Amith Prabhu: Independent PR Firms are no different from holding company-owned firms

04 May,2015

By Amith Prabhu


I fail to understand the big deal independent firm owners make about holding company-owned firms and vice versa. We are a people business and a PR firm is only as good as the talent it acquires and retains. I have worked at two independent firms in India and abroad.


I have also worked at an independent firm that was acquired by a global firm and closely been associated with couple of others in both the leagues. I have honestly seen no difference. And I’m hoping there is a real difference that gets talked about.


The context of the column is the conversations I have been part of where one league tries to do a one-upmanship on the other when there is no scope for such comparison. Then there is the dichotomy of one independent buying another independent. Does the smaller independent still remain an independent?


Also, all these terms are media creations and mainly done to slice and dice content and create avenues for revenue in terms of separate content and forums to target two sets that are one and the same. Yes, independent firms are concerned about being acquired and losing the independence. But that is an area of concern and has been proven wrong by the world’s largest PR firm which not only has resisted all attempts to get acquired and in the process created a holding entity for itself.


Recently, India’s largest firm, also an independent acquired a smaller firm to beef up some of its core offerings and grow in a particular geography. So, independence is really a state of mind. And I don’t think one should worry about independent versus holding company owned.


What one should worry about is local versus international and that is a key differentiator. And this is what will be the deal breaker of the future. The only edge a local firm will have over its international counterpart is in terms of culture and freedom to be creative. Even on these the international firms are getting their act together.


However, I was amazed to spend an hour at the office of an Indian PR firm last week which is not only young and independent but growing rapidly. That firm also has a team of trendspotters who are only focused on spotting trends. In a future column I will write about some of the up-start Indian firms which are raring to go.


At a global level from a management standpoint, there could be couple of differentiators but at a national level, there are none. Today’s independent firm can get acquired tomorrow and the cosmetic change is the addition of another name as a suffix or prefix. Some clients will be won or lost because of global alignments and life goes on.


But the bottomline is there is no big difference between the independent firms and holding company owned. If there is a real difference, it is between the international players and the local players. We are only as good as the people we invest in.


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