Creativity should be at the core of every firm: Prema Sagar, Genesis BCW

Prema Sagar, Chief Executive Officer and Founder, Genesis BCW, shares her views on the expansion and changes seen in the PR industry

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Updated: Nov 21, 2019 6:58 PM
Prema Sagar

An entrepreneur, a pioneer and a passionately creative person, Prema Sagar has led Genesis BCW since she founded it 27 years ago. Genesis BCW has since then been pushing boundaries, using curiosity, vision, drive and integrity, to invent new and integrated communications products and services to meet evolving client needs.

Prema hasn’t just spearheaded the firm, she has also given the Indian public relations and communications industry some of its firsts—first to develop proprietary tools for reputation management, the first to create and put into practice service quality measurement, first to use technology in our industry, and more recently, first to develop the one-of-its-kind Live! Newsroom. She leads the industry in fostering collaboration and has been awarded and appreciated for her efforts on many platforms—most recently, Agency Head of the Year by PR Awards Asia and Campaign PR Awards India.

exchange4media had an insightful interaction with the veteran about her journey in the industry and how has it changed during the course of time.

 Edited excerpts:

 How has your journey been in the PR industry?

 My journey began in the late ’80s and early ’90s when I set up my printing press with my brother and we would take on printing assignments from various clients. One of them was The Park Hotel, where I met Priya Paul. She asked me to work on the public relations for The Park Hotel. I didn’t know what it meant, but we together started to host events at the hotel called Theatre in the Park or Music in the Park, which drew people to it. Over time, I realised I enjoyed it and wanted to learn more. I heard about the Frank Jefkins Institute of Public Relations in London and went over to do their course. On coming back, I set up Genesis PR in 1992.

It was a time when the economy had just opened up and companies from the other countries were coming in, bringing their understanding of concepts like public relations. We started with three clients and five people. Over the years, we expanded to Mumbai and Bangalore, and then to Kolkata. In 2005-06 we became part of Burson-Marsteller and now we are Genesis BCW.

My journey and the journey of the firm are mirrors of each other. It has been an exciting ride so far. Initially, we had to do PR for PR. Today, it’s not just accepted but expected from an organisation. Also, it’s no longer just about public relations but goes beyond to include several other disciplines so that we can deliver integrated communications to clients.

 How do you distinguish GenesisBCW from other agencies working in the same domain?

 As one of the first firms in the industry, we have always tried to set the course as well as set an example—with our work, our behaviour and our will to work with and for the industry.

To stay ahead of clients’ needs, we always look for the next big thing. In the process, we have given the industry some of its firsts—first to use technology, first to develop proprietary tools for reputation management, the first to create and put into practice service quality measurement, and more recently, first to develop the one-of-its-kind Live! Newsroom.

We have a strong core of values, which really defines how we work and behave. Ethics and integrity have always been our cornerstones. And of course, we are known for our learning initiatives under the Genesis BCW School of Learning.

 How do you make sure that the stories you create at GenesisBCW reach the right audiences and are able to make an impact?

 Any campaign or even a single story strikes the right note with the right audience if it is based on an insight—a human truth that needs to be addressed. Once you have the insight, you can develop the idea around it, give it execution legs, support it with creative content and then use the most effective mediums to disseminate the message. If it is based on insight, it will have an impact.

 With the coming of the internet, communication has undergone a massive shift. Can you tell us about the challenges and opportunities that the internet has brought along for PR professionals?

 The internet has obviously added several layers of complexity. The length of the news cycle has reduced considerably. A lot of people now consume news on the go on their phones. So the format of news has undergone change. And of course, the speed of news is now immediate. What this has done is to give us several more channels of communication and need to respond and react instantaneously, which means preparedness is key. Also, we can now connect with the end consumer directly, so creative and evocative content and advocacy efforts get quicker reactions.

 What has been the growth spectrum for you along the way?

 Our growth has been steady with some years seeing inorganic growth because we added services or expanded to new geographies. Of course, becoming part of Burson-Marsteller in 2005-06 give us the additional support of a global network.

 How are communication agencies leveraging big data, AI (Artificial Intelligence) and other New Generation Technologies?

 Like in any other industry, these technologies are tools, new ways to connect with the target audience. In the communications field, they help us sift through the reams of data that we are constantly bombarded with and help us squeeze out the essence. That could be in the form of research-based insight, real-time monitoring and response for fast-developing issues like live events or crisis situations, or even predictive analytics for trend spotting. But what we have to remember is that technology by itself doesn’t lead to any of this. You need to combine it with human intelligence to bring out the nuance.

What has been the paradigm shift in the PR industry?

As I mentioned before, when we began the journey, the understanding of public relations in India was missing. We had to do PR for PR, making companies understand what it could do for them. Since then, there have been a lot of firms added to the industry, several more layers of complexity in the media landscape and therefore also to the communications landscape.

The intrusion of technology and data insights have been the prime positive changes that have occurred in the industry. Also, sports PR is becoming bigger and better with every passing day whereas healthcare and education PR needs to reflected upon urgently.

 What are the three big challenges that the PR agencies are facing today?

 I wouldn’t call them challenges but areas to focus on. The first is talent. This is a talent-driven industry so we have to continuously work on upskilling our people. The second area is creativity. With the lines between advertising, marketing, public relations and communications blurring, creativity should be at the core of every firm. Differentiated services are the third area of focus. Today, it’s not enough to just think traditional public relations but given the complexity of the communications landscape, with no real boundaries, you have to think differentiated services—digital, creative content, public affairs and more.

 What are your 5-year growth plans?

 I don’t think about five years. It’s difficult to even think of two years ahead. There is a lot to be done and we will continue doing that. There are lots of areas, like healthcare, where we want to do more. Our centres of expertise—the Live! Newsroom, Canvas and Digital, together called The Hub—has expanded to Asia Pacific and we want to do more on that. Our divisions—Public Affairs, Step Up, The Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau, Issues and Crisis Group, Client Studio—are also growing steadily.

For more updates, be socially connected with us on
WhatsApp, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook & Youtube