. Comments Sharon Varghese, Integrated Marketing Specialist at The PRactice Seed, "The mindset required while designing a PR strategy and plan for startups is different as there is a need to focus on short-term wins that meet a long-term objective. Execution of a PR plan also changes with a startup as you need a team capable of building things ground-up and delivering results that are quick and effective. 

"The engagement level increases as there is a requirement of a higher level of handholding in startups than established firms given the startup’s primary focus is on its product/service in its initial years of business. Further, start-ups require a partnership model of engagement with experienced practitioners to advise their leadership team at a strategic level.”

Being specialised, means being more strategic in order to deal with brand new areas within the industry. The open economy has brought in its wake online retailers like Jabong.com and Flipkart to add to giants like Amazon, all catering to the rising yet discerning appetite for Indian for online shopping and presenting fresh PR challenges.

Shilpa Arora, Senior Manager of PR at Jabong.com, a leading E-Commerce fashion portal in India, launched in January 2012, says, "In today’s volatile market having a good public relations plan is more important than ever before. I believe public relations has a critical role to play for an online retail essentially because it is still a developing industry. Even today, consumers are apprehensive shopping online. Thus, communicating with the customers for an online retail company becomes imperative and is needed to go beyond the traditional customer services.”

Even as the new wave of entrepreneurship offers fresh opportunities for PR to define and differentiate itself, PR experts believe that the spirit of specialists needs to spread to other areas of PR as well and bring more flexible definitions of the communications function across HR, internal communication and PR.

As Varghese, puts it, "For example, the rise of captive centres in India has led to an increase in the demand for talent. The traditional and general approach to public relations with articles that position the company as an employer of choice lack effectiveness. This demand now calls for PR teams specialised in internal communication and academia outreach based strategies. This may raise the question – “What about the company’s HR function?” It is the role of public relations here to provide a strategic communication approach that can enable the HR function and in turn the company, to achieve its objective.”

Others like Arora believe that specialised PR will be all pervasive, “PR is much more complex today than it was earlier. PR is always a 360 degree approach and it is imperative to work on a specialised PR strategy across areas. Every area in PR is important and it will not be wise to keep specialised teams only for some PR areas.”

Driven by an evolving economy that is adding new lines of business, much beyond the traditional bricks and mortar sectors, PR is quickly acquiring a multi-hued aspect.