'Agile, dynamic firms with strong clientele can stay independent and grow'

In this part of Rising India Series, Shivani Gupta, Co-founder & Managing Director, SPAG, shares that PR agencies have not been shy of experimenting and that is how SPAG has moved forward as well

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jun 10, 2021 9:05 AM  | 6 min read
Shivani Gupta

The progressively increasing digital penetration and profound need to stay connected with their target audience has amplified the dependence of brands on public relations. The trend to communicate, narrate meaningful stories and become a part of consumers’ lives has intensified the role of public relation agencies in the country. There are more than 1100 public relation consultancies in India, divided into very large, large, medium, small and freelancers that serve the purpose.

Despite consecutive lockdowns and setbacks, As per the PRCAI report, the PR firms grew 12% in FY19-20 (2x of GDP growth) and expected to grow at 13% in the year to come. With the Indian Public Relations industry being fairly developed with major global PR consultancies operating in India through multiple acquisitions and integrations, numerous indigenous agencies manage to stay independent. Apart from functioning independently, these PR firms have set newer benchmarks and giving healthy competition to the global agencies operating in the country. So, in the second story of “Rising India Series”, we talk about SPAG, an integrated public relations and advocacy firm.

With a vision of setting trends through meaningful conversations and portraying real stories that define narratives for a better world, SPAG is reputed for offering bespoke communication strategies to shape conversations, influence perceptions, and cultivate constructive knowledge to keep the dialogue going. Established in 2013-14, the firm aims to bridge the gap between clients and consumers by diving deep into the latter’s perspective. Headquartered in Singapore, SPAG has offices in Singapore, India, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines and a vast network of affiliates, spanning 175 locations in India. Being India’s fastest-growing public relations and communications consultancy and a revered agency for healthcare clients, SPAG has more than 76 employees. 

SPAG has remarkably grown over the years through referrals and has a client retention ratio of 90%. The firm represents a wide variety of brands ranging from Healthcare, Technology, Startups, Development and Food & Nutrition. Recently, SPAG launched EMPOWER, a specialised Employee Engagement & Empower Branding practice, dedicated to the art of internal communications. Among the various studies done by the firm, SPAG’s Annual Outlook Report 2020 dived into the current challenges and driving factors that surround a start-up’s growth journey and uncover possible communication-driven solutions to boost their success.

In a candid conversation with exchange4media, Shivani Gupta, Co-founder and Managing Director, SPAG talks about the growing need for public relations, expansion of indigenous firms, staying away from acquisitions, growth trajectory and more.

Edited Excerpts:-

How has the PR landscape changed in the last 3 decades for Independent and Indigenous PR firms?

A lot has happened over three decades. From the advent of the world wide web and the technology boom to the relevance of digital and social media - the way communications as a function has evolved is remarkable. The last 3 decades have seen a paradigm shift in the PR industry, wherein it has moved from just being seen as media relations agency to now being increasingly recognized as a strategic business partner. There are many reasons that have contributed to this shift. A lot of investments have been made in bringing insights and research to the forefront of communications strategy and execution. Moreover, specialization across some key industries like healthcare and technology is being ushered by industry players to a great extent which has shaped the way PR as a service has evolved. It is imperative to note here that while these changes have been made by all players in the industry; independent firms have played a critical role in shaping it.

Innovation is the key, how the industry is evolving. How are PR agencies coping to it?

There is no doubt that even though innovation is the key for every industry, the PR industry has been at forefront of it. By means of creativity and innovation, there has been an adaption of techniques that have helped transform the role of communications. Whether it is storytelling across channels, integration of channels to reach specific audiences, or bringing in new tools for influencer-driven engagement, the industry has done it all. PR agencies have not been shy of experimenting and that is how we at SPAG have moved forward as well. In the current decade, one of the most critical aspects of this innovation has been the positioning of purpose at the core of every organisation, and how to not just adopt that as a way of timely function, but to live it every day.

In the last decades, we have witnessed major acquisitions and mergers between Indian and global agencies. How hard is it to stay independent and expand?

There are a lot of factors that drive expansion and growth for a PR firm. When a firm looks at expanding geographically into unexplored markets, this challenge is manifold. It is a fact that expansion is never an easy task. Nonetheless, firms that are agile, dynamic and hold a strong client portfolio are usually well-equipped to remain independent and grow. There is a lot of decision-making that backs that growth too, and largely such expansions are a function of the firm’s own business plans and ambitions.

What is your view on the next 10 years of India as a global leader and an emerging market? How do you see the growth and engagement for the agencies? SPAG too has forayed into the global market. Do you also see SPAG acquiring local agencies in their local market in the years to come?

When a firm has a set vision, it is a matter of taking that decision and following through with it. We at SPAG have shown that Indian firms can go beyond home shores and not only set up a base there, but also build their own mark, and this is in developed markets. There are a lot of strategic decisions that have driven SPAG to establish itself across the Asia-Pacific region with now a headquarters in Singapore and offices in Malaysia, Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam. We have also equipped ourselves as a firm to operate globally through partners. We are sure others will follow suit and there is no doubt that in time we will certainly see a reverse flow where Indian firms will be the ones to acquire other firms in the US or European market. That is what the coming decade should bring in.

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