What stops India’s PR firms from developing great
Charting the future of public relations
Holmes Report

What stops India’s PR firms from developing great

Arun Sudhaman

Last week I visited the lovely South Indian town of Pondicherry for the first PRAXIS conference, a worthwhile initiative to raise standards within the Indian PR industry. While there, I chaired a session on creativity, which featured an excellent panel: Prema Sagar (Genesis B-M), Robert Holdheim (Edelman India), Deepa Dey (Bharti Airtel) and Shwetha Shukla (P&G India). We have, of course, researched this area in some detail, and the panel considered why India’s PR firms still struggle to deliver breakthrough creative work. For context, we used some of the India-specific findings from our Creativity in PR study: Unsurprisingly, the panel was not short of an opinion or two, and the session also generated considerable feedback from the audience (if not the audio system). I can summarise the overall conclusions as such: Chicken, meet egg The chicken and egg debate so beloved of the PR industry reared its head immediately during the session, when Holdheim pointed out that Indian PR firms simply suffer from a lack of opportunities. To have access to those opportunities, though, requires a certain amount of investment in creative skills and training. Can Indian agencies make those investments if they are not sure they will be rewarded? Blame the client? In typically feisty fashion, Sagar placed much of the blame on the client side, noting that until in-house communications and marketing departments work more cohesively, PR firms will be stuck executing tactical media work, rather than playing a driving role at the brand development stage. A good question from the audience explored this area further - if clients are not truly integrated, then how can PR firms break free of the silo? As ever, a little confidence, perhaps even arrogance, would go a long way towards solving some of these problems. The publicist trap Dey noted that, for too many in India’s PR industry, publicity and media relations are seen as the primary drivers, instead of a more sophisticated focus on brand-building. The Bharti Airtel comms head also pointed out that, until PR people can better evaluate the results of their creative work, they are unlikely to be taken seriously - a rather ironic remark, given the context in which so much creative advertising work is judged. The good news Shukla presented Gillette’s excellent 'Shave Sutra' campaign, which won at the Cannes Lions and SABRE Awards, as evidence that public relations is not a total creative wasteland. The programme, furthermore, began with an idea from someone in Shukla’s in-house PR team, before being expanded to cover paid, owned and earned media. An impressive example of modern public relations, and proof that with the right mindset, processes and talent, anything is possible. Will other companies and agencies follow suit?
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