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Guest Column: PR lending glitter to jewellery biz

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Guest Column: PR lending glitter to jewellery biz

Open any lifestyle magazine or supplement or browse through any website or TV channel related to glamour and glitz and it is difficult to miss the ads of jewellery brands. Not just the media part, but even in glamour-soaked events such as fashion shows, horse races, motor sports, boat shows or even cyclothons and charity balls – jewellery brands are prominently featured in the coverage.

But it wasn’t always like that.

Under lock and key
If one looks back a little over two decades ago, when the fledgling PR industry was finding its footing, that was a time when jewellery was locked away safely, to be pulled out for those few special occasions. That was a time when one bought jewellery from the same store that had serviced one’s mother and grandmother.

So what changed along the way? Was it the rise of a new generation of jewellers that paved the way for the change? Or was it the development of a modern segment within a tradition-bound industry? Or was it the emergence of a PR industry that made a difference?

I would like to think that it was a combination of all the above. Perhaps the watershed moment was the launch of Gili, India’s first ever jewellery brand, by the Gitanjali Group in 1994. Thus, started an entirely new dynamics in the jewellery industry – while the traditional jeweller needed to be careful about whom he dealt with, a brand needed to reach out to consumers and connect with them at different levels. Subsequent communication became more and more sophisticated – from speaking about the designs and trust factor to speaking on a more emotional level to becoming a medium for the modern woman to express her true identity.

Opening up
Thus, an industry that had been closed and guarded for decades and had preferred to stay away from the limelight lest it attracted unnecessary attention from tax inspectors and government officials, now wanted to be seen and known.

Coincidentally, this was also a time when a new generation was coming to the helm of family businesses. More educated than their fathers and grandfathers who had steered the businesses in earlier decades, these new jewellers had travelled across the world and had been exposed to the success stories of the Tiffanys and Cartiers, and were more open to change.

Gitanjali Group was one of the pioneers of this change. It not only introduced branded jewellery, but many other modern retailing concepts. It created occasions for buying (celebrating Valentine’s Day with a special collection way back in 1998), introduced the concept of supporting and participating in lifestyle events (as co-sponsor of Lakme Fashion Week from 2006 and as jewellery and crown partner to Femina Miss India in the same year), and teamed up with Bollywood.

Alongside, diamond mining giant De Beers also launched its own campaigns to popularise diamond jewellery. It introduced several modern, and hitherto alien, concepts to the jewellery industry, and well organised public relations was one of them. Along with other ‘Sightholders’ (as specially selected clients of De Beers are known), Gitanjali Group also participated in these initiatives, which brought the jewellery industry in the spotlight.

Connecting to the new consumer
This change coincided with shift in consumer tastes and preferences. Where earlier jewellery was bought mainly for special occasions, today jewellery has become an integral part of women’s daily live, especially the young, urban professional woman. Through a combination of marketing and PR, and with the support of research, new categories have been created with a high aspiration quotient that help connect with the different needs of the target consumers.

Many of these new consumers in major markets across India, particularly in the North and West, are also attracted to branded jewellery purely because it offers a trust factor, design and craftsmanship. Investment is no longer the sole motivation for jewellery purchases.

Today, branded jewellery players also compete for a share of the consumer’s wallet with mobile phones, watches, bags and other accessories, which was not the case earlier.

A more mature strategy
Initially, many brands believed that PR could be done through some simple formula – getting a celeb to every press conference was seen as a short cut to getting coverage, and events came to have a monotonous regularity about them.

Post the global recession, which forced many brands to refine their marketing and PR spends and strategies, the industry has become more mature and sophisticated. The bigger companies have well developed PR wings, while more than a few have regular PR agencies as well. Today, information is disseminated more systematically, and attempts to build special stories are taken more seriously.

Gitanjali Group has made the transition to the next phase. It has worked with PR agencies and individual consultants to develop its image and that of its brands. There is a regular flow of tailor-made material flowing to different segments of the media, and events are conceptualised with care and executed with finesse.

Entering new horizons
Gitanjali Group has also made the leap into the social media space with blogging, SEO and SEMs, where marketing and PR converge to create a greater connect.

As the industry matured, PR was no longer restricted to communicating to the end consumer alone. Over the last decade there also emerged new forces driving PR activity. Some of the bigger companies went public and now needed to reach out to a new set of stakeholders – bankers, investors, market analysts and retail investors.

Enter corporate PR, which aided these companies in image building, sharing their business strategy, growth plans, CSR initiatives, financial performance, company and management profiling. This firmed up the confidence of existing and potential investors as well as customers in the companies and their brands, and became critical aspects of the PR strategy.

Though the number of listed companies is still very small, it is a powerful and vocal segment and constitutes a large proportion of the organised segment of the industry.

Regional players with all India plans also began to realise that PR could be a critical component of their expansion strategies. Opening a new store was not enough; the confidence and trust built up over decades of dealing with clients in their original cities/ locations now needed to be communicated to a new audience in new markets. A similar bond of trust had to be forged virtually overnight, and what better vehicle than a well planned and executed PR strategy?

The author is Head of Corporate Communications and Lifestyle PR at Gitanjali Group


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