[PR Channel] The focus will be to add value and get more volumes: Rahat Beri

20 Feb,2012

In between the extreme attention that a big PR organisation gets or the undue fanfare that follows a small PR firm as it straddles a difficult path down the fierce PR road, it is the mid-sized agencies that often get lost in this gratuitous display of affection and are often left on their own to walk the talk. But one cannot downplay the efficacy and value that mid-sized agencies manage to bring to the table – attributes that even clients will readily agree upon. Like for instance, Percept Profile, an agency that has managed to deliver impressive services and value to its clients and has managed to outperform industry expectations by delivering robust growth numbers year after year.


As the agency gets ready to battle new frontiers in the PR and communications space, Rahat Beri, COO – Percept Profile & COO-Digital Media, Buzzinga, opens up with Johnson Napier on the measures that the agency has in place to keep delivering exemplary services to its clients, on the need to foray into new verticals with the passage of time and how digital and social media would be an integral element for the agency so as to deliver 360-degree solutions that are ahead of time.


How would you assess the growth of Percept Profile in FY 2011-12?

FY 2011-12 has been a good year for us. We have witnessed a lot of growth in terms of new business. Also, there were several new initiatives that we started this year, like the launch of an IR division, a social media division. We have also added new branches to our existing fleet. We have also handled several projects across categories like the IFFI inGoa, which was a total integrated marketing communication approach that we delivered to the client in a short period of time.


The year also saw us gain businesses within the telecom, retail and other categories. So it was a more marketing communication-led year for us and it definitely grew more than the average industry growth rate. We need to understand that it is not just pure PR that can make you grow – you can’t have those 2-3 lakh retainer accounts that can give you numbers. There is a need to expand horizontally in terms of the services that you provide and how effectively you provide them. That’s what is important and that’s what’s going to help you grow.


Given the need for PR agencies of today to keep evolving themselves to stay ahead of the curve, how, according to you, has Percept Profile evolved as a full-service PR agency of today?

I would say that we are still a mid-sized agency but very niche in our focus in terms of the kind of services that we offer. We’ve expanded in recent times and have offices across Mumbai,Delhi, Chennai,Bangalore, Kolkata and Pune. We have added a lot more people in our team; we have a language media team which is independent because we realise that is an important space to be in. That’s because we are dealing with language newspapers, which is different from dealing with English language newspapers. Also, as an agency, our goal is to grow in areas that the others are not present in. Though I am not as large as the other agencies, but I am growing in services which will help me build better businesses. I could get my volumes out of it.


What are the benefits from synergising services of group companies to foster your offerings towards clients?

We use a lot of the services from several divisions at Percept like Rural, Outdoor, Media, Creative, and others, while servicing our clients. Our internal companies help us in terms of the information and research, which is essential. While earlier research was crucial only for advertising I believe it is going to play a critical role in PR going forward. That’s because it is important for us to understand the perceptions of people. Ultimately, PR is about changing perceptions and building an image. So I need to know where I am and I need the client to tell me where he wants to be. If I am in the know of that, then I can bridge the gap and help him with the communication strategy.


Most big agencies brag about the evaluation measures that they have but seriously, it beats me as to how can one evaluate a pure PR strategy. You can probably evaluate in terms of messaging or column centimetres, but can you evaluate on the basis of how the campaign has been successful? One cannot. There has to be a mix of tools to achieve that objective. So there is a complete approach to the way we engage ourselves with our clients.


The agency’s client roster boasts an impressive line-up. How have the several specialty domains performed for you over the past year?

We’ve handled a lot of real estate clients last year and also clients from sectors such as auto, telecom and educational sector. One of the sectors that we are looking at going after are the PSUs. That’s because a lot of these PSU companies are looking at opening up and communicating their offering to the masses at large. There are a few other clients as well, but I cannot disclose that information as of now.


How have the various centres contributed to the agency’s overall growth in India?

Mumbai has been the best region for us;Delhihas been supportive and managed to get good business growth last year.Bangaloreis growing but is yet to get there. Though a small market, our focus this year would be on Kolkata. We believe that there is business in that market. Also, Pune is another market that has grown well last year. We are also going to a lot of Japanese clients, as we have the Hakuhodo lineage to bank on. We helped a lot of Japanese agencies launch their products last year.


Talent seems to be the biggest impediment hindering the growth of PR in India. How is Percept Profile coping with this inevitable conundrum?

The problem is that we do not have institutes that churn out good talent. While there are institutes that provide training in advertising and other domains, there is nothing as such for the PR industry. It, therefore, becomes important for a PR agency to conduct regular training programmes for the employees so that they stay updated on the developments in the industry. Like we encourage people to go and attend forums if they feel it is going to be of help to them or we have internal heads of other Percept agencies, who come and discuss and train our staff on a related field of interest. We co-share a lot of knowledge as a group which helps us to learn.


The focus for us is that we do not want our employees to grow up with just pure PR; we make them meet other experts too as it is important that they understand communication in its totality. So there is a lot of learning that happens on an open level of communication and not just pure PR.


There is a general perception in the industry that clients are hesitant to pay a premium for services sought. Your comments.

I don’t think that the clients underpay, it’s the agencies that undercut. The thing is that every agency has a cost that it has to bear and the bigger the agency the larger the cost it has to incur. But if you are a smaller agency and doing a volume-driven business then you can go ahead and undercut your rates as you have smaller costs to bear and that’s where the problem lies.


Also, the thing is that one has to analyse every client and understand what he wants. They could be big multinationals or small players but they are very clear as to what they want from their PR agency. What is important for the agency is to say whether can I do it or can I not do it? Also, cost-wise there are a few agencies that have very large networks, otherwise we all use stringers. And the cost of a stringer is very high, how do we make so much money to pay them? Also, it is not a viable option to open offices at 100 different locations. So how does one manage itself given such constraints; it’s really a catch-22 situation.


Is the client partly to blamed for failing to see the value, and hence the premium, that agencies bring to the table?

I do not blame the clients and I do not blame the agencies either, but I think that it is a phenomenon that one needs to understand and do a reality check – can I do it or not do it? The agencies have to be honest with their client. We tell our clients honestly that this is what we can deliver and this is where I’ll need help from stringers and therefore this will be the cost that it will come up to. The last thing an agency would want is for the business to be unviable; at the end we are all here to do business.


What would you attribute the highly disorganised state of the industry towards?

I feel there are a lot of these small agencies that have cropped up lately. You see people quitting an agency and starting their own venture but I do not know how long they last? I am sure that what these small agencies do is good but they undercharging because of other business wins. I am of the firm belief that pricing should have a standardisation.


Your digital offering Buzzinga was floated a few months ago. What are your plans for the space in 2012?

Digital media is important to any company that wants to grow and the quickest way to get their name out there to the masses. Buzzinga aims to provide the best online solution to clients with an objective to creating a strong and highly recalled brand in the real and virtual world. What Buzzinga does is it utilizes several different mediums effectively to highlight a brand and create a direct line of communication with clients and customers. Buzzinga caters to clients’ needs right from creating an online identity, strategizing the online communication, creating content, executing the strategy and finally monitoring the activities in the social media space. Buzzinga also designs Facebook and Smartphone applications for brands. It already has a huge roster of clients that it caters to in the digital space. The start has been good so far, the team is young and growing and I see a brilliant future for Buzzinga.


How do you view the entry of multinational agencies in India? Have you been approached for a takeover from an interested suitor?

We work with a lot of multinational agencies across the world. We have tie-ups with agencies in Malaysia, Dubai, Singapore, Europe, and so on. The thing is that we use the skill-sets of different agencies in different markets to do our work. To enter other markets, it would make sense to enter as per the specialty that each market is able to offer which differs from region to region. So right now we are content working with different agencies across markets.


While there have been multinational agencies who have come here inIndia, we are yet to see the impact that they manage to create in terms of getting in systems and processes in place. Having said that we are open to a partnership as and when we feel we are ready for it.


What is the road ahead for the agency in 2012?

Growth, growth and more growth. We want to grow multi-dimensionally and grow in areas of business that will add value and help in getting volumes for the agency. We want to be seen as a full-service agency offering every service within our reach.


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