Public relations in India

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Public relations, despite being over a century old across the world, began in India in the early 1990s. Though there were several individuals and small companies which started even before that, they offered PR with the limited scope of media relations only. It was only natural that the entrepreneurs who began these services came from a background of journalism, seen as a natural hunting ground for the nascent PR industry.

Agencies that started in India in the 1990s[edit]

India came with many advantages in the context of PR - it showed a consistently high growth rate of the economy; the initial penetration of PR had been low leaving much scope for growth, the internet & traditional media also penetrated exponentially giving rise to the quick rise of PR in India. Though some international PR agencies (usually offshoots of advertising agencies) like Ogilvy PR set base in India in mid-1980s, they floundered to find a firm footing especially since their core focus remained mainly in advertising services. By the early 1990s, after the opening up of the Indian economy, several other PR agencies, notably Perfect Relations, 20:20 MSL (erstwhile 20:20 MEDIA), Text 100 and [Genesis] started with a core focus on PR alone. This decade also saw the advent of Indian IPO agencies offshoots like Ad factors PR began to offer PR services as a freebee along with their IPO services.

Unlike Edward Bernays and Ivy Lee in the United States, Indian Public Relations unfortunately did not have any mentor or any significant thought leader in the initial decade. PR agencies were seen to be waving a magic wand to create an intangible called image.

Agencies that started in India in the 2000s[edit]

If the 90s were the starting block for the Indian PR sector, the next decade was the growth era. Significant in this time was the full buyout of Genesis by Burson Marsteller, and the investment in [Hanmer & Partners][1] by MS&L, a Publicis company. Edelman entered India with by taking over Roger Periera, the grand old man of PR. In 2002, specialist agencies like Blue Lotus Communications took birth with a focus on specialized sectors like Healthcare, Technology, Finance and Brands and which has grown to become a well-awarded agency in INdia. With the decade almost coming to a close, 2008 saw the birth of i9 Communications,[2] as a specialist in consumer communication, with special focus on Brands, Lifestyle, Entertainment and Hospitality PR. Several such boutique agencies also started in other parts of the country.

After the economic slowdown and the resultant market crashes worldwide, several international PR agencies suffered enormous losses when clients cut back marketing budgets. This forced these agencies to turn to higher growth markets like India and China. India naturally took a higher priority due to its large English-speaking base, stable political governance and consistent legal structure. The color of the market has flowered from grey to blue in this decade and the corporate's need for image building and strategic PR is very well understood and accepted.

According to the 2007 report on The State of the Public Relations Industry [3] prepared by Paul Holmes (author of the Holmes Report[4]), the western growth of PR has almost plateaued to a stable range of 9% to 11%, with the growth geographies being India (as too China) growing at four times the Western pace. To quote the report, "The greatest future in growth is expected to come in China and India, with good prospects for growth in Eastern Europe (particularly those countries recently admitted to the European Union) and in the Middle East (albeit from a very small base)". However, in 2012, the PR market has slowed down due to the overcrowding of the market. The recession of 2008 &2009 gave birth to another terminology in India -Regional PR and the companies who were one upon a time hooked to pink papers, looking for presence in regional dailies. Regional Public Relations set up country's first such agency where core focus was on Tier-II & Tier-III cities. Naturally then, India and similar paced economies have become favored destinations for global PR firms keen to extract their share of growth from this market. The late realization by many global majors that India has an equal or superior potential than China, has left quite a few panting in the race for market-share. However, in 2012, the PR market has slowed down due to the overcrowding of the market with too many fighting for too few.

PR Crisis in India and its mitigation[edit]

On January 7, 2009, Ramalinga Raju, the erstwhile chairman of Satyam Ltd., India's leading IT firm, made an admission of conscious fraud & misreporting perpetrated by him over several years.[5] The media who had eulogized him till then, suddenly turned on him with a vengeance, conscious that they had also failed in their duty as watchdogs of businesses. This crisis, coincided with the peak of the global crisis and held the potential to snowball into a credibility & trust issue for brand India and its IT firms, where several billion dollars worth of servcies were being outsourced every year. The crisis also impacted several companies associated with Satyam including EMRI (Emergency Medical Response Insititute [6]), a not-for-profit endeavour (for running free ambulance services) in which Satyam had committed 5% of running costs with the balance 95% coming from various state governments.

However, the Indian government took quick action and set up an interim board consisting of industry stalwarts for the company to assess the true worth of Satyam and to seek a suitable investor & management.The swiftly conducted and fiercely contested bid was won by Mahindra & Mahindra and Satyam was merged with a group IT company.

This swift & timely execution and the confidence-building-measures taken by the interim board helped regain faith by the customers and the world at large in the Indian IT industry.

Crisis in the Indian PR industry[edit]

After the global slowdown hit that Indian PR agencies in 2008 [2], it took a further hit in November 2010 due to what has come to be known as the 'Radiagate' scam. Open Magazine in an expose, covered the story of Niira Radia's nefarious power-dealings. An Income Tax phone tap collected more than 5000 tapes and hundreds of these tapes were leaked and found their way into Outlook magazine's website [3]. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) interrogated Radia several times and as a fallout of the tapes, the Telecom minister, A. Raja, with whom Radia had close links was also forced to resign. Several prominent journalists like Barkha Dutt and Vir Sanghvi were also in the middle of the quagmire, caught in power-lobbying conversations with Radia.

PR Education and academics in India[edit]

Public Relations has been taught as a curriculum for the last decade or so in India. University of Mumbai's Department of Communication and Journalism[7] offers a two year (full-time)Master of Arts(M.A) degree course in Public Relations.[8] Whistling Woods International's School of Communication (SOC) in Mumbai has a post graduate program that allows one to specialize in PR and Corporate Communications along with an MBA(global) degree in Media and Entertainment. Stella Maris College provides with a full fledged Masters in Public Relations. The Department of Visual Communication at Loyola College, Chennai[4] has been offering PR related classes for a semester at PG level where PR campaign is considered as an annual venture for students. Bharathidasan Institute of Management, Trichy - a premier B school also offers a course elective - Public Relations & Corporate Communications. The PR campaigns here are woven around social concerns and on public awareness. While some PR specialist courses exist in PRCIMS(backed by Perfect Relations), The Delhi School of Communication(Delhi), Xavier's Institute of Communications (Mumbai) and Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (Pune and Banglore), most of the courses are combined with Journalism or Mass Communications. The Mudra Institute of Communications (MICA) is mainly focused on advertising and the 6 year old AICAR (Asian Institute of Communications & Research) started with an MBA and communication which soon became limited to advertising only. Makhanlal Chaturvedi National University Of Journalism and Communication, Bhopal offers a two year MA in PR course. Also, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (BVB) spread across the country offers PR courses. BVBs are located in all major cities that includes New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata.

Books and reports on public relations & branding[edit]

The Brand Trust Report, India Study, 2011 (ISBN 978-81-920823-0-1) and its subsequent reports in 2012, 2013 and 2014, published by Trust Research Advisory (TRA)[5] was designed to give unique insights to brands on messages of communication. The report is a result of a syndicated primary research on Brand Trust that generated 10,00,000 data points and 16,000 unique brands, from over 10,000 hours of fieldwork conducted in 9 cities. The subsequent reports were a result of a primary research conducted in 16 Indian cities.

The basis of the study is the proprietary 61-components of Brand Trust, and the 2310 respondents targeted in this study have an influencers’ profile. The report has a detailed analysis the 50 Most Trusted Brands in India and has listings of the All-India 300. This first edition of this study, published in January 2011, has listed Most Trusted Brands out of 16000 unique brands that were generated [6][7][8]. A 2012 book titled Decoding Communication authored by N.Chandramouli [9][10] , covering the theories and practice of communication was launched.

Growth of Public Relations in India[edit]

The Assocham report released in March 2010 shows the growth of the PR industry in India to grow to US$ 6 billion by end of 2010 with a CAGR of approximately 32%. The study reports the biggest challenges of the PR industry to be the following:

  • Lure of better pay: Skilled manpower is scarce, professionals will be poached for higher salaries.
  • Leadership crisis: Not too many established players, presenting a crisis of leadership in middle & smaller firms, which makes people move to larger, more reputed PR agencies.
  • Lack of understanding of PR: Most people, even from sibling professions, don’t understand PR.
  • Perception issues: Many stakeholders, including media and corporate organizations, consider PR to be similar to that of a spin job.

Considering this, for this fledgling, but fast growing sector to flourish, the need of academic rigor and theoretical pedagogy is essential

PR Agencies - Awards and Accolades[edit]

In 2014, Blue Lotus Communications was awarded for excellence in Government and Corporate PR by Public Relations Society of India [11] (PRSI).[12]

In 2011, IPRCCA, India Public Relations and Corporate Communications Awards (IPRCCA), instituted an award for PR agencies and [13] Blue Lotus Communications won the PR agency of the year (2011) in the award's inception year. Corporate Voice | Weber Shandwick also won awards in 3 categories the same year.

In 2010, The Holmes Report,[14] an international report that rates PR agencies across the globe awarded Blue Lotus Communications [15] the Indian Consultancy of the year for 2010.[16]

The Holmes Report also awarded the consultancy of the year award for 2011 to Corporate Voice | Weber Shandwick.[17] Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick's campaign for Gillette India won India's first PR Lion at Cannes in 2010.

References[edit]

Best PR agency in India