In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Sukanti Ghosh, Managing Director of APCO Worldwide’s India operations and Founder Member of the APCO Worldwide’s IMEA executive committee, talks about the state of the Indian PR industry as well as what sets APCO apart from the other communications consultancies in the country.
Q. What is the effect of the global financial recession on the Indian PR industry?
Q. Do you think PR budgets for companies will change during this period? What are the other budget cuts you are expecting?
What the recession did and what it is continuing to do is to throw up a lot of challenges. It’s continuing to make demands on communications professionals and, in the good Star Trek mould, take them to places where no man has been before! So its actually pushing them into new areas. In such a situation, it brings out the best or the worst of the people. Now, what it also does is that it separates the cosmetic from the mission critical. So, if you really look at a lot of the communications that happens that is cosmetic in nature, it is facing challenges, it is facing budget cuts, it is facing a lot of questions.
However, if you look at communications that is mission critical, that is business critical, that is reputation critical – there are no budget cuts there. None at all. The companies are ready to put money and serious money on table.
Q. Is the PR industry better geared to face the slowdown compared to 2009?
Well, there is no such thing as the industry being better geared. There are organisations which are better geared and there are some organizations which are not geared enough. That’s always been the case. So you can’t really say the industry as a whole is shock proof or recession proof. That’ll never happen.
Q. Many industry experts consider high attrition rates as one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. What do you see as a solution for this problem?
To be honest APCO are not really a hard core PR agency. A significant part of the work that we do is in business strategy and a substantial part of the work we do is in public affairs and public policy. And there is a part of the work we do in strategic communication. So, there aren’t too many qualified people in this space. There aren’t too many qualified people who have breadth of vision that cuts across public affairs, public policy, business strategy and strategic coms. So if you really think about it, where we are globally, APCO is a head hunter’s nightmare because nobody ever leaves! The number of people we have with 10 years plus and 15 years plus of experience within the firm are substantial. The number of people who keep on moving or are given opportunities or newer opportunity across markets are more substantial. There is always something to look forward to at APCO, therefore you know, in terms of attrition rates; they have been very very low.
If I can talk about the industry however, there have been couple of things you have got to bear in mind. The fact is, all of us, professionals are continually on the lookout for learning, for knowledge. Gone are the days when a couple of lacs more would make people move. It could happen at the bottom end of the pyramid – when people are still young and fresh and looking for the next big hike but as you are looking at people maturing, the things which turns them on is the continuous learning, variety of challenges, working with a global network and teams, working with different challenges everyday. If you are looking at a firm like that, then frankly speaking attrition rate drops.
The challenge for the industry is twofold – one, when you have got a person within the firm, make sure that the person is continuing to grow and that’s not just a function of sending the person to an odd seminar or odd training program. You have got to be continuously pushing the person into newer areas. And giving the person the breadth of knowledge or access to the breadth of knowledge that helps the person grow. So that’s the first bit.
Ofcourse, there is another element. And that element is what happens to people who haven’t joined. Where do you look for the right people? How do you find the right people? Increasingly, the trend is that the vast majority are not from liberal Arts; they are not necessarily from the communications background. These are people who are hardcore specialist in their area of activity. We have people who are from NID, we have people from specialized business management schools, we have people who are from a litigation background. And it’s that wealth of business strategists, legal professionals, hardcore journalists, research professionals, financial services experts, public policy people, and communication people that really come together at APCO.
Q. What advice would you give to freshers entering the industry?
Q. How does APCO Worldwide set themselves apart from the other communications consultancies in India?
It’s very simple. To begin with, we are very clear that we are not a PR agency. We are very clearly in areas where other PR agencies don’t operate; very often we work alongside other PR agencies because of that and we bring them in to mandates as well. So, we work alongside the big four in terms of management consulting firms, we alongside the leading law firms in the areas of business strategy, public affairs and public policy, which most PR firms don’t do. If you look at the strategic coms part of the business , we don’t do a lot of the stuff that other people do and in many ways, we can be frightfully, if not prohibitively, expensive as a firm.
But that’s not to denigrate what the other do. I think they do a good job at what they do. A lot of these have the thriving multicity, multi hundred people networks. Hats off to them, but it’s not what we do. We are a firm that provides senior counsel. We are a firm that looks at corporate reputation. We are a firm that looks in to government policy, business strategy, and civil society and we look at the interplay of three of those and we work in that space.