In some senses, 2012 was a milestone year for the industry. Buoyed by two major national PR conferences, it seemed the industry was taking itself more seriously – investing in self analysis, debating key challenges, and celebrating the successes. But it was also the sign of an industry that had matured, with a confidence to demonstrate value distinct from the marketing function, yet essential to corporate growth.
It is a value that clients are increasingly appreciating and a widely prevalent sense is that the industry is just on the cusp of some very good times.
The Time is Right
“I doubt there has been a better time for public relations than now,” says Sharif Rangnekar, who heads Integral PR and the PRCAI, the association body for PR agencies in India. For Rangnekar, this is intrinsically linked to the changing nature of the country and the variety of issues facing the nation. With “a diverse and growing consumer base, a more empowered youth that has greater awareness on issues including public policy and a general sense of what the nation is, PR consultants pretty much on a better footing than most other consultants as addressing these changes.”
As a year defined by protest, change, and an increased social awareness, it is easy to think that the country is in the middle of major change. Yet, it remains to be seen if this social climate will directly impact industry growth.
Rangnekar thinks that PR professionals are uniquely equipped to be successful in these changing times. “Addressing these changes has to do with publics, communications and engagement with them. All of these factors are intrinsic to the industry and its expertise.”
Another widely praised trend in 2012 was the increased emphasis placed on social media in the industry.
“Almost all agencies seemed to have taken to social media at some basic level,” says Karthik Srinivasan, AVP – Corporate Communications at Flipkart, and while the “kind of ideas and nature of metrics is debatable, I’m glad that there is increased awareness that social media is not something PR agencies can ignore.”
Looking ahead, for Srinivasan, the growing importance of social media in the PR toolkit will not only help increase the value being delivered to clients, but will also help the industry professionals evolve. “Thanks to the inclusion of social media as a core tool to do PR, I see the overall creativity of agencies increasing,” says Srinivasan, who has spearheaded a robust social media strategy at Flipkart. PR professionals “were stuck with conventional tools all this while and the opportunity to reach out directly to a client’s target audience presents them with an excellent platform to literally think out of the box.”
While there are positive signs for 2013, the industry still faces some key challenges that may hamper growth.
Paucity of Talent
While he is undeniable bullish about the industry’s prospects in 2013, finding and retaining the right talent still remains a major challenge. In some senses, a lack of professionals may limit the industry’s growth.
Rangnekar feels that there is a “paucity of talent that can actually service the potential business that is sitting there and that can put PR professionals at the centre of outreach, making them far more relevant to image, reputation and the bottom line of a business.”
Increase Relevance, Reduce Spam
According to Srinivasan, there is also another challenge that the PR industry needs to overcome – one created by a bad habit brewing across agencies.
“Agencies continue to spam media/journalists with irrelevant pitches and story opportunities. This is an anecdotal observation, but quite a few mainstream journalists in India took to Twitter and Facebook to name and shame agencies about such meaningless push,” notes Srinivasan, brining into focus an issue that journalists repeatedly bring up.
The way to combat this is for agencies to “put in place training sessions to make people understand the kind of damage this is doing to the PR industry and elevate the kind of outreach they do on behalf of clients.”
The benefit would not just be limited to maintaining better relations with the media, but concrete guidelines could also be used “pro-actively as a selling point, in pitches, to show a client that they do only contextual and relevant outreach.”
2013 will provide tremendous opportunities and it remains to be seen how the PR industry can embrace trends to allow for holistic growth. There is a palpable sense that the industry is on the cusp of major growth; the hope is that such potential is realized.
Written by Kunal Pal for Image Management