New kids on the block are tarnishing professional PR agencies' image, says Creative Crest CEO Kapil Rampal|
Mumbai: Kapil Rampal has been heading Creative Crest (www.creativecrest.com) for the past two years. In his leadership, Creative Crest has emerged as one of the leading PR agencies in India.
He was a consultant for LiveWorld for over four years. At LiveWorld, he managed PR activities for many Fortune 500 companies in the US. He has also contributed and developed content for many leading media houses in the country.
Rampal is an alumnus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi. He holds a post-graduation diploma in computer science and is a member of the Public Relations Society of America.
Rampal, in this interview, talks about the challenges the PR industry in India today faces. Excerpts:
How has the business environment for PR companies been affected by the economic slowdown?
The business environment for PR companies has changed quite a bit after the slowdown in the world economy. Many PR companies have shed the earlier dotcoms / tech-focus and have moved to more traditional businesses. A lot of clients have become a lot more conscious in terms of their spending in PR. Many companies negotiated for lower retainers or have switched on working at project basis.
Clients expect quantifiable, concrete results and not a general image hype. PR companies are required to match their costs with concrete value. PR companies have become more aggressive in marketing and the competition has increased substantially. The overall billings of most agencies have increased rather than decreased after the slowdown. The business environment is a lot healthier for PR companies with good competition and performance levels.
What are the other challenges Indian PR companies face in today's world?
The main challenge that we come across is lack of a proper structure for the PR industry per se in India. This is not to undermine the efforts of Public Relations Society of India and other associations.
With a lack of a regulating body or an association, there is hardly any information available about the industry. There are no rankings on the top-performing companies. Clients with a bad experience with one agency cannot go to an association to highlight the issue. There are many new kids on the block with no proper PR background who are pitching clients with extremely low and unsustainable retainers that reflect the other agencies poorly. I hope to hear from my colleagues in other agencies about their ideas on this.
How would you break down the functions of modern PR?
Modern PR is more proactive rather than reactive. PR companies like Creative Crest work more closely with their clients at all times and always identify the ways of enhancing positive image of their clients. With this outlook, the core functions remain the same. Financial relations, public affairs and crisis management are three areas that are gaining more and more importance. Perception management is one of the areas gaining interest too.
Is the media function the most important for a PR company? What other functions count?
I believe you refer media relations as 'media' in this question. Media relations is one of the most important activities. However, each function should converge to the destination of achieving the client requirements.
What is the main challenge in dealing with the media?
The Indian media is one of the best in the world. It enjoys one of the biggest levels of reporting freedom. This ensures that any message that appeals to media professionals can go through. The media is interested in content that will appeal to their readers, which should preferably be juicy. They have their own set of priorities and way of functioning. A reporter who filed a story with information about a PR company's client does not have the final editorial control over it.
A PR company is interested in coverage for their client. The biggest challenge in dealing with the media is to achieve a perfect harmony in the interest of both parties. Media relations is one of the main strengths of Creative Crest. We have an advantage over the others as we have a background of providing services to media houses, which has made us very well versed with their working pattern.
How do Indian PR companies compare with the best in the world?
Indian PR companies would be certainly among the best in the world. Many agencies have some of the finest working methodologies, software systems, manpower, global knowledge management, resources, et al that will compare with the best in the world.
Is the Indian PR scenario much different from that in other countries? How so?
PR in India needs a lot more localisation of message, which is quite unlike how it happens in other countries. The localisation includes translation into regional languages, modifying releases to media requirements and giving it a personalised delivery. Many media professionals still prefer fax, snail mail and in-person delivery to email.
A localised message ensures better coverage, less editorial work for media and an ability to reach out to the target audience directed. It, however, makes the information dissemination slightly more costly compared to other countries.
Is there place in the PR sun for companies without a multinational partner? How much?
A multinational partner doesn't ensure success. While a multinational partner brings in international clients looking for PR in India and also international working systems, it is not an end to the road. International working systems need local adaptation in order to suit the ground requirements. Multinationals in India often drop the local subsidiary of the parent and take up services of a PR company that meets their requirements.
Many agencies without a multinational partner have done quite well in India. Creative Crest has partnered with multiple agencies worldwide instead of partnering with one agency or with a particular network. It ensures wider international coverage and wider knowledge base.
How have Indian PR companies been affected by the globalisation and consolidation that has happened in the Indian market?
The business environment has improved. Globalisation implies that more international businesses are seeking a presence in India. India is the world's second largest consumer after the US. Global corporations need a positive image perception with Indian consumers, government bodies, industries, etc. This is where PR companies can generate more business.
Are Indian companies really savvy about PR? Do you have to do any 'educating' in this context?
It will not be possible to generalise about Indian companies about their PR acumen. Many companies understand the importance of PR and many do not. A large percentage of them see PR as a tool for getting low-cost publicity using mass media with media endorsement. Nevertheless, the PR acumen of Indian companies in general has been increasing. Very few companies require orientation about the importance of PR. Many of them, however, require matching the PR costs with the value generated.
What's your view of companies that concentrate on PR, without making it part of an overall advertising enterprise? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this approach?
PR is a continuous process. PR activity needs to be proactive and present at all times in order to sustain a positive image. Media coverage gives an indirect endorsement to the company. An advertising budget is mostly dependent upon the current sales and marketing goals. However, both PR and advertising should work hand in hand and should always compliment each other.
How do you see the PR business evolving in the future, particularly in India?
The PR business will continue to evolve. There will be a rise in agencies that are specialising in a particular sector (such as healthcare and pharma). There will be an increase in companies specialising in an aspect of service particularly public affairs, investor relations and crisis management. Advertising agencies, event management companies and PR agencies will start working together a lot more closely. We might see PR divisions of larger agencies merge into them as one entity and form integrated marketing agencies.
There will be an increase in implementation of professional enterprise business computing in agencies than it is now. The service-level and reporting of PR companies will improve a lot as well. The 90s had seen a lot of growth in PR industry in India. However, there was always a lack of good PR professionals. Now that shortfall is being overcome by new PR courses by several good institutes. A solid base of new PR professionals will give a more impetus to the PR business.
Which PR company would you rate as India's best, and why?
It is quite difficult to choose the best PR company in India. All agencies are pretty competitive. Each PR company has it's own unique strengths. For example, Buzz is extremely successful at movie launches and Perfect Relations manages online PR pretty well.
I would rate Creative Crest as one of the best agencies. We have a very good track-record and all of our clients have given an excellent feedback about our services. Most of our business is generated from client referrals only. We are the only agency that has formed independent divisions (IndiaChats and IndiaContent) for managing static and interactive content for media houses as well.