In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Radhika Shapoorjee, President of IPAN Hill & Knowlton, discusses the effect of the recession on the Indian PR industry, the evolution of the communications function, and what sets IPAN Hill & Knowlton apart from the other PR firms in the country.
Q. How would you describe the impact of the recession on the Indian PR industry?
If you look at the last 50 or 100 years of business – when there is transformational change, the industry will naturally go through cycles of ups and downs. When it is down, the only way it comes up is if the industry and government work together and create an environment which is conducive for business. At times like that, the PR consultancy become the first port of call. We have created some very strong advisories for our clients to expand categories, address regulatory issues and shift public sentiment. Thereby working with our clients on how are we going to communicate when the chips are down? How are we going to get out of it?
In that sense, slowdowns or recessions are always opportunities for PR because advisory, at this point, becomes critical.
Q. Is the PR industry better geared to face the slowdown compared to 2009?
I believe that we at IPAN Hill & Knowlton are far better geared to advise our clients during this slowdown. What’s interesting is that whenever there have been similar situations in the past, communication strategists have had the advantage of a certain legacy. That means you are able to look back and see what the cyclic changes were and how the industry came out of it. What is different about 2012 is the transformational way in which the public sentiment has changed – diverse segments of society be it employees or customers or civil society at large have become powerful because of the opening up of the communications arena. To move forward, our strategies need to be based on a very new environment. The companies who will survive this environment are the ones who are linked in to their stake holders and who understand the public sentiment, and what the public expects.
This time around, we don’t have a legacy to look at – only an opportunity to design the future sentiment. Therefore, there is the need for consultants and strategists who actually have the experience to invent and create the future. They’re the ones who will drive success in changing the current context of business and therefore future success.
Q. What is the effect of the recession on getting talent in the PR industry?
Talent is about good people – having people who care about what they’re doing. And it’s about attitude. In this environment, where there is so much change, we need some very brave, passionate people who want to make a difference to the business and the role that communication will play.
The challenge for the PR industry has been to attract good people and during recession when the opportunities are more in our industry we will be able to attract diversity as well as seniority. Today, there are many more people from different industries who want to join our industry including top business schools. There is a growing realization that PR is a powerful industry that has the ability to shape change in society and business
Q. During your professional career, how has communications evolved from a support function to a core business function? What is driving this change?
The fact is that communication is the new warfare. There is a plethora of media channels and what you say today is equal to the arrows of the past: whether leaders want those arrows to hit the bulls-eye so that you can diffuse a crisis situation or communicate hope where there is despair, can be very powerful in today’s environment. It is those leaders who can inspire and build hope for tomorrow who will come out of the situation. This fact is being realized by business and has led to PR evolving to a core business function. We have very effective tools to create compelling stories for our clients business to inspire the marketplace. We also train spokespeople to deliver their messages effectively. This has made the communication arena very effective to achieve business goals.
The biggest shift that has happened is that communications is now two-way. The ‘command and control’ of past has changed to include an environment of collaboration and working together with the public at large. The need to set up mechanisms to monitor the conversations in the social media which impacts the traditional media as well is a critical success factor. The next step is the need to respond in real time across multiple channels. This requires specialists who are trained to understand the exigency of the business and an effective news desk is a powerful communication tool for business at large.
We provide specialist services like crisis communication, media management and relations, online reputation management, creating brand platforms for engagement and advocacy, executive messaging and media training, build CSR programs and many more which are integral for business at large.
Q. What is your advice to freshers joining the PR industry?
Q. What is your take on PR industry awards?
The PR industry has moved a long way ahead in the past 25 years, there is a definite need for Industry awards in this country. It sets up benchmarks , standards and norms that helps the industry to grow in the right direction. Awards are a great platform to get together, celebrate good work, and understand the nuances of the industry. Recognizing and rewarding good work is the only way of taking the industry to the next level in this country. The next five years are certainly a very exciting and transformational time for this industry.
Q. How does IPAN Hill & Knowlton set themselves apart from the other PR firms in the country?
PR is a senior people’s business. With the kind of transformational change happening, you need experienced leadership who understand the perception and sentiment of the important publics, understand the clients business and its issues and then give advice based on research and insights. At IPAN Hill & Knowlton we play a strategic role to ensure that communication is addressing the business goals of our clients. We help them tell compelling stories about their business, products and leadership that build a strong influence and public opinion across important stake holders. We understand the business environment and help our clients navigate in the right direction. In a nutshell, we are the ‘trusted advisors’ to our clients.