Four women show how the public relations industry has complemented the startup boom in the country.
A public relations (PR) firm or company plays an essential role in creating brand value for a company. With evolved and far-reaching plans, an effective PR campaign can help a company communicate its ideas, reach more clients, and increase sales.
According to a report by Public Relations Consultants Association of India, the PR industry is expected to touch Rs 2,100 crore in market size by fiscal 2020. The survey conducted among 42 companies in India shows that the industry doubled in size, from Rs 490 crore in the fiscal year 2008 to Rs 1,120 crore in the fiscal year in 2016.
The world of public relations has evolved. We have never had a social, economic and political environment that is more dynamic, volatile and complex than what we have today; the market realities of the 21st century will ensure public relations thrives and becomes a management discipline,
says Nandita Lakshmanan, founder of The PRactice.
How has the industry grown and transformed over the years? Has technology disrupted this industry? We spoke to four women who have been successfully running PR firms and seen this industry undergo change.
Nandita started The PRactice in 2000 at the age of 30 with just Rs 35,000. Today, she has 100 employees. This Delhi-born-and-bred entrepreneur started her career in 1993 with Genesis Burson-Marsteller (then Genesis PR). “When word got around I was no longer with the firm I was working with, people came forward to ask me for counsel and to work for them. At some point, I knew I had enough well-wishers and with a slight nudge from my then husband started The PRactice.”
Suhasini Ahluwalia Mehta, founder of Stellant Communications, is a thoroughbred Mumbai girl. She did her schooling from Loreto Convent at Chembur and graduated in Microbiology. Suhasini holds an MBA in Marketing Management from Xavier Institute of Management in Mumbai.
She worked with Pritish Nandy when he was just starting out on his own. “I supported him in a variety of interesting endeavours – politics, research, TV production, setting up the first cyber café with Leela Kempinski, and his efforts of getting virtual reality outlets into the country etc. I learned a lot there and used to interact with different personalities — achievers and celebrities from all walks of life,” she says.
Her curiosity about PR led her to the industry. She started by making a list of PR agencies, called the first one and landed a job. However, an unsatisfactory job stint led her to freelance. Her efforts were noticed and eventually, it led her to start her own boutique firm in 2005.
Stellant Communications has partnered with entrepreneurs to help them with image and risk management. “We have had the good fortune of working with most of them on a long-term basis,” says Suhasini.
Purvi Shetty (31) and Tejasvi Murthy (29), are true-blue Bangaloreans and have been in the PR industry for a little over a decade.
Tejasvi started her stint with PR at Red Communications. “I’ve been telling stories for as long as I can remember, public relations called to me,” she shares. Purvi started her career with brand communications. “In fact, Tejasvi and I met each other while working at brand comm. A keen interest in brands and marketing led me to PR,” she explains. With a passion for building creative communications strategies for SMEs coupled with Bengaluru’s growing startup ecosystem led them to start ARKA in 2015.
“'Arka' in Sanskrit means the Sun. And it is a fitting name, for here, as we believe in transforming every story into magic with just a little bit of sensibility and a whole lot of sunshine,” share the women.
Tejasvi and Purvi work across all sectors. “Whatever the story may be, we are here to give our clients personal attention and craft a narrative, tailor-made to suit their needs,” they say. They currently have on their list startups, SMEs, individuals and even the government.
Working with the government gives them an opportunity to see things from close quarters. They get to see a diverse set of people and perspectives, and everyday is a new learning.
“We have had the opportunity to meet and work with a number of government officials, some of whom were among the most hard working, efficient, and driven people we have ever met. The ability to think on your feet quickly and spontaneously is extremely important while working with the government,” they quip.
Though the industry is women-dominated and women-friendly, it still takes a lot of skills to survive in this industry. Nandita shares, “My female colleagues and counterparts work an average of ten hours a day, and it can go up to fourteen-fifteen hours, maybe longer when the occasion demands; deadlines are tough, our stakeholders are demanding and life is as exciting and challenging as any other business in the services sector. Add to that it is a knowledge industry and we have to stay ahead of our clients. So, yes, I would urge other industries to take a leaf from the public relations industry to see what we have done right to create a work environment that allows women to thrive.”
Within the industry, some of the challenges that these women face are finding the right people, a challenge common to almost every sector. Suhasini says, “It’s difficult to find the right people in PR. Since it’s a service industry largely dependent on skill and art, it is people-centric.” Tejasvi and Purvi add,
Finding people with the ability to take initiative and be accountable, and when you are not sure about something, to have the ability to figure it out is tough. We can train and teach many things but we can’t instill this in people. In our field, everything moves super fast; we need to find the right kind of people who share the same kind of passion as you.
With so many startups mushrooming across India, PR is in demand. However, Nandita is quick to point out that this isn’t the first boom the PR industry has witnessed.
She says, “My company has been the beneficiary of the startup boom in the year 2000. The startup environment, though, is different from what it was then. Scale is the operative word; founders have work experience and are quitting lucrative jobs to get a taste of entrepreneurship, investors are demanding, even though there is no dearth of capital - the operating environment is tougher and more competitive. So, these are exciting and challenging times. It offers PR firms like ours an opportunity to go beyond media relations, to being trusted advisors for new entrepreneurs by helping them with strategic solutions and programs.”
Suhasini too has seen several cycles over the last few years. She says, “Working in the VC and startup space for a while has given a deeper understanding of the ecosystem. We’ve closely seen the challenges that an entrepreneur goes through — the highs and lows and how communication is at the crux of it all.”
Technology has caused disruptions in many fields; the rise of digital media and the multiple social media channels have also impacted the PR industry. Nandita says, “The advent of digital has ensured there is a level playing field for what was once distinctly compartmentalised into advertising, direct marketing, public relations etc. It has provided a platform for stakeholder voices and clearly made the click mightier than the pen. In many ways, it has shifted the power quotient from those who held it. And when stakeholders gain strength, public relations will thrive because this is one discipline that focuses on listening, building and sustaining relationships with the public.”
Suhasini points out how technology has changed the way content is delivered and therefore packaged for different mediums and audiences.
We’ve all become more connected, accessible, faster. Now, the news is delivered faster on Twitter and WhatsApp, and so is the case with ‘thoughts’ on Medium and ‘client communication’ on Slack. The way organisations work has changed and so has PR – whether it is external communication or internal. PR experts offer specialised and strategic advice to their clientele on how to manage their digital image, inter alia, to deepen engagement with target audiences.
Given the growth this industry is going to achieve by 2020 the primary skillset for those in the industry to survive will be adaptability and agility. Technological disruptions and growth of digital media has already prepared the PR industry to adapt. Suhasini, Nandita, Tejasvi and Purvi all believe that those who have agility, and don’t fear hard work will go a long way in this industry.