Opportunity for PR industry in saturated TV ad market

MUMBAI: The public relations (PR) industry in India is growing rapidly. In fact it can take advantage of a saturated television advertising market. However, for this to happen PR will have to promote itself more heavily as being more cost effective.

These were just a few words of advice of that Madison MD Sam Balsara had for the audience at the PR Summit this evening. The event in the suburb of Bandra was organised by the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI). The session dealt with

how PR had changed in the overall communication mix and what it needed to do in order to grow in value.

Balsara noted that four years ago 15 million seconds of ads were beamed across television channels. Today that figure stands at 200 million seconds. In a cluttered market advertisers will look for new avenues to reach audiences. The PR route is one such. The

advantage of PR for the client is that it lets someone say what he/she wants hear without him having to do the needful. It also helps build up brand resistance.

Balsara conceded that when he first started the agency the need for PR did not strike him forcefully. However, he realised its importance early in his career. A year and a half into existence Madison came

out with a commercial for Cinthol Lime. However, a day before it broke a rival TVC aired an ad that had a few frames of Madison's ad. Balsara went about making a big noise about the same and got the desired response.

He also maintained that while the importance of PR was certainly rising it would rise at the pace at which the people working in the industry wanted it to move. Progression will not happen by itself he warned. Another point he stressed was the need for creativity

in PR. "A PR professional will have to bring a lot of creativity to the table if he wants to succeed. Another trend that is happening in communication is that of functional specialisation. Therefore it is

important that PR work is aligned with the brand objective. I feel that the PR outfit should be briefed at the same time as the media agency and the creative agency about the brief.

"At the same in order for this to be effective it is important that PR personnel do their best to find out more about the manner in which the other disciplines like advertising and marketing function. That way they will be able to leverage better the use of PR. In the

future this will go a long way towards ensuring that PR personnel are not only approached by the client in case of an emergency." Balsara reiterated that if PR did not play an important role in his company's offerings then he would not have started a separate PR


Hanmer and Partners Communications MD Sunil Gautam also stressed the importance of PR in building resistance. He noted that clients should look at PR from a long-term perspective. That he noted had not been the case in the dotcom boom where companies used PR simply to boost their valuations before sell off. "PR

helps build categories. Awareness about the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) has been built though the PR route.

In fact, there was the case of a major company that entered the online lottery business not too long ago. The company did not bother to build up its category the PR route and thus failed. PR helps communicate to different stakeholders the company's values and

vision. While advertising builds brands, PR builds reputation."

The proof of the pudding however is in the eating. Cadbury India MD Bharat Puri said that PR was used when the company's reputation was on the line due to the worm controversy. "Everything but reputation can be salvaged for a company. PR needs to help maintain this for a client. Unfortunately many corporates do

not understand the role PR plays. They have to yet understand the fact that communication is not just about advertising. In my own company there is a perception among some of our marketing professionals that PR is about getting the message across for free."

The question that now arises is why is reputation available so cheap? Balsara stressed that the onus of fixing the price rests on the seller, which in this case is the PR firm. At the meeting it came out that a

lot of PR firms undersell themselves to overwhelm the client. They do not have the confidence to quote the right price.

O&M chairman and national creative director Piyush Pandey said that PR firms need to reinvent themselves. "If 30 people are offering the same thing there is bound to be a price war. Unoriginality is not

expensive. Creativity is what your clients will pay a premium for. I also feel that PR firms need to a rethink on what their role is. The PR people are a part of the brand building team. If they continue

viewing themselves as being individual entities while also being part of a team there will always be a dichotomy. If PR firms don't try to reinvent themselves then they will be stuck at the level of

distributing mundane information in press outlets that nobody reads."

He also argued that PR firms should not view ad agencies and media agencies as competition. They should simply viewed as different communication platforms which can be used. "In fact an ad can be

made to look like PR." He gave the example of the two TVCs that were created when Cadbury used Amitabh Bachchan to get the message across that the product was not contaminated. He said that infomercials were a form of PR and ought to be used more frequently as also radio. It just needs thinking out of the box. All

this will need people from creative and PR working together. Therefore partnerships should be formed.

He used the cricket analogy to emphasise why the PR industry in the country was not moving at the desired pace. "Earlier you were the third man at the boundary ropes. You were there in case the ball comes to you. Your job was merely to stop four runs from being

scored. Not happy with the situation you decided to don the role of 12th man. What happened as a result is that clients are coming to you for free drinks. You can make them pay decently but only if you are constantly experimenting on innovative ideas that have

lots of bounce."

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