In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Sharif Rangnekar (President of PRCAI and Director & CEO of Integral PR) discusses the impact of the recession on the Indian PR industry, how communications has evolved as a business function, and what sets Integral PR apart from the other agencies in the country.
Q. How would you describe the impact of the recession on the Indian PR industry?
I don’t think that recession has really hit the industry in the way that one would have imagined. What’s happened over the last few years, and it’s not even happening right now, is that corporates are relooking at the role PR consultancies play in their business objectives, marketing, or image agendas that they might have. That’s the change. What happens, then, is that there’s a tendency to take more time in deciding who to partner with, and what the brief or mandate might be. What’s really beneficial to industry, and why we have to be more patient, is that this really increases the value that PR brings to the table. There’s a greater sense of alignment of PR objectives to business objectives and to the bottom-line of a company. It’s being seen as more of a partner than as helping the business generate what it wishes to.
Q. What is the effect of the recession on getting talent in the PR industry?
There’s no effect on talent – talent has been an issue for the industry prior to the recession and continues to be an issue. It’s not the number of people, it’s the capability or the skills there. Given the change the industry is going through – the greater recognition it is receiving – the challenge is different. You need newcomers to see the bigger picture about where they might be going and what role they need to be playing over the years. That’s the big challenge. I don’t think the recession has impacted the talent pool – that is how it was.
Q. During your professional career, how has communications evolved from a support function to core business function? What is driving this change?
I think PR continues to be a support function. The difference is that, today, it supports businesses in a far greater way than it ever did. But, it’s important to realize that today, the change is that with the clutter, the growth of the economy, with the growth and the size of the consumer base, with the types of issues that companies and institutions face today, the kind of challenges that the media poses to people, the kind of empowerment that the people have today through the internet and other flows of information- leading to greater activism on consumer rights, human rights, R&R issues, I think that’s where you see the evolution, because the situations and issues are different.
In that sense, PR being as dynamic as the market, consumers, media, and policies are – has to change with all of that. That’s the change we are going to continue to see. We’re not going to be debating the same issue as ten years ago; that would show regression and not growth. I don’t think that would be the case. It’s just that the issues that you saw in Bombay ten years ago might be an issue that you see in another city aspiring to become a Mumbai. So that sense of history puts us in a better position to deal with it in another market. But even if you focus on the more evolved market, the change really has to do with the changes that have taken place around all of us.
Q. The average advertising retainer is 10 times that of an average PR retainer. How can the industry bridge that gap?
Q. What is your advice to freshers joining the PR industry?
Newcomers have to look at a few things. When they’re coming out of institutions that stick to classical ways of looking at PR, what they earn is a limited view of PR. When they’re joining a PR agency, they need to be ready to learn everything afresh. More importantly, when they look at themselves as PR agents, they need to not just love people, and what they talk about, but they also need to recognize people and who they are. They should be in that position to observe people, see what and how they consume, what sentiments and emotions drive them, their background, what part of the country they come from; what festivals are important for them – all of those things are important in a good PR consultant. You need to recognize and understand- the two elements that connect public and relations in a more meaningful definition. With that awareness, they need to be aware of what role media, friends and family, society, and social conducting. Understanding these factors bring the strength of a consultant and putting all that information to use so that you can help clients build their reputation is what PR is all about. It sounds complex, but it’s not. You must have the passion. You must love people for who they are, recognize them and be more socially mobile. You can’t sit in categories and assume that you can reach out to many people. That’s extremely important.
Apart from that, it’s the skill over languages – English in certain markets, local languages in local markets. The ability to write and send out those messages is very important. And, they also must understand that PR is very powerful in the whole marketing sector, much more so than advertising in many ways because it is word of mouth and you’re getting people to believe in you and carry a message. You’re influencing minds in a very different way. Advertising might open the doors to a brand, but as soon as you start communicating with the brand, and experiencing it, PR comes in. And that’s what makes a brand more sustainable.
What is your take on PR industry awards?
I think awards are always good. It brings recognition to the industry. Also, for people who do good work on certain accounts, they need a certain amount of motivation coming from the outside. A lot of us are self motivated, but there is nothing like a pat on the back that recognizes a skill or thought process that delivered successfully for a client. This recognition also adds value to how our industry is seen, how it’s defined. It’s also a great time to take out case studies and give people, by and large, a sense of the expanse of this industry. In that sense, awards play a very important role. It’s not just something someone wants to put at the bottom of an email – that we won such an award. That’s one part of it that’s limited to the winner for an award but the most important part for the industry is a showcase of its bandwidth and expertise.
How does Integral PR set themselves apart from the other PR firms in the country?