The Public Relations sector in India has been growing rapidly over the last few years, and is estimated to grow at a CAGR of 12.5% by end of 2020, according to the ‘State of the Industry Survey 2019.’ The statistics from this report clearly suggest the significance of PR in a period where other industries are slowing down. One of the lead causes for this paradigm shift is the increase in spends on technology by various PR agencies and firms and the focus on digitalization of various services.
Brands have realised the importance of reputation management, not just offline but even online. There is only so much that paid media can give provide you and it isn’t 100% credible. The value of PR is high today because of the need to manage the crisis.
To understand the PR space better, we at Sapne got in touch with Akshaara Lalwani, Founder and CEO of Communicate India. Akshaara is one of the most inspiring folks in the industry. At an age when most 20-year olds are still undecided over what career to choose, 23-year-old Akshaara founded Communicate India as a home-grown Indian public relation. And today, the company is one of the leading PR agencies in India.
Excerpts From The Interview with Akshaara
Sapne (S): PR has become a significant part of businesses. It has proved that an audience’s attitude and belief about a company can greatly influence its success. But there are still many companies and brands that do not see the value of public relations. What’s your take on this?
Akshaara Lalwani (AL): Brand Reputation is always fragile, while it takes years of work to build, it can be completely destroyed in mere seconds. During a crisis, it is of utmost importance how brands manage themselves; everything they say or do is scrutinised by the media.
India is a developing economy that is sensitive to crisis; brands — both start-ups and established have realised the value of pre-emptive measures that need to be taken when it comes to crisis and reputation management.
The value of PR today has gained popularity because of the credibility that comes with earned media like being featured in media. An example of this is the Dove campaign for Real Beauty with the campaign leading to publicity across print, television, and activations on the Oprah Winfrey show and The Ellen DeGeneres show.
Taking precautions, understanding consumer sentiment, and stakeholder outreach are pivotal in determining how one bounces back from crisis. The fear of irrevocably tarnishing the brand repute has led to many companies turning to PR allegiance of some form be it in-house or external.
S: In recent times, influencer marketing, podcasts, and even webinars have added a new age dimension to PR. Do you think these are going to become some of the major aspects? Or will they fade?
AL: Influencer marketing is important but there has been a host of influencers where credibility is the biggest issue, like fake followers, mismanagement and therefore a proper structure or SOPs for influencer marketing is extremely important.
It is a highly unorganised sector and the lack of transparency poses several challenges. Who is genuine who is not, who is the right fit for the brand etc. need to be determined. These challenges are being addressed today where multiple agencies are getting involved and trying to structure the process, however, it will take you through upheavals before we fully get there.
Podcasts are great, but a lot of brands have a sense of herd mentality and do it because the others are doing it, and lack the expertise for the same. While it’s important to innovate and stay relevant by using mediums that best connect with your TG, it’s also imperative to choose and plan what’s right for your brand and all applicable stakeholders — both internal and external.
S: The COVID pandemic has flipped businesses upside down. They are working day in and out to get back on track. What role do public relations play in a business’ revival journey?
AL: While the pandemic has flipped the world upside down, there’s always an opportunity that comes with every crisis. Companies that choose to adapt will survive in this game of survival of the fittest.
The biggest concern for an organization during a crisis is how the maintain their image among all internal and external stakeholders. Managing crisis doesn’t always come easy and requires one to think out of the box. Brands today have the opportunity to reinvent themselves and present in a way that’s most desirable. Consumers are looking to see the initiatives you have taken to prioritize them, especially during the pandemic. Reading positive stories that are PR led are favourable to the brand to increase trustworthiness and credibility among consumers. The current situation may be challenging, however, if you include a problem-solving approach towards customers you can gain a new set of loyalists.
S: How Communicate India is maintaining the equilibrium amid the COVID episode. Also, how it is helping its clients during these times of chaos?
AL: Communicate India has always been a partner and gone the extra mile for its customers. Start-ups come to us because they’ve got a new round of funding and want to put their message out there while established players are looking to reach a whole new audience and elevate customer satisfaction through various new initiatives. We’ve helped them create trust with the consumer, promote thought leadership, get help with government aid and enabling them to revive and establish their presence in this dynamic market.
S: We know PR professionals are working 24/7 to keep their clients active in the market. Tell us about some of the major challenges you and your company faced or facing amid the pandemic?
AL: The pandemic in itself has been the biggest challenge in an almost decade-long professional journey. Not only have we managed to keep Communicate India afloat, but we are one of the very few companies who grew despite the insurmountable challenges thrown at us during the last six months. We have been profitable and have grown our business and have not opted for any kind salary cuts. We accepted the challenge that this global crisis threw at us and made the best out of a tough situation.
Businesses are reliant on human resources more than anything, to engage and adapt to changes, whether inventive or imaginative. Individuals who are willing to upskill and stay relevant based on the ever-changing business markets are the ones that will achieve more and succeed.
S: Let me now address the inspirational aspect. If I am not wrong, you started your journey with ₹10,000, and today, Communicate India is one of the leading firms in the domain. You have seen the peaks and valleys of Public Relations. What is the one thing that you like to share with everyone? Something that every PR professional must keep in mind.
AL: The paradigm shift we see in today’s day has led to rethinking and reorganising of businesses across the globe, as an individual you need to develop a growth mindset and stay germane to survive the dynamics of every business and one needs to be able to have diverse skill sets to grow vertically in an organization. Lastly, one needs to understand ‘the human touch.’ With emerging technologies and other technological innovations taking over mundane tasks, professionals need to be able to educate themselves and adapt to the higher cognitive skillsets needed.
Word To The Wise
Sometimes take a step back and evaluate – and play a balancing act! Learn and improve from every mistake. Stand up for what is right and push yourself limitlessly.