India’s Public Relations industry desperately needs an iPhone moment
We have an expert in giving quotes for GST and it’s many benefits. If you would be interest, I can put you in touch with Mr. XYZ of ABC Technologies Pvt Ltd for a suitable story in your esteemed publication.
The financial budget in India is a hugely important announcement. It will have major importance for India’s IT sector and growth. Mr. ABC of XYZ Tech will be happy to give you his abundant perspective via a quote on the budget and what it means for the growth of the country.
Journos, I’m sorry.
If you’re a journalist covering technology companies in India, chances are you’ve got 3 dozen of such mails. There’s a far more pernicious phenomenon in the communications industry; one that is plagued by rampant inefficiency and aspiring students being given menial tasks. In all, Public Relations in India is a fascinating study.
No other industry is as ripe for the taking, yet severely lacking in talent. This makes room for a host of candidates who are not suitable for the job, yet, are hired to fill the void.
The nuts and bolts
When I joined PR, an ubiquitous practice was so to send a press release or pitch to a journalist and immediately call the journalist to ask if he/she has seen the mail. Another favourite would be to call a journalist and ask if he/she wanted to meet a spokesperson for a “relationship building” meeting. Which essentially meant the agency does not “expect” a story, but wants a journalist to meet the spokesperson nevertheless. And for facilitating this entire process, the agency would bill the client regardless of an outcome.
A typical PR contract’s metrics for an average of 2lakhs would look something like this:
Inevitably, an e-commerce brand ends up meeting a magazine that writes on semiconductors and the entire exercise is pointless. While that might be an extreme example, I’ve been privy to rampant inefficiencies agencies so easily embrace. There’s also the phenomenon of “filling up a room” with XYZ journalists to window-dress a briefing or an event. In all, Public Relations in India is a cesspool of everything wrong in a massively bloated industry.
On an average, each agency has 1–2 people on a client that pays anywhere between 1.5–3 lakhs. These two are also engaged with multiple other clients drastically reducing their efficiency. There are managers and senior members in an advisory capacity, but a bulk of the work is done by the two constant resources on the team. Add daily reports on competition, industry, weekly reports on the work done, monthly reports on coverage obtained and quarterly presentations, the load on each employee is pretty taxing. This model is a constant in almost all agencies. Ideation, creativity around accounts takes a severe hit because of these clerical tasks.
A lot of this reportage can be automated, but that comes at a cost. A cost agencies are simply unwilling to partake in even if it’s a one-time expense that would solve a massive exodus of talent. This unwillingness to change and adopt technology in daily functioning makes PR a rather lucrative industry to disrupt. There are a total of 8,500 PR professionals in India, according to a 2016 report by the Public Relations Consultants Association of India. And talent is hard to come by. But that’s a making of the industry’s own device.
I had an in-depth conversation with 3 senior leaders to understand why this model can’t be replaced. The shortest answer: Client churn, Margins. Nearly every Founder, CEO, senior leader I have spoken to echoes a similar sentiment. PR in India has just not grown to keep pace with the internet.
In 2016, an average of only 1.1% of revenue was spent on training employees.
That’s abysmal for an industry that’s servicing companies who are trying to stay ahead of technological advancements.
An identity crisis
PR in India has a clear identity crisis and it seems to be a vicious cycle: PR companies underpay, get poor talent who don’t strategise communication for companies. In turn, companies consistently underpay agencies hoping every other agency will be different. This trade-off is so entrenched in the industry, it’s led to a rebellion of sorts and in 2017 and the industry’s largest client base, the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector declined by 12 percentage points. In other words, the largest client base for PR firms slashed their budgets, with FMCG & Retail taking top spot in 2017, according to data from PRACI.
Ever since the internet economy spiked in India, PR has piggybacked the wave. From startups to major IT companies, communications has been an integral factor in shaping the conversation for technology in India.
Today, PR is a 1,315 crore industry and if there’s one vertical that exemplifies the industry’s dilemma, it’s technology.
Without adequate reporting metrics and tools, PR’s perennial problems on accountability and data are getting far more pronounced. While digital mediums are able to present meaningful data on ROI and justify marketing spends, PR has been left in the dark. There were murmurs of introducing a Net Promoter Score in an industry event about 2 years back, but saw no real takers.
In the West, Katie Cotton spearheaded Apple’s communication strategy paving a new era of getting journos excited to review an Apple product. Margit Wennmachers of Andreessen Horowitz shaped start-up PR for an entire generation of entrepreneurs. In India, the communication industry is spoken about with a lot exasperation or buried into obscurity under the broader ambit of marketing. Either way, the industry is crying out for its iPhone moment and for now, nearly every marketer has his/her hands up in the air when you mention those two words: Public Relations.