It was a tough, but transformative year for the Indian public relations (PR) industry.
The economy was buffeted by the global downturn and policy paralysis brought on by the political situation. This, in turn, resulted in a slowing economy and businesses turning conservative on hiring and investment. Marketing communication budgets were the first to be slashed; the last two years, in fact, have been severe.
Media houses, in particular, were badly hit. Many publications struggled, and journalists were laid off as media networks merged traditional and digital newsrooms.
Most analysts say – and I agree – that the economic downturn forced businesses to reassess communication strategies. This combined with the paradigm shift in how people engage with brands – aided by new communication tools, such as social media – to revolutionise the industry. The speed of change in consumption of media and information, and audiences’ interactions with each other, was breathtaking.
The downturn did not affect the PR industry the worst, though. It was advertising that was the most affected. In fact, many clients said that in a downturn they would turn to PR because it is cost-effective.
In a survey of senior Indian PR professionals that MSLGROUP published in the beginning of the year, 55% of the respondents said the downturn was ‘not so bad’ or ‘not at all bad’, while another 29% said that while the situation was grim it was ‘not the worst’. A majority – 61% – said the downturn was manageable; it had affected their agencies only ‘somewhat’ or ‘not at all’.
This is because brands’ confidence in PR as the right communication tool for these times is increasing.
That is why I think – when we tally the numbers – growth for 2014 would be in the double digits. And, we’ll have achieved that despite many clients cutting overall communication budgets. In fact, I would wager that, despite overall budgets being cut, PR budgets would have risen for many clients.
On the flipside, clients expected more for the fees they paid and they took longer to appoint agencies after pitches.
Critically, clients began to understand the need for an integrated approach. Crisis communications, media training, content, research and insights, public affairs and financial communications were the services in demand. Agencies responded by investing in these capabilities.
This bodes well for the future of the industry.
Overall, 2014 was a year of cautious optimism. I believe that the tough times helped us evolve. This year ensured that the traditional model of PR is dead forever. We’re about to enter a brave new world.
The author is India CEO, MSLGROUP.