We want to be known as an agency with powerful ideas: Amitabh Saksena

Founder & Managing Director, Actimedia PR & Digital, Amitabh Saksena discussed changes that occurred in the past decades, expansion plans, and more, in the latest edition of 'Rising India Series'

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Jul 7, 2021 8:41 AM  | 6 min read
Amitabh Saksena

A 22-year-old organisation, ActiMedia has been a forerunner in the lifestyle PR industry. The company has now expanded its portfolio by including entertainment, lifestyle e-commerce, lifestyle sports, and consumer PR. Having started with Esso Petroleum, Tommy Hilfiger, Nautica & JW Marriott in India, Actimedia has gone from strength to strength working with some of the best brands in the world.

Incorporated in 1998, Actimedia has a highly democratic culture, with respect for the individual as the baseline, and has managed to have the best client retention rate in the industry. It has worked with L’Oreal India for more than 12 years, Forevermark for 10+ years, Endemol Shine for 6+ years, Emerald Media for 8+ years, PGI for 7+ years and Puma for 7+ years, among others. 

Earlier, there were only a handful of people who ever thought of lifestyle PR. And even those who did, focussed only on fashion designers. Actimedia PR was the first lifestyle agency that truly addressed all market segments within lifestyle – from JW Marriott to Diesel and to the iconic Kingfisher Swimsuit Calendar.

With offices in Mumbai, New Delhi and Bangalore, the firm takes pride in creating a workplace that respects work and personal life.

Continuing the 'Rising India Series' today, we spoke to Amitabh Saksena, Founder & Managing Director, Actimedia PR & Digital, regarding his thoughts on the indigenous firms of the Indian PR industry, changes that occurred in the past decades, mergers and acquisitions, expansion plans and more.

Edited Excerpts:- 

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

The PR landscape in India has always been segmented by origin – International vs Indian. Most MNC brands operating in India needed alignment with their global agencies and 20-30 years ago, that didn’t leave too many options for the local, home-grown agencies. Agency-on-record was a big name agency, or you did ad-hoc projects with an indie PR firm. 

However, things started to change post liberalisation. That created the confidence and impetus for smaller Indian agencies to set up, which started developing their own relationships in the market and cultivating a client base.  

When we started Actimedia about 22 years ago, we started by creating our own niche – fashion & lifestyle. At that time, all agencies handled all manner of brands, and segmenting by sector was not an approach. This helped us enormously in roping in the kind of brands that we wanted to, and creating recall for our specialised services, almost like the Eleanor Lambert of India. 

The virtual explosion in the start-up scene in the last 10 years has had its impact on the PR landscape as well. There is a wide client base to chase, Indian companies are more willing to trust start-ups in the PR space as well, mirroring their own hunger and ambition. There is competition in the market now, and that can only be good for the industry. 

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

There has been innovation to a certain extent but I wouldn’t call them a breakthrough. The industry has adapted to the changes in the external environment – we have adopted technology to add efficiency to our work, we have adapted to the emergence of different social media platforms, the emergence of influencers, and created new avenues for creating brand conversations.

What has not changed is that this is a business of ideas. True innovation is required in creating newer ways of forming emotional connect between brands and their consumers; newer modes of storytelling to create awareness, brand lovers & enthusiasts. 

The industry needs a greater conviction in the power of PR that will help move PR from the fringes of a communication strategy to the driver’s seat and also help attract smart and new talents. 

Most brands sign up for a creative agency and spend on digital campaigns before they sign on a PR agency, completely forgetting that PR can drive the brand narrative

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?

If you are running a profitable ship where the people are happy, then it is not hard to stay independent. Most entrepreneurs have to create their own balance of ambition, growth and satisfaction. If people are building only to sell, then an exit to a large agency makes sense. If you have an established practice and reputation in the market, then the larger entities are also interesting in acquiring you.  

As a specialist agency in lifestyle, we are constantly under siege from the ‘big' agency, but we are cautious about choosing the right partner. We are not closed to the idea because we do realise that the right partnership can help in reducing the learning curve, and reducing the gestation period which has a monetary value for both parties. 

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

One of the days that will always stand out in my mind is when I heard of MullenLowe Mishra. Saby Mishra, after many years in advertising, achieved a first for Indians in the communications industry when he completed a full buy-out of MullenLowe Vietnam. These are inspiring stories for young professionals and in the years to come, we are confident that this will not be the exception anymore. 

I think we have the talent and the width of experience to be global players. With the tech advancements and the change in the funding scenario, the time is ripe for those with the appetite to be global players. As agencies based in India, we are exposed to diversity; varied consumer choices that essentially fit most variances and thus we are adept & ready to take on international clients in their geographies.

Where do you see your firm after 5 years?

Lifestyle PR is a fascinating field, which combines the five senses- sight, sound, smell, taste & touch to create stories, based on strategy, research, technology and idea. The power of the idea is the sixth sense of PR & We want to be known as an agency with powerful ideas!

We want to rekindle the excitement of PR by continuing to build & strengthen a workplace where young professionals are excited about building a career in communications, where their creative needs are met and they find a platform to bring powerful ideas to life.

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