'The sun is shining on independent, indigenous PR firms like ours'

Madhukar Kumar, Founder & Chief Strategist, Grey Cell PR, shares his thoughts on India's changing PR landscape and more

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jun 29, 2021 12:40 PM  | 5 min read
rising india

In today's “Rising India Series”, we feature Grey Cell Public Relations,  a multi-competency communications advisory firm. An ideas consultancy, Grey Cell PR assists clients in leveraging their corporate values and business philosophy to achieve industry leadership. Shaping both brand image and corporate reputation, the agency has been growing at around a 40% YoY basis.

The firm offers its clients a pan-India reach through a network of trusted associates and is already present in Delhi and Bangalore and has a representative in Mumbai, where it also plans to start an office soon.

The firm also has some global assignments in its kitty with its region-specific foreign associates. It has run successful campaigns for our clients in SE Asia, Europe, and the US markets.

exchange4media talks to Madhukar Kumar, Founder and Chief Strategist, Grey Cell Public Relations, about his firm, changes in the PR industry, mergers and acquisitions and more.

Edited Excerpts:-

How has the PR landscape changed in the last 3 decades for independent and indigenous PR firms?

Not only for the independent and indigenous firms but also for the entire sector, the PR landscape has undergone a massive transformation in the last three decades. While the underlying essence remains the same for everyone, technological advancements in communication have given independent firms a better level playing field. This means that even larger multinational corporations/clients are open to hiring homegrown firms for their PR mandates for effective & strategic PR results.

In fact, indigenous firms with a better understanding of local issues, the environment, and the diaspora are able to deliver better results in a shorter time. In addition, reputed independent firms are experiencing healthy y-o-y growth and are recognized for the quality of their campaigns and clients. With so much innovation happening in the PR service delivery, I feel that the sun is shining for our kind of firms and there is a massive potential in the market to capture.

Innovation is the key. How is the industry evolving and how are PR agencies coping?

The PR Industry is evolving really fast, and either you keep up with the pace or perish, there are no in-betweens. So, in this scenario, innovation is the key to keep in step and accrue growth for our firm.

When we think of innovation - we need to see innovation at all touchpoints, that is agencies' internal work processes and team collaborations, modern PR solutions for clients, impactful media monitoring, even application of AI methodologies are not far on the horizon.

Remote team collaborations (and WFH) have become a widely accepted norm in PR from the onset of the pandemic, but at Grey Cell PR, I am glad to say that we have been harnessing the benefits of remote teams and collaborations and thereby effectively leveraging valuable skills, for a long time now.

Awareness and an ear to the ground together become another catalyst for the genesis of innovative ideas. I regularly interact with some international agencies and their founders and try to discern how they are doing things differently.

For example, the emergence of big data and the discovery of visual communication in PR have become game-changers in recent times. Recognition of new trends early on and letting go of what is at the end of its useful lifecycle are essential to keep in sync with the changing landscape of the PR ecosystem.  

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?

I think acquisitions & mergers are part and parcel of any industry, and there have been a few M&As in the PR industry too. But at the same time, independent agencies have been growing too. Whether to remain independent or merge or get acquired is entirely a leadership team's decision depending on their evaluation of merits/demerits thereof.

I honestly feel independent agencies can stay independent and grow organically. The founder’s vision for themselves and the firm is a critical element in guiding and moulding an agency’s state of independence.

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?

Needless to say that companies of all sizes need PR to stay relevant and maintain a positive image among their target audiences. A plus in this regard is that the newer generation of founders and entrepreneurs recognize the importance of PR and are willing to invest in it from the word go. With these founders maturing into seasoned entrepreneurs through the next decade and with India's economy booming, the demand for PR is on an upward trajectory in India. The next decade is bound to have endless opportunities for the agency ecosystem. One can choose to be a specialist operating in their own niche segment or be a generalist for broader reach. The choice will depend on the individual agency’s vision, capabilities, and ‘adventurous’ nature. The shores will be big enough for those who swim ahead of or with the tide.

Some of the agencies expanded and have offices globally. Do you see Indian agencies going abroad and acquiring local agencies?

Why not? Many of us are poised to go global and in the markets where PR is already evolved. Plus, there are many countries where PR is still evolving, and Indian firms can well utilize their capabilities for awareness, education, and development of those markets.

I do not have data on how many independent agencies from India already have offices abroad, but when the time is right, we would definitely like to replicate our success in global markets. Grey Cell PR has already executed many successful campaigns in foreign jurisdictions in association with local associates.

Where do you see your firms after 5 years?

We see ourselves growing at least 4 to 5 times from where we are today both in terms of revenue, team size, and the number of offices. We may also be looking at creating our own SaaS product for the industry and expanding abroad.

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