[PR Channel] ‘Industry resilient in times of turmoil’

03 Feb,2012

By Nitin Mantri


A new year heralds a new beginning. Year 2012, however, began on a note similar to last year’s, with news of a world economy in crisis continuing to grab front-page headlines. As the world kept an anxious eye on Europe, where talks to avert a debt default by Greece are under way, the rupee recovered its lost ground, touching a two-and-half month high of Rs 49.65 against the dollar. However, a CII survey has shown that Indian corporates are not very upbeat about the economy and their own businesses.


So what does a tottering economy mean for the public relations industry? Nothing damaging, thankfully. There used to be a time, about 10 years ago, when PR budgets topped the list of cutback targets whenever the financial markets dragged down the economy. Not anymore. The industry has proved to be a valuable partner to companies in good times and more so in bad times by internalising all critical issues affecting clients. PR advice has become especially valuable during difficult times, primarily due to the advent of social media and a changing communication milieu. PR also delivers more cost-effective results when compared with advertising and marketing. Companies have realized that investing in PR campaigns and sending out the right messages is critical for business recovery after an economic downturn. In fact, experience shows companies that desist from PR engagements fare the worst.


Year 2012 will provide plenty of growth opportunities to PR professionals who spot the key trends and react early. While global trends remain relevant for us, in the Indian context the stress will be on a few areas. With businesses slowing down, client retention will be the natural focus. PR professionals will have to walk that extra mile to be a valuable partner to our clients. This means more value-driven PR campaigns that give a demonstrable return for the clients’ money. This is also the time to leverage research capabilities and provide real-time information and analysis on different industries and competition to clients. But it all has to be done ethically. With Public Affairs capabilities being offered by agencies, it has to be done in an honest manner.


The controversy last year has also turned the spotlight on media accountability. The industry has nursed a secret hope that the Indian media will become more accountable and with the recent controversies, it may just become a reality. But blind worship of the media should stop. The focus should be on what value we can give (to the media and client) and not what we get. Accountability-based influence should be the new harbinger of change and we should be the face of that change. This will also be the year when regional media will continue to grow. Since mainstream English publications have limited reach (read urban population), clients will shifted their focus on regional newspapers and channels, which hold the key to the semi-urban and rural markets.


Social media will of course continue to grow, but there will be blurring of lines between paid and unpaid. The important thing is to be present in all streams-paid, earned, shared and owned-so the message is heard. Content will continue to be king, but the industry needs to think of ways to use the content strategically in both traditional and digital media. Since consumers are spoiled for choice, the key differentiator would be good content that breaks through the information overload and relays the clients’ brand messages. 2012 will also be the year of knowledge curation. All of us will have to play the role of curator at some point or the other and lead our clients to the content that they really value.


There is, however, one thing that remains unchanged in this business of people – connections. PR is creating and enhancing connections with various stakeholders. In this era of social media it is even more critical as opportunities to interact are many. We have to look for peers, journalists, organisations and allies who with time have vanished from our list and make 2012 the year to re-connect.


The past decade has shown the results of effective PR planning and it looks like we will get another opportunity to confirm the PR industry’s resiliency in these troubled times.


Nitin Mantri is the CEO of Avian Media.


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