Interview with Eikona associate director Siddhartha Mukherjee
 
(Posted on 31 August 2004)
 
Where does the Indian PR industry stand today? What needs to be done so that PR agencies can move from being a mere agency to becoming a consultancy firm that can provide 360 degrees solutions to the clients? What are the challenges that the industry is facing in the aggressive marketplace at present? These are some of the issues that Eikona (Tam India's PR monitoring service set up in association with UK's Media Measurement Limited) attempts to unravel. Eikona's associate director Siddhartha Mukherjee believes that caging PR within a definition is the biggest crime we commit against this wonderful marketing tool. "PR has no definition," says Mukherjee in a chat with Indiantelevision.com's Hetal Adesara.

Excerpts:

Nowadays the talk is all about going beyond press releases and offering overall brand communication, more a consultant's role. Can you cite the difference between a PR agency and a PR consultancy?
The essential ingredients required to transform a PR agency into a PR consultancy is that the PR professionals should have a better knowledge on brand management. Brand management automatically means that one has full knowledge about the company, its people, the marketing and financial setup and more importantly (which is more often than not, missing in PR agencies in India) - the knowledge about the ground market realities. Once an agency has done its homework thoroughly, only then can it tell if what the client is telling it is of any importance or not.

What is the difference between the budgets that a company allocates for advertising and that for PR?
Today, one cannot generalise the fact that all companies across industries are cutting advertising budgets. Some FMCGs may want to cut costs. For example: HLL has cut costs by almost 11 - 15 per cent recently. However, consumer durable majors like LG or Samsung are piling up advertising budgets by the day. But they are also increasingly focusing on PR and not looking at advertising as a stand-alone communication tool. So the pie for advertising does remain constant, but at the same time it cannot be compared to the pie for PR spends. Today any average PR agency's normal retainer fee can be anywhere between Rs 1.5 to Rs 2 lakhs (Rs 150,000 to Rs 200,000). Obviously that is but a pebble when compared to what ad agencies charge. But on a proportionate basis, if you index it to the importance of PR agencies, then the relevance is growing.

In India the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI), which is a compilation of good PR agencies, is trying to bring some standards and synergy in what communication is all about. One of the agendas of PRCAI is to ensure that PR gets its due recognition. The big question is whether it is only press relations or is it something more than that?

How much is the PR industry in India pegged at?
The "officially disclosed" size of the Indian PR industry is close to Rs 1 billion. The industry is yet to get its due recognition in India and it is to be kept in mind that because of that, there may be many PR agencies or consultancies who may not have disclosed their revenue figures. Hence the actual size of the industry would be much more.

The Indian PR industry is roughly about 1,000-1,200 agency strong with a total manpower of around 8,000 to 9,000 professionals.

What is the scope of professional growth in this industry?
The flip side here is that unless employees feel a certain importance from their clients, they will have serious doubts about the future of their careers. The reason being that there is not much scope of growth here. One climbs up the ladder from being a summer trainee, junior executive, senior executive, account manager and so on... but then what?

If one wants to move on to the clients' side, at best he can move to their Corporate Communications sector. There is a one in a million chance of him moving into the brand management team there. This is because, if one generalises the Indian industry at large, companies are yet to see the importance of public relations in their overall brand management.

What are the different kinds of PR agencies?
Unfortunately because of the fact that the industry today still looks at public relations as nothing more than press releases and press conferences, they do not see a reason for PR executives to bring a lot of value addition to the table. So it becomes even more important to shift from being a mere agency to being a consultancy.

So the point here is that because the industry at large does not see much of a value addition being brought to the clients' table, the bottom rung of the PR agencies in the industry are essentially looking at clients' needs in the form of generating press releases and arranging conferences and making sure, the client gets publicity. These agencies thus provide very basic and low cost services. These agencies will service some five - six clients and operate across three or four cities.

The other category of agencies is where because of the kind of work done by them in some walks of their life, they've got some MNCs and individuals in hand thus making their size of operations large. These agencies will have a large number of head counts per branch and a proper structure would be in place - let's say one group will handle automobiles, another will handle FMCGs, the other will handle pharmaceuticals etc. These agencies are either stand-alones or extensions of advertising agencies.

Perfect Relations and Text 100 are the ones who are stand-alones and are not extensions of any ad agencies. Agencies like Enterprise PR and Ogilvy PR are extensions of ad agencies and the advantage these have is that they carry a lineage.

In the final and top rung there are very few agencies and an interesting thing is that many agencies from the second rung are trying to reach there who really have acted like a consultancy all this while. In the top slot, come agencies like Roger Pereira, IPAN and Genesis. The latter is one such example of a stand-alone agency which has successfully managed to plunk itself into the top slot. These agencies have not exactly moved away but have reduced their importance level of the day to day postman job. The press relations part of their operations have been reduced from 70 - 80 per cent to about 40 - 50 per cent. The remaining 50 per cent has been bombarded with other tools of PR.

How is the efficiency of PR agencies measured?
Companies have actually started correlating the appraisal of their PR agencies to sales. In the case of advertising it is an ongoing process because advertising as a tool has an immediate impact but not necessarily a long term impact. Whereas PR has a long term impact because as a subject it offers the advantage of using different permutations and combinations.

An interesting comparison between advertising and PR is that advertising can be termed as 'allopathy' - one which has an immediate effect, whereas PR can termed as 'homeopathy' - one which has a slow but steady process. People have now started analysing and measuring how effective their PR efforts have been but the question is what does one measure? In the communication's world there is a concept of "key messages" and this applies all the more in public relations, especially in press relations. During the course of an interview, if a person is talking about a particular brand or a company, they have certain "key messages" that are coming across constantly in his conversation.

For one, those are the key messages that help shape perception. In advertising, one has the space and can write whatever they want. Whereas in press, one doesn't have that control. The first thing that a company does is jot down their five or six key messages that they want to communicate to their target audience, be it the press, consumers, suppliers and to the industry at large.

Eikona has a tie up with Media Measurement Limited (MML) UK, which is a father figure as far as analysing and evaluating PR trends. They do that in a very scientific way by using the Prism pie software. In Baroda, we have a full line up of data entry input. They themselves are experts on how to read key messages, what position of the newspaper has the item appeared in, etc. For example, they are also trying to evaluate - if you pick up a magazine and look at photographs - the face should be looking inside the magazine and not outside the magazine. Often many people don't know this. A picture looking inside the magazine is much more effective. These are the nitty gritties that one can go to as far measuring PR effectiveness is concerned. So therefore you have a PR plot pattern.

Where does PR for television channels stand today? Are television PR agencies being able to deliver for the channels? Any data to support your statement?
Today because the competition is so high, things are changing very fast. Right from the CEO to the corporate communications manager to the brand manager, all have to keep a tab on what is being said about their company, product and people on a market to market basis. One can't afford to miss out anything. The moment you move beyond press release and one-on-ones, things become interesting and closer to brand management.

Any paper which dedicates a lot of time on featurish stories will have in some way or the other either a "Tulsi" getting featured. She may be either talking about how she is spending time with her family or talking about her favourite tourist spot. These are ways to promote. We don't realise it but if we get to the brass tracks, this is how things operate. These are the things that help shape perception about Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi and this applies with every single channel. Be it National Geographic, Discovery or NDTV.

If in a section of the press, Peter Mukerjea and his wife have been talked about... it is a direct connection to Star. These are wonderful ways and mixes of how you ensure that TVRs are maintained.

One fine day you meet Jassi in Fame Adlabs, be rest assured that the next day it will be in the Mid Day and The Bombay Times and there you've got your publicity. At the time of Malini Iyer's launch on Sahara, a guy in a south Indian attire did rounds of corporate offices and distributed idlis and vadas. The next week, a guy dressed in Punjabi attire came with some Punjabi dishes. So PR is all about innovative marketing.

Some time back, Discovery came up with a special programme on Tigers. The kind of publicity it got was tremendous and went a long way in ensuring TVRs for some time for the channel. Discovery may have gone for some below the line activities too but the bottom line is that there has to be that key message across all forms of activities.

PR for a company, whether it be in-house or through corporate communications division or through PR agencies, has to work in tandem with other forms of communications, be it advertising or direct marketing.

But is the PR agency held responsible if there is a dip in the sales figures?
No they are not. PR agency is one integral part of the huge marketing setup. If the company feels that there has been no awareness in the market because of the PR agency, then the company may take it to task but not otherwise.

A PR agency can tell a company that they have done their job but it was a particular aspect of their marketing strategy that probably may have created the effect of dip in the sales. So here, the PR agency's knowledge about the company and its marketing comes into place.

One case study can be that of Roger Pereira when Seagram came to India in around 1986 - 87 and was knocking the government's door for approval. At that point India was a bit conservative as far as foreign companies were concerned and that too a liquor company. After researching, Pereira and his company found out that India on one hand was one of the biggest exporters of fruits and Seagram had plans of entering the fruit juice market in India. It played on this platform and said that Seagram is here to utilise and bring India on a global platform in the fruits industry. Today Tropicana, which was initially a Seagram brand (subsequently acquired by Pepsi), has made market for itself here in India.

How good are Indian PR agencies at crisis management? Can you give me some examples?
Barely a couple of PR agencies in India have been able to showcase crisis management. And from them the others have kind of picked up and learnt. To handle crisis management properly, right from the company CEO to practically the doorman, have to understand what the importance of communications is. Again, this is happening thanks to globalisation and the MNCs that are coming into India. But the pace is slow and will take its own course of time.

Every company has to keep a watch on what is being said about the company or the brand on a day to day basis in all the markets. What is happening is, unfortunately, companies only think of PR when there is a crisis.

A recent example of crisis management can be that of the Cadbury's worm controversy. O&M, (which handles the creative and the PR for Cadbury) roped in Amitabh Bachchan for an ad. In fact that was a wonderful mix of how press editorial relations and advertising were combined.

Corporates are yet to understand crisis communications. But it is picking up as, today CEOs are increasingly becoming aware of the fact that they have to keep information ready at hand at any given point of time. Also someone from the company should be readily available to talk to the press. A special task force should be ready at hand which will immediately get into action once the crisis hits. Which means that that particular taskforce has to be kept updated across day to day activities and nitty gritties across India every day.

What about undercutting in today's competitive scenario?
Specifically within the PR industry there has been a lot of unrest because of undercutting and the lack of a standard as far as undercutting is concerned.

But undercutting is also good for the PR industry primarily also because through undercutting, which means that when the client goes with you with a figure of let's say one lakh, that means you need to ensure that within that amount, you need to make your agency much more cost effective.

This is a reason why in the advertising industry, small but efficient agencies are coming up because they have been able to deliver good products at low costs. This is going to help in the churn.

 
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