Siddhartha Mukherjee: PR Agency v/s Consultancy…. Any difference?

30 Jul,2015

By Siddhartha Mukherjee


I have always believed that the PR service providers will be the catalysts of PR’s growth story in India. Towards this, while the initiative to transform a PR Agency to a Consultancy started many years ago, not sure the conversion has been a 100 percent success story. In fact, the claim of “We are a PR Consultancy and not an Agency” all the more confuses me.


The advertising industry is what it is today – size- and quality-wise – largely because of its agencies. They have shaped themselves and positioned the tool of advertising on a platform that has made it so intrinsic to every brand-building story for every client.


Somehow, I have found very few PR firms who are genuinely taking efforts to create that differentiator both in their thinking and action. Some PR firms make that claim of being a consultancy for the style quotient… some to momentarily hide their insecurities… but to be fair to some, they have no qualms or inhibitions about who they are. They think and act exactly like a PR Agency and not a Consultancy. They are the implementers, the coordinators, event managers… the jugaad guys. Mind you, our market, currently and for the next few years, will have more potential for PR Agency work than Consultancies.


Without generalising, I have seen cases where multinational, large PR firms continue to act and think like agencies. At the same time, there have been very humble and quiet Indian PR Firms who are doing amazing consultancy work.


For the moment, I am intrigued to visualize what possibly could be some of the key differentiators between a PR Agency and PR Consultancy:

a. Quantity Vs Quality of Clients: I do not believe that a PR service provider’s turnover or its number of clients qualifies it to be called as a Consultancy. I would much rather give weightage to the quality of clients or the kind of work the service provider is rendering for the clients on an ongoing basis. Imagine a scenario where any and every form of media relations services is no longer the mainstay but becomes the default backend output of the service provider and for the client. Noticeably, the focus of work shifts from media coverage to brand building – Recall, Disposition and Conversion!


b. Quality Vs Quantity of Team Members: Many clients, many people to service, many offices! Great story! For me, size does not matter. Quality matters. I see a stark difference between an average team member of a PR Agency vs that of a Consultancy. Well, to summarise it quickly, it is all about their Audio & Visual. I do not want to spend time on the visual part. On the audio part, well, let me go straight to the PR Consultancy person. This person is humble with a constructive energy. He/she is all the good permutations and combinations of a Learner, Manager, Thinker, Researcher, Statistician, Strategist, Sociologist, Anthropologist, Soothsayer, Journalist, Economist, Brand-builder, Writer,…culminating into a wonderful storywriter and narrator.


c. Services being offered: Well, a Consultancy becomes one when it talks and only talks brands… not media coverage! Media relations or media coverage services become the default, as and when needed, backend output for the PR Consultancy. A Consultancy is only working on and for a client’s brand reputation. This means, every single service associated with the client’s corporate and marketing communication requirements, across stakeholders, are taken care of. This also shapes the type of people/desks within client organisations you are interacting with. Let’s do a check – do we interact/discuss/debate with CXOs on Brands? If so, how often? Or is our interaction largely restricted to Corporate Communications and media coverage volumes?


d. Simple Client Servicing Etiquettes: A quality Consultancy or brand-builder will have some of the basic traits:

:: Client Servicing Executives believe in punctuality – arrive at meetings before time. Not on time…forget about being late! Punctual on calls, sending documents and other logistics.
:: The kind of the questions they will ask the clients will not only charm them but force them to think.
:: They know more about client’s competition than the client himself/herself.
:: They work towards Possible “Business As Usual” or “Business Not As Usual” scenarios for their Clients and the required Fall Back solutions.
:: They will base their arguments basis research and numbers!
:: They will be the document creators for clients for every situation.
:: Their plans/proposals will focus on input, output and outcome


e. Evaluation Parameters: A PR Consultancy will never agree to be evaluated on the count of media coverage or advertising equivalent. The Consultancy will talk on the lines of output and outcome for the client’s business.


f. Presence of a Holistic Research Desk:  Like I said, there are genuine attempts being made by a few to transition into a Consultancy. One such genuine effort is by setting up a dedicated research desk/team. This team is responsible towards answering or creating information for all corporate and marketing communication needs. It is a desk that works not towards the end output of media coverage but towards a practical and effective outcome of brand exposure, engagement and the final conversion for every stakeholder. It is a specialist in generating data, collating and fusing multiple data sets and analytics – all of which go towards new business wins and client sustenance.


Does not matter which side of the bridge the PR service provider is in. To cross over to the Consultancy side, some habits, traits and behaviour have to change. This change is for the PR industry’s growth. Moolah, image and added longevity are some immediate benefits.


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