Madan Bahal's opening address at Spectra kicks off with call for better retainers, urgent reskilling of PR pros

In a no holds barred opening address at #RTSPECTRA, the online edition of Praxis, Asia's largest PR conference, Madan Bahal, MD and co-founder Adfactors made a strong call for fundamental changes in the way the PR business functions in India. 

Adfactors PR is India's largest PR firm and regarded as a bellwether of how the PR business in India is doing.

At the same time Bahal took care to point out the strong performance of the PR industry in India during the pandemic as compared to other communication disciplines such as advertising and media.

A blueprint for growing the PR business: Improve Retainers 

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, "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."

Commenting on the relationship between a client and consultancy Bahal said, "Let’s universally embrace two words in our working model – Clarity of program objectives as the client’s responsibility and diagnostics before prescription as the consultancy’s responsibility. This will channelise effort, reduce wastage and frustration, allowing us to focus more on outcomes."

Urgent reskilling needed 

Bahal also flagged off reskilling as one of the urgent requirements saying that communicators will need to spend 200 hours per year to keep abreast of how rapidly the corporate, economic, political and business environment is changing. Bahal said there is a significant L & D opportunity and that companies should allocate 3000 dollars per person per year for learning. It's this 'agile learning' as Bahal terms it that will enable the industry to stay ahead and serve stakeholders at the "speed of their expectations.'

Leadership crisis

Madan Bahal also commented on the serious leadership crisis that is plaguing the PR business, observing that a similar lack of leadership is being observed in governments, institutions and the media across the world. This gap in leadership was obvious, Bahal feels, in the way the pandemic was handled by different government and institutional entities.

Bahal offered a suggestion that growing the middle and junior pipeline of leadership among PR will help solve the problem partly.

He, however, urged the PR business to hire new leaders from outside the PR business saying the PR world had become too 'incestuous' as it continues to, "Look the same, think the same, talk the same and hire the same."

PR has risen stronger from the pandemic 

Madan Bahal also dwelt on how well the PR business has performed during the pandemic saying it has had the least amount of job losses among the marcomm disciplines.

He said, "Most PR firms to the best of my knowledge have restored pay cuts or are going to do. The pandemic has been a testing of strength and PR has emerged as an essential service. Not only the light at the end of the tunnel but the end of the tunnel itself is in plain sight. Some sectors have shown a V shaped recovery. While there might be some contraction of the GDP in March 2021, growth will pick up later."

Quoting Winston Churchill  famous lines, "Never let a good crisis go to waste", Bahal asked the #RTSPECTRA delegates to channel that strength of purpose to catapult PR to a new level of growth.