In India, the 20’s have definitely begun with a roar. The nation is growling with unrest – economically, socially and politically and we’re all waiting to see ‘Kiska Time Aayega’ (who’s time will come).
The economy’s in a tailspin, consumer confidence is ebbing, and businesses are wary of spending till there is more predictability in market conditions.
This is good for the PR industry. It’s going to force us to be more challenging of ourselves to deliver value because only the fittest will survive. This means doing three things:
1. Acting more like consultants and less like order-takers:
It’s tough out there for CEOs. They’re navigating an increasingly complex landscape and want to work with leaders who can help them stay ahead of the curve. Not those who constantly need briefs and be told what to do. Our job as communication specialists is to understand their business and stakeholder environment and bring real insight to the table that will help them make better decisions and faster. For agencies, this means using their slightly removed position from the business to act as strategic, objective advisors and be a constant source of intelligence, insight and support to our clients. This is a mindset challenge. For too long, we’ve acted as a support function, patiently waiting our turn and to be ‘briefed’ on priorities. While this is important, it’s going to become more important that we don’t just respond to briefs but actively propose what’s good for the business.
2. Starting with ‘why’ and setting metrics that matter:
Much like Simon Sinek’s advice for leaders to inspire people into action (now also a global bestselling book), anything that we propose to our clients needs to start with answering ‘Why’ and then help them visualise the risk of not doing what we’re recommending. This exercise can also act as a good filter for consultancies internally to vet recommendations before suggesting. The only way our ‘why’s’ can be impactful is if they’re based on real insights from research that can tell a story that means something to our clients. Once we have the right context, we can do what we do best – suggest ideas that will take the brand and business forward. Good ideas will help brands connect with customers through an aspirational identity by creating a sense of belonging and a unique way of being. Bad ideas focus on measurability through AVEs, page views, shares, tweets, retweets to draw conclusions on brand impact, making communications a commoditised industry. Let’s leave that aspect of our industry behind.
3. Being bold. Standing for something.
The PR industry in India is drowning in undifferentiated agencies where innovation, authenticity and originality is secondary to playing catch-up with legacy players. We’re all award winning, we’ve all got the best people and the dots on the map to signal geographical reach. What clients take notice of, however, is differentiated expertise - more than personality, process or price. In India, we need to move beyond the vanilla generalist agency offer and choose a focus. Something we’re passionate about, that only we can do better than anyone else and that customers care about. We need to articulate that offer simply and consistently. And, we need to get better at saying ‘No, I’m afraid there’s a mismatch in your ambition and budget and I’m afraid we won’t be able to deliver the quality of service our clients are used to, within the budget available.’
I’m going to end by suggesting, the 20’s must be the decade in which we redefine PR’s role in society. At a time when inequality is growing, climate change is accelerating and jingo-istic nationalism is being spread like cancer – we need to make choices about the causes we support and our own ‘why’ – why are we in this business in the first place? As storytellers, we’re uniquely gifted to define narratives and counter existing ones to address some of the world’s toughest challenges. It means putting purpose first, even at the cost of profit. Let that be our legacy and contribution to the world. Sabka Time Aayega (Everyone’s time will come).
(The author is managing partner, On Purpose)