India's largest PR firm Adfactors marks 25 years, at its heart an extraordinary founders' partnership

Adfactors PR, founded in 1997 is India's largest PR firm, estimated to be at the 400 crore rupees mark. It is also the only independent  PR firm in a top 5 list dominated by the Indian arms of international communications firms such as BCW, Weber Shandwick, Edelman, WE and MSL.

The beginning 

In the early 90s’ as the Indian economy opened up, the Adfactors leadership came to an important realisation. That if they were to keep pace with the rising institutionalisation of the financial markets in India, the communication tools for their clients would have to evolve beyond their current offerings of financial advertising.

Therefore, born out of the need to respond to the new market challenges, Adfactors PR was launched in 1997. This week, the firm turns 25.

Says Madan Bahal, co-founder and managing director, Adfactors PR says, “On one hand, we had to evolve our offering, on the other hand, we had the example of PR success stories with firms such as Clea, Perfect Relations, Genesis and Sampark PR. This inspired us to diversify into PR.”

Since that moment in 1997, Adfactors PR is now India’s largest and still independent  PR firm.

Adfactors’ Genesis

While Madan Bahal might be the more public face of Adfactors, the company rests on the partnership between Madan Bahal and Rajesh Chaturvedi.

Madan Bahal on his partnership with Rajesh Chaturvedi

Only death shall do us apart. Our partnership is summed up in the following verse:

We are walking over the long bridge of life,
The Bridge goes over a deep, choppy ocean,
There is no end in sight, only the horizon,
In this journey, I will not push you over,
Nor, will you.
I will not jump, nor will you,
I will not turn back, nor will you.
We shall keep walking together,
Until we can walk no more.

In an interview with PRmoment in 2018, Madan said, “Rajesh is our mentor and role model. The word ‘relationship’ is the very foundation of public relations and Rajesh has an unparalleled bank of relationship capital that Adfactors PR and our clients benefit from. He is a hallmark of generosity, simplicity, honesty, and selflessness. To that extent, the firm’s culture is the long shadow of Rajesh’s personality. Our partnership of 39 years has outlived any other partnership in the communications industry in India.”

Madan said emotionally that, “ We are brothers doing business. We have a certain outlook to life, we are generous to each other and tolerant of each other. So, we will do business together, till we can do no more.”

In 2018, Madan also told PRmoment that together, the two partners, have developed a certain business philosophy and approach to life which Bahal describes as, “ Rooted in ancient Indian wisdom. Bahujan hitay, bahujan sukhaye, which means that our actions should be for the good and happiness of all. Our actions should be consistent with the laws of nature; we, therefore, do not work for businesses engaged in meat processing, alcohol, tobacco and gambling. We do business from an ethical high ground and not merely comply with the laws of the land.”

Recap: 3 Adfactor PR Pivotal Moments

The COVID crisis of 2020

Covid placed, the Indian PR business, like other businesses in the middle of an unprecedented challenge due to the COVID-19 challenge. At that time from what he calls his 'bunker', on firms can handle the challenges brought out by the Coronavirus.

Take a look as he speaks to PRmoment India via Zoom on how PR firms can stem cash burn, what the marcomms playbook for clients will look like post-COVID-19 and why brands need to guard against reputational risk more than ever.

The same year, in November 2020 In a no holds barred opening address at #RTSPECTRA, the online edition of Praxis, Asia's largest PR conference, Madan  made a strong call for fundamental changes in the way the PR business functions in India.

Laying out his blueprint for the next level of growth for the PR business, Madan listed 5 key points that would matter in the short, medium and long term for PR firms and corporate communication professionals.

Key among them was a call for better retainers.

He said, "It is also the responsibility of the demand side (clients) to help the supply side (PR firms) to grow. The retainer fees are not adequate to serve the challenge."

Madan Bahal pointed out that the current level of fixed retainers were not sufficient to deal with the existing and forthcoming complexities that communicators will have to handle, complexities which will throw businesses in an "existential crisis" post pandemic.

Bahal elaborated at SPECTRA, "A fixed retainer amount allowing scope creep does not leave much room to the PR firm for investments in learning and development, technology, digital tools and specialist resources, constraining the PR firm’s ability to serve its clients well. India is a market with unmatched complexity and diversity of media, stakeholders and risks. The Indian community average of a $ 5,000 monthly retainer isn’t adequate to leverage the myriad opportunities or address the strategic challenges that most client organisations face. As clients, you are the larger partner in the relationship – your benign understanding and support will help the PR consulting business to deliver well on your challenges."

Tata account win -2018 

In January 2018, Adfactors PR won the biggest PR mandate in the country, at that time it was estimated at Rs. 60 crores annually. In November 2017, Tata had ended its contract with Rediffusion Edelman, putting the agency on notice till end of January 2018.

Pivoting during the 2008 crisis

Bahal said in an interview to PRmoment that their philosophy is to be ‘resilient’, an approach that was tested during the 2008 economic downturn.

Bahal shares that in 2008, 90% of their work was financial communication., “We were 11 years old and in one shot, 40% of our business vanished. This was happening to everyone in the financial system. We called an open house for all 300 of our employees and made a public commitment that not a single person would be retrenched or their salary reduced.”

At this point, Adfactors increased their exposure to other industry sectors and also made certain their support to existing clients was in keeping with the crisis at hand.

Says Bahal, ”For 3 months, we maintained a PR team 24x7 for any crisis that a client might have to deal with. We also offered reduced fees and deferred payment terms to clients. We appreciated the adversity that they were dealing with. At the end of the day, a business must have a soul.”

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