Siddhartha Mukherjee: Indian standalone PR Firms are fighting back!

04 Jun,2015

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


There was a time when the advent of multinational PR firms into India was seen as bullish and a fresh breath of air! Clients became happy expecting “international standards”, “western learnings”, “professionalism”, “customisation”, “strategic inputs instead of tactical, table and chair management services” and so on. Which is why, paying a premium service fee did not receive too much of a resistance.


As for the employee base, they expected better work environment, training and development, a respectable employee identity and fatter pay package.


Well, the dust is settling down now. The air is clearing up! The reality on the ground is becoming kind-of visible. Basis the feedback I have received from various corporates and industry captains, who have worked with/for both multinational and Indian PR firms, it seems the desi players are fighting back and setting their own innovative standards.


An eventual conclusion can also be that, if this trend continues, the core business advantage of deep pockets (allowing wait-and-watch patience), that multinational firms have been known to leverage upon, may not be a potent gamechanger any longer.


Let us look at what the Indian PR firms are doing to fight this battle:

a. “Dil Dhadakne Do” Zeal: In one of my previous articles, I had spoken about “It is time for India Principles”. Well, this is an interesting beginning! The very fact that Indian PR Firms have realised that “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” so “Dil Dhadakne Do” means a lot towards creating a mark in the global arena! The fact that Indian PR firms have started setting up international offices, getting invited to juries of international advertising and PR award functions is a wonderful pat on our back! The fact that they want to LIVE is by itself a great change! Indian PR Firms are wanting to relive life and set the Dhadkan!


b. Transition of Management Philosophy: The sole proprietorship or mom-n-pop shop approach is dead! Phew! The core postman job of delivering press release copies from publication door to door is fast becoming a small fraction of PR Agency KRAs. Agency top management is no longer just the founder or owner but an array of thinktanks. They are expected to face, answer, guide and counsel the client top management with strategy and direction. Thinktanks from outside the industry – management consultants, auditors, economists, researchers, statisticians, etc – are being enrolled into the thinktank panels. Indian PR Firms have put on the thinking caps!


c. Professionalism is taking a U-turn, towards Good: Before we take it otherwise, let me clarify that by professionalism, I simply mean basic hygiene factors like punctuality, quality of language (written and spoken), planning skills, creating client briefs, delivering on the expectations, reviews and appraisals and so on. Well, I am happy to see things changing… for the good. To start with, PR firm client servicing teams are reaching for meetings on time! Second, they come much better prepared. Third, they are well-read and have some perspective beyond just “news coverage”, “publication name”, “edition name” and “journalist name”. They have started talking about brand building – and it makes me excited as I write this) – and they are talking about matching their efforts with outputs and outcome. Indian PR firms are professing professionalism!


d. Strategy & Customisation outweighing Template Culture: Clients are being treated with unexpected yet welcome pleasantries in the form of getting much more increased amount of customised strategic inputs which typically, at least perception-wise, has been the bastion of the multinational firms. Indian PR firms are setting high levels of innovative and out-of-the-box expectations within a client’s mind on what an ideal PR firm should do and deliver. It is no longer about tactical media relations skills. Clients have started realising that Indian PR firms have the inherent advantage of local ground knowledge. Second, Indian firms are (still) not bound by templates that many of the multinational firms are forced to follow because of diktats from the western headquarters. The Indian firms have had the advantage of fighting heterogeneous market situations for decades where templates were no remedy. This gives Indian PR firm thinktanks immense advantage setting expectations and delivering to them. India teaches you the art of living through instant improvisation! It seems, Indian PR Firms are faster and nimble footed!


The decision is not final yet. The quarters and semis are being played currently. Who the winner will, probably, get decided in the next few years. Going by the trend, it is for sure that a client’s imagination about an ideal agency is set to undergo a sea change! The tide is taking a turn. Top-of-mind recall levels are drifting back – slowly though – towards Indian PR Firms.


Siddhartha Mukherjee is a senior PR industry professional and currently Senior Vice President, Eikona – Earned Media Planning, Audit and Advisory. The views expressed here are his own.


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