Indiantelevision.com's Perspectives


Indian PR agencies get proactive and how!
A glance at the Indian PR industry, with focus on television

By HETAL ADESARA
(Posted on 31 August 2004)

Public Relations = Press Relations may have been the trend when public relations (PR) as a concept was new to India. But while most of the tools of the trade have remained relatively unchanged through the years; be it media relations, financial or investor relations or management and internal relations issues; there have been instances wherein PR agencies have gone beyond the obvious to create awareness among consumers for their clients.

With increasingly cut throat competition, the complex, information-intensive communication environment and the rising expectations of consumers; out-of-the-box thinking while communicating to the consumers is one thing that PR professionals should make their prerogative. A question to ponder on… how else do you differentiate between what one is offering from the other? Add to that the fact that the consumer is bombarded with millions of messages through the day… be it via the television, newspapers, Internet hoardings or pamphlets.

The concept of PR is a little more than a decade old in India and can be attributed to the entry of multinational companies (MNCs) post 1991-1992. Thanks to the MNCs, the Indian industry at large has realised how these giants have utilised the concept of communication effectively in either shaping or shattering governments, brands and identities.

We tracked some top-notch Indian PR professionals and channel representatives and got them talking about where they think PR for television channels stands today and whether it has moved beyond mere press relations? From what we find, each seems to be gung ho about the conduit Indian PR is taking!

Good Relations India chairman Anthony Good

While some television channels have their own corporate communications department, most others employ independent PR agencies to take care of their public relations. Says Good Relations India chairman Anthony Good, "The adage of 'media feeding off media' is so very true. In India, while content and concept is indeed important for success, we've seen a number of programmes, channels and media houses succeeding or failing at the altar of effective PR. From driving viewership through programming PR to supporting the channel's initiatives to impart a 360-degree brand experience for consumers, PR has a critical role to play." Good Relations handles PR for MTV and AXN. Good rightly says, "While PR's contributions cannot be underestimated in the success or failure of media channels, it forms but a part of the marketing mix, which additionally includes a good core product and easy availability at an affordable price. A channel needs to get each element of its mix just right for its success, not just its PR."

Talking about the same, Sony Entertainment Television (SET) senior vice president marketing Albert Almeida says, "In the television industry, each programme is a brand and public relations play a critical role in the success or failure of any brand. The success of any PR campaign lies in how well the campaign can integrate itself with the marketing and communications strategy of the channel's brands and how it can contribute in building the equity of that brand and drive sampling to the show."

Sony has an in-house corporate communications department and also an independent PR agency - Genesis which handles PR for them. So what is the reason that a need is felt for an in-house corporate communications department and an independent PR agency and is it really required? Throwing light on the key differentiator between the two Almeida says, "Independent PR agencies bring with them a width and depth of expertise in the field of public relations. They have dedicated teams and resources who come with valuable domain expertise be it FMCG, consumer entertainment, technology, etc. Also for a mass channel such as ours, reach and widespread consumer contact are crucial which is something established PR agencies are able to offer owing to their network bureaux and their relationships across the country. Ultimately, it is the effective combination of in-house PR professionals working closely together with the agency that makes for a winning combination."

Perfect Relations consulting partner Dilip Cherian

While concurring on the need for in-house PR departments and independent agencies to work in tandem with each other for implementing the communications program, Perfect Relations consulting partner Dilip Cherian says, "The benefits of an in house team are: 'early opportunity spotting' - i.e. having a person who will look from a 'communications perspective' at the planning stage, advance warning for upcoming opportunities and the ideal coordinator between the agency and senior management of a company. The agency on the other hand should have the intelligence and confidence to give the CEO impartial advice even at the risk of contradicting the boss."

Samir Kale, whose PR agency CMCG handles television channels like Cartoon Network, CNN and HBO, draws an analogy between American and Indian PR agencies. Says he, "In the US, the evolution of PR is in terms of the technology but the drawback is that there the PR professionals are not directly dealing with the CEOs of companies on a day to day basis. In India, however, the companies are more personality driven and we are in touch with the CEOs on a daily basis. PR professionals here are more enterprising and are very competent. However, we are far behind in terms of professionalism and sophistication."

What with so many channels in the offing, the remote control becomes the enemy of a channel or brand. So to escape the remote's tyranny and retain viewer loyalty, PR agencies and companies have started resorting to diverse methods such as programme reviews, public screenings, marketing presentations and special platforms like quiz contests. Says Cherian, "The end results every channel looks at are: how to increase viewer base and attract appointment viewing."

Eikona associate director Siddhartha Mukherjee said that one instance that comes to his mind was when the Star Group was contemplating its foray in India. "IPan actually helped the Star Group enter India and not just in the form of providing them with a helpful communication and business strategy. The agency thoroughly studied the business strategy of the group after keeping a close watch on the market realities and then suggested a helpful communication strategy," said Mukherjee.

To ensure the group's smooth foray in India, the agency chalked out the obstacles and more importantly the communication obstacles that it might face at the press, consumer or government levels. The issues IPan tackled were ranging from the issues of the company's stake holders and in turn the broadcasting body, the government, the opposition party and the existing entertainment industry. No area was left untouched thus guaranteeing Star's smooth docking.

Sahara Manoranjan head - PR, promotion and publicity Anusha Samir Gill offers, "In terms of corporate image, image building and brand promotion exercises, agencies definitely can provide a lot of input and help growth with their experience and expertise. But in case of a channel where on-going programme promotion and publicity is as important, one needs to be there in the company to disseminate the right information on an ongoing basis. By ongoing, we mean weekly or latest, fortnightly. Out of sight and another channel will come to viewer's mind!"

Genesis PR principal and founder Prema Sagar

Says Genesis PR principal and founder Prema Sagar, "In the past, most public relations firms were focused primarily on media relations. Also the clients understood and expected public relations firms to only provide media relations support - 'How many articles have come from the press conference launch of my product?' However, the mindset on both sides of the fence is now changing. Public relations today is truly a catalyst for building corporate and brand reputation. This encompasses building outreach programmes that carry key messages to the target audience to shift perceptions."

Star News Brand Director Keertan Adyanthaya

Throwing light on some of the good communication activities carried out by channels recently, Star News brand director Keertan Adyanthaya says, "Some PR activities are more effective and some are less. Some examples of good PR which is seamlessly woven into marketing are those of Star Plus' new show Dekho Magar Pyar Se and also that of Sony's Jassi Jaissi Koi Nahi."

Baar baar dekho...

Now crops up the issue of whether PR agencies are moving from being a mere agency to being a consultancy. Adyanthaya says, "While PR agencies are moving to being a consultancy that provides 360 degree solutions for clients, it's not happening in an organised manner. A rapport has to be built between the PR agency and the client which needs to be worked upon."

Good, on the other hand, provided an interesting insight on the same saying that a PR agency and a PR consultancy are two divergent schools of thought and both have their merits and demerits. "One school prescribes the integrated or 360 degree approach. The other school of thought endorses true specialists for each discipline, so that the client can derive the full benefits of each. Synergy is derived by involving all specialists at the planning stage itself. Each client chooses one or the other, depending on his comfort levels. We however believe that in India, at the current stage of evolution of the discipline, the bigger challenge is to provide clients with a one-stop PR solution, addressing all key target audiences, from consumer to stakeholders, i.e., moving towards strategic PR solutions rather than remaining press relations agencies."

No introduction needed here!

The use of viral marketing techniques (what Sony did for Jassi…), especially with respect to online media and the use of SMS technology has grown and how in the last one year or so. Says Sagar, "As the acceptance for new tools of communication such as websites, e-mailers, CD-ROMs, etc increases, so does the ability of public relations firms to effectively use them."

Also the fact of the matter is that today, companies are willing to invest in a good product or service. Talking about their mascot show Jassi... which completed a year this month, Almeida said, "Our marketing and communication efforts seamlessly integrated with PR has made Jassi... a household name today."

Another instance of out-of-the-box thinking for a TV channel was the recent on-ground promotion for Animal Planet. Cherian elaborates, "Our goal was to 'Get Bangalore buzzing about Animal Planet' to support the rapidly rising distribution and reach of the channel." The components of the communication programme were: Getting Animal Planet global head Peter Weil to visit the Bangalore zoo riding atop an elephant; creating special opportunities for the public to interact with Animal Planet; corporate interactions with media and advertisers; and on-ground support in the form of mobile kiosks, banners and interactive promoters.

Cherian adds, "This concerted marketing and public relations exercise generated spectacular results for the channel in generating tremendous buzz in the city, receiving huge media coverage and the bottom line is that it successfully moved viewership up to the next level."

Genesis on the other hand did something interesting when BBC World was launching University Challenge. Says Sagar, "Till now, BBC had promoted programmes that were focused on an older audience. The invite to the media was sent out in the form of a graduation hat, inviting them to witness the show. To demonstrate to the media the format of the show - a celebrity quiz was held - six celebrities were invited to form two teams and fight for the honor of winning the University Challenge. This was supplemented by interviews with the quizmasters, celebrities and the programming and marketing heads of BBC World."

Spooky!

Sahara Manoranjan is also very proactive as far as innovations are concerned. All the press conferences that the channel holds are theme based. For their show Raat Hone Ko Hai, the channel created an eerie ambience complete with props from the show and the replication of the look and the logo at the venue. Three ghosts escorted the producer to the stage and they even had a skeleton dance. Says Gill, "When a journalist or an advertiser sits in an ambience like this, he experiences the show as he watches the show reel." For Sahib Biwi Gulam, they had created a palace ambience.

Public relations is fast becoming an integral marketing tool for companies primarily for its cost-effectiveness. The experience of sectors that cannot advertise due to the law of the land proves that PR is the most cost effective and impactful method of image building. Cherian said that he regularly encouraged companies to use RoI as a benchmark to evaluate the success of the PR campaign as well. Almeida on the other hand said, "PR can be as cost effective as one wants it to be. The key is to understand and appreciate the value it brings to one's brands and to one's business."

Coming to the area of measuring the effectiveness of PR. Good said, "PR can be measured at various levels and each level has a different measure and a different implication. It can be measured at the 'input' stage, which includes resources, planning etc; at the 'output' level, which includes frequency of impressions generated, column centimeter measurement etc., but more importantly PR should also be evaluated at 'outcome' level which includes measures like share of voice, message delivery, reach etc."

Traditionally, PR mileage was measured in terms of column centimeters but most PR agencies have developed their own proprietary tools to measure efficacy of PR. Sagar believes that measuring the effectiveness of a campaign through column centimeters is not the right approach as it doesn't give any indication of the message delivery or conversion in the right media. She says, "Genesis has developed proprietary tools to measure the effectiveness of a public relations programme, both direct as well as media. We also work with a number of research firms who have specialist tools to measure reputation index for third-party validation of our programme."

Perfect Relations, on the other hand, has also created a proprietary 360 degree evaluation model that is an end-to-end evaluator of the PR process. Cherian said that some of the criteria for the same are: strategic advice and planning, results delivered media and non media, key messages delivered, and an image audit. Almeida agrees, "Today, most agencies have qualitative measurement tools, which help evaluate effectiveness of PR more transparently and accurately, be it the efficacy of messages delivered, the buzz created in the marketplace and the performance of the brand thereof. The efficiency of PR is also directly proportional to the creativity and innovation that the PR teams bring to the table. Ultimately it's about a winning combination of great ideas and impeccable execution."

From organising logistics for media events, writing press releases, pitching stories, gathering research for a story or providing access to spokespersons, PR professionals are most definitely an important resource for journalists. So it boils down to the fact that PR practitioners do play an important role in the development of companies/ brands and to deny that public relations professionals have a role to play in ensuring that media sources remain credible is a laissez-faire attitude that the industry cannot afford to take.

Is this what the future holds?

To wrap up - while the media professionals are definitely upbeat about the contemporary Indian PR scenario, the fact of the matter remains that there is still scope for growth.



Also read:
International PR scene: Not so hunky dory after all

Interview with Eikona associate director Siddhartha Mukherjee

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