Genesis Burson-Marsteller at 25: A Journey, An Institution

It all started when two women, wanting to make a difference, crossed paths. A chance conversation, a brainwave in the hills and an idea well executed—this is the story of the birth of what is now called Genesis Burson-Marsteller.

The two women were Priya Paul and I—the former at the helm of THE Park Hotels and I, running a printing press, with THE Park as one of its clients for printing. Priya spoke with me about the need to increase the hotel’s occupancy rate. While on holiday in Kasauli, I was reading Public Speaking by Mark McCormack and was struck by an idea—why not turn THE Park Hotels into a place where people could listen to great speakers. This was the germ of the idea behind ‘Going Public at the Park’. Soon the hotel became a hub of cultural activity and gradually that led to a rise in occupancy.

THE Park experience had all the makings of a great public relations campaign, but without anyone calling it that. For me, it was the beginning of a journey that has today completed 25 years. I went to London to do a course at the Frank Jefkins Institute of Public Relations and on coming back, started what was then called Genesis PR.

It started with three clients and three women, but this was 1992, and India had just opened her doors for international businesses. Bringing with them an experience of public relations, these businesses wanted something similar here. It was, therefore, the perfect time to start a public relations firm. Not surprisingly, it began to grow rapidly. Three clients became five, then 10 and more. The number of people increased too. It wasn’t long before the firm needed to expand to Bangalore, Mumbai and Kolkata.

Along the way, pioneering ideas were born—the use of technology by a PR firm, proprietary tools for reputation management, a measure for quality of client servicing, a knowledge-sharing intranet, the unique award initiative Gabbys, the iconic Associate Learning Programme (ALP). Each of these ideas were industry-firsts, and led to not just the firm carving a differentiated space for itself, but also to making public relations a more well-defined profession in India. From the beginning, it was important to do public relations for the public relations business, and these initiatives went a long way in doing that—and in fact, continue to do that.

Even as we built on our capabilities, our team strength and our new initiatives, we were very clear about being an organisation with a firm foundation of a value system. These values are what set us truly apart—Learning, Team Spirit, Meritocracy, Agility, Trust and Community. While the first four keep us current, relevant, competent and ahead of times, the last two—Trust and Community—keep us grounded. We are nothing if we don’t have the Trust of our clients, our people, our industry and our community. And our success is hollow if we don’t give back to the community. Our support to Genesis Foundation—which supports the treatment of critically ill under-privileged children with heart disorders—is a small way in which we give back to the community.

Today, it is a rapidly changing business environment that we work in, and we have to continue to sharpen our skills. As a firm—and as a profession—that is built by and on the strength of its people, the nurturing of talent has always been one of the most critical pivots for us. And within that, giving our people an environment to learn and grow is most critical. That was the reason behind creating programmes like the ALP and LEAP, an experiential learning programme for young leaders, instituted by GBM School of Learning. More recently, we designed Pushing Boundaries trainings for skill enhancement in content, social, media relations and creativity.

While we enhance our people’s skills, it is also important to continuously deepen as well as widen our capabilities as a firm. Clients no longer look at us for just media engagement. They look at us for strategy, for engaging multiple stakeholders and for counseling them through thick and thin. Our integrated approach was born out of this need. Our solutions are delivered seamlessly, integrated across public affairs and five public relations Practices—Corporate & Financial; Brands, Sports & Entertainment; Health & Wellness; Enterprise Technology and Consumer Technology; Centres of Expertise, including GBM Live! Newsroom, Content & Design Bureau, Digital Studio, Issues & Crisis Group, Client Studio, and Corporate Social Responsibility; and Business Divisions Step Up and The Outstanding Speakers’ Bureau. Each of these specialisations have been created to address our clients’ specific needs, and the integrated approach helps our clients cover more ground without compromising on depth.

Adding depth and expertise in more areas to meet evolving client needs, while continuing an integrated approach, is the way forward. As new platforms and technologies enter the world of communications, we have to ensure our clients get access to them through us.

As we look towards the future, it’s important to remember that the core aspects of public relations and communications will always hold true. Understanding the business, setting clear goals, emphasis on insights and ideas, campaign strategy and of course, planned execution—these will always be the pieces to put together to deliver the big picture for the client. And, as I mentioned before, the X factor in all of this is our people. Making sure they have everything they need so that they continue to push boundaries—that will be our constant endeavour.

Prema Sagar
Founder/Principal at Genesis Burson-Marsteller
Prema Sagar is the Chair Asia Pacific, Burson-Marsteller & the Founder/Principal, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. She founded Genesis PR in November 1992 when the business was at a nascent stage and has since then spearheaded the firm that has given the Public Relations business some of its firsts.

Prema is also the Founder-President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) and President and Founding Member of Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI).

She has been felicitated with the Individual Achievement SABRE Award at Asia-Pacific SABRE Awards 2017. She has also been recognised by PRWeek among the most influential PR professionals as part of the Global Power Book 2016. She was named among the 50 most influential people in PR in their Asia Power List 2014 and by the Impact magazine among the 50 most influential women in India in the field of media, marketing and advertising for four consecutive years.

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