EXPERT TALK: Dilip Cherian, Co-founder, Perfect Relations

Widely regarded as ‘Image Guru of India’, Dilip Cherian, the Co-founder and Consulting Partner of Perfect Relations, South Asia’s largest image management and lobbying firm pioneered the concept of image management in India. Feathers in his cap include his role as a communication’s & public affairs consultant, a political advisor and a practicing political & policy specialist of repute. Dilip has been the Editor of the business magazine,Business India and also of Ambani’s newspaper, The Observer. 

Dilip-CherianLovejeet Alexander managed to catch up with Dilip Cherian and discuss various issues ranging from the transition that PR industry is witnessing in India to exemplary case study to rumours surrounding Perfect Relations and  its takeover by his partner. Following are excerpts from the interview:

Q. How has the PR industry evolved in Asia over the past few years and how has Perfect Relations adapted to the changes?

A. The PR industry in Asia is constantly evolving- as the communications universe expands to embrace to new age technologies, PR is entering a brave new world of professionalism and digital media.

More and more consumers, policymakers and opinion-makers are realizing the power of PR in building brands. These days PR agencies need to ensure that every traditional PR plan has an equivalent digital plan that can be replicated online to achieve the end goal.

We at Perfect Relations emphasize on 360 degree campaigns that work across mediums. Integrating various platforms- traditional, digital, events etc becomes necessary for creating a wider impact.

Q. You cater to a wide range of clients. From consumer services to political to B2B to several others. Which sector in particular do you think has matured the most in the way it uses PR strategies?

A. According to me our political and government clients have been the most accepting and adapting to change when it comes to PR strategies.

This is obviously because of the impact of technology and social media- the scale and speed at bare minimum costs has caused an incredible transformation in communication patterns- and clients are aware of it. Today political parties run low cost digital campaigns on social media which are measurable in real time- this is because they are aware of the reach social media provides them.

Q. Have you seen any changes in the mindset of clients over the last few years?

Definitely, Reputation Management in the online world has gained significant traction. Till now it had been our job to convince our clients about the role that social, digital content and online media play in all round reputation management. We at Perfect Relations have been battling for mindshare with clients who still view it as merely a means towards an end of e-commerce. Finally, with the world entering the social media age, they understand.

Clients today also look for the whole package- an agency’s job is not just getting media coverage but effectively using every media opportunity to engage their audience. In this respect there is a shift from traditional services that our clients used to expect, to now accommodating creativity and counsel as part of the PR strategy.  

dc2Q. How important is traditional PR today when the digital space is buzzing?

Traditional PR is mostly through Print in India, local-language media especially. It remains the most credible media source for those reading it. And contrary to elsewhere in the world, it’s still growing. I don’t ignore the shrill of TV news- it has influence and ‘shout’ but little by way of content. 

Despite the digital space buzzing, it lacks an editorial filter. Despite the popularity the digital platforms enjoy, accuracy is still a major concern of those who are influential. That’s why we still rely on professional journalists –to help vet, verify and explain information.

Q. How is Asia as a market different from the West when we talk about PR as an industry?

We must remember that as a practice and an industry PR in the West is several decades older than its Asian counterpart. Thus, the practitioners are more professional, the audiences are more cynical and the clients more demanding.

However with globalization of Asian businesses and international players entering the market, more and more clients are understanding the power of PR resulting in a huge demand for competent PR professionals.

Stakeholders today are more educated and picky than ever before therefore, PR strategies and the information content needs to be increasingly creative, compelling and targeted. I believe we have moved into a more sophisticated and intellectual age which goes beyond the primitive, scratching-the-ground PR pedaling.

Q. Which is the most unique campaign in recent years according to you?

AAP’s campaign for wining the Delhi State elections- the party, a fledgling start up, ran a simple and beautifully crafted communications strategy which resulted in the unprecedented victory.

Many underestimate the power of a positive campaign and Indian politicians often resort to mudslinging and defamation but the ‘5 saalKejriwal’ (5 years for Kejriwal– a slogan that rhymes well!) managed to challenge the big Modi machine already supreme in Delhi.

It used volunteers cleverly and media shamelessly to get free airtime on radio, TV, print and social media. 

Q. Since you are running South Asia’s largest Image Management Consultancy, how would you define an ideal work culture?

Our job requires long hours, and the ability to think on your feet 24×7. Considering the dynamic nature of work which can get exhausting many times, PR professionals need to be motivated and inspired by the changing environment. 

I would define an ideal work culture where youngsters are continually learning and thinking out-of-the-box, and constantly testing the limits of their ability to take things further.

Q. Now that Perfect Relations has completed more than 2 decades, what is next on the agenda?

A. We intend to have more Specialist Vertical practices that are stand- alone companies like the 4 we already have in the group. These will see actions next year.

Q. As we know that both you and Bobby Kewalramani had set up the company in early 90’s. There have been rumours that he had made an offer to buy out your stake in the company. How true is that? Is there any plan or talks going on of merger or acquisition?

Bobby and I continue to be equal and active partners in a rapidly growing company. Rumors come and go, in all successful companies. As P.R specialists we know that facts are always capable of overturning silly rumors generated by competitors.

Yes among the acquisitions we can talk of today are some very assets in the Media monitoring space, which we are considering given the values being offered.

But we will take our pick since we already have a robust structure in place, and are in no rush.

Bobby and I will look at these during the 1st quarter of 2016.

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