Nitin Mantri, CEO of Avian Media: PR Agencies’ Salary Levels Now Matching Corporates


Nitin Mantri (CEO and Business Partner of Avian Media)

In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Nitin Mantri (CEO and Business Partner of Avian Media) talks about the challenge of high attrition, the role of mid-sized independent agencies, and how Avian Media sets themselves apart from other PR agencies in the country.


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?

Attrition is a problem because talent is a problem. Because we don’t have talent, we see high attrition in our industry. A short term fix is not the solution for it. The solution is to increase awareness of the profession, both at the grass root level, which is basically when people are coming out of not just college, but also school to understand what PR is. And not just what PR is, but the other facets of PR, so it could be government affairs, in term communication, other facts of PR. That’s where it needs to change.
Secondly, for example, I’m also on the panel of IIMC to select students when they join during interviews, and I see a lot of them are coming in because they had no other alternative. The PR and ad course becomes a last resort. Also, selecting the right people, so even if you select a small number, those people should be interested in the profession.
Thirdly, as an industry body, we should do much more in raising our own awareness of the profession.
Finally I think people do complain in our industry that the agencies don’t pay much, but in my view that is changing. I think, agencies are now not far behind from what corporate pay. If we’re catching up with corporates, at least at a senior manager level, we’d be at power with corporates today.
Q. What is your take on the quality of communications education in the country? What can be done to make graduates more industry-ready?

Q.     What are some tips you would give to freshers just entering the industry?

Read. Read, and read more. Knowledge is the only way you can be in the industry, from the perspective of gaining client confidence and your own team confidence. Plus you’re able manage a client better if you know the industry. Knowledge is absolutely critical, and secondly, people don’t give enough emphasis on writing, that needs to improve.

If more people would read, it’d just be a better place!

Q.     What is your view on the ethical standards within the PR industry? What needs to change?

As an industry, globally, PR has gone through its share of scandals – be it India, U.S., or Europe. And even after having laws and codes of conduct in place, they still go through it. It keeps surfacing. Having said that, I think in India, it’s not regulated, like the U.S., but then Europe is not regulated either; it has a self regulated code of conduct. Can we have a code of conduct? The PRCAI has a code of conduct. We need to be stronger as an industry body to enforce it.

The whole Nira Radia controversy has shaken the whole industry up a bit. It has got not only the government, but the media to look within themselves on how they deal with PR agency?  The PR agencies are also now looking at how they deal with media, government and other stake holders. It is good, you need to shake up.

I think what has happened will eventually result in the betterment of the industry. Are we completely clean as an industry? I would say not, since you ask for my stand on ethics. I think it is changing, but is it clean right now? No. I think we are still individuals, I don’t know about agencies, but I’m sure there are individuals, and maybe agencies, who still move across that fine line of ethics.

Q.     What space do you see in the industry for independent, mid-sized agencies? How can this positively or negatively impact the services and experience that it can offer to clients?

I don’t think we’re any different from a bigger firm. Today we run campaigns for, whether it is Airbus, world’s largest airplane maker or car company Peugeot or EADS, a large defense company, or BP, world’s largest oil company. So can we run big campaigns across disciplines, whether it is digital, or media, or government? So I don’t think we see ourselves any different.

Where we’re probably better than the larger firms is that we’re more nimble, we respond quicker. Lots of our clients tell us that we’re more nimble. We have our own culture; it is not a borrowed culture from anybody, and we take pride in our culture. I’m sure other independent firms have their own culture. That is the advantages we have.

Plus we’re independent, so we give independent advice to our clients, and they are able to choose the best in the country, compared to when they are forced to go with a partner or go with the same agency that they are using elsewhere in the world. So they’re using a global agency which might not be the best in India or China, or any other part of the world, but they’re forced to go with them. So that way the client wins, he can choose the best agency, he gets more nimbleness, more flexibility, and more attention from senior people.
What we probably don’t manage to give is a global requirement is if they want to work with us across many countries. An independent agency would work through partners, through an independent network or partners. Can we deliver a global campaign with one independent, mid-sized agency? Probably not.

Is there a difference? The difference is only in scale. When you’re 6 people, you probably cannot manage a very large business which is worth Rs. 3-4 crores in a year. As you grow, you start getting bigger, more diverse businesses. Today, you can see two large independent firms in India, I cannot think of more than two. And they’ve also grown from being small agencies, and now they win big mandates like the global ones do. That’s what happens with agencies. I mean, when we started as an agency, we were getting business of 12-18 lakhs per year; today we are winning business which is more in the range of about a crore. So we’ve reached that stage. So probably, our plan forward would be winning larger mandates. So there is a space for independent firms in every country to succeed.

Q. How does Avian Media strive to set themselves apart from the other PR firms in the country?

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