All of those in the PR profession, particularly from the consultancy side, are aware of the pain involved when their client suddenly decides that they are replacing your firm with another.
This normally happens with global MNC accounts, where an Indian firm is ‘shown the door’ for no fault of theirs. This is done invariably citing a global alignment of their PR mandate, where ‘orders’ come from Corporate HQ to change the PR partner. Consequently, home grown Indian firms, irrespective of their capabilities are let go of. Alternatively, good Indian PR firms also find it difficult ‘breaking’ into the global firms’ stranglehold, particularly when it comes to acquiring MNC clients.
Small wonder that many good Indian PR firms have sold their stake to MNC firms entering India. After all, it becomes an issue of survival for many.
I know of one such Indian PR firm which not only surmounted these obstacles but went on to become India’s largest. It had been my good fortune to have been associated with this firm for close to a decade!
This alignment and consolidation of PR firms is equally valid when it comes to large Indian conglomerates, who centralise their PR requirements into one firm.
The business group I was associated with originally had a decentralised policy, with different group companies working with different PR partners. Everything was working well, or so I thought.
One day, my CEO called me and said that he had been called for a meeting, along with other group CEO’s with the Group Chairman at the corporate HQ. He said that he was not sure what the meeting was about but hinted that we may have to make some changes to our PR strategy. Course correcting strategy is normal, but what happened next was not.
My CEO returned from the meeting at group HQ and called me in.
“The Chairman has decided that we are going to work with a newly established PR firm across the group. Atul, please call up R and tell him the news. I don’t have the heart to tell him that. Do also tell him that this would be with immediate effect.”
I was also in shock when I spoke to R, who was a veteran of the industry. He took it in his stride saying that these things happen.
I informed my team, who also had disbelieving looks in their eyes. But all of us looked to the future with fresh hope.
That hope arrived one day at our office and introduced himself. “Hi Atul, my name is M, and I will be your client service person. We are still building up the team, and it will take about 10 days to get the team fully on board. You can brief me on any pending jobs and my media operations team will take it from there.”
On hearing his words, I distinctly recall my response. “M, having a media operations team is all very well, but it is critical for you to know some of the key media we work with. Everything cannot go through layers.”
He appreciated what I was saying, and in course of time, we got on very well.
Things were fine till one day, I got a call from K, who covered IT for a business daily. She sounded extremely agitated.
“Atul, my colleague who also covers the group has a major grouse. She had gained access to some documents which did not show up one of group companies in a good light. And she wanted to write about it. But your consultancy is pressurising her into dropping the story. Inducements have been offered for her to drop it. Will you please meet her and try and pacify her?”
I tried to reason with K, but to no avail. So, I found myself at a coffee shop listening to the rants of K’s colleague about how my group pretended to be ethical but was no different from any other. I let her vent. And said, “I will escalate this. I also suggest that you do what you have to – your job. No one in the group will hold it against you. That’s my promise.”
K and her colleague thanked me for taking the time to speak with them.
I escalated the matter and was reassured that the Group ethics would not be compromised.
The story was published and no one from the concerned company or the group took any offense to it. The only person I heard of who was angry was the head of the new PR firm (this I learnt later). There were a few other instances where this same person did not see eye to eye with me. But more of those instances in later columns.
The above instances also taught me a lot.
- Go with a PR partner who meets your requirements in the market you are operating in. In my view, while global alignments have benefits, a good local firm can do wonders.
- The same is true of corporate alignments with one consultancy. Today, we have a number of firms specialising in different categories. Identify the one which works best for you and go with them.
- Sometimes a decision is made where you will never know the reasons. Abide by the decision made, and always give the new person/ partner a fair chance.
- Never try to win over a journalist by offering inducements. That is unethical and has no place in my book. Never compromise on the ethics and values that your firm stands for.
- Let a journalist do her/ his job. You do your job.
- Tackle the obstacles which will come in your path with your convictions. And never be scared of what the ‘boss’ will say. Basically, even when working for others, stay true to your inner self and let that guide you.
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