Guru Speak – Madan Bahal

Madan Bahal, Managing Director of Adfactors PR, was named by The Holmes Report, in January 2016 as one of the 16 people from the international marketing communications and public relations fields, who were poised to make waves in 2016. PRWeek too has been including him in its Global Power Book since June 2015. In 2013, he was recognised for ‘Individual outstanding achievement’ in Asia-Pac by The Holmes Report. He speaks to Shree Lahiri, revealing the challenges faced by the business today and the way ahead.

RT: How does the Indian PR business fare when compared to the global scenario?

Ans: Compared to the global PR scenario, we are miniscule. Against an estimated USD 15 billion global business, the Indian PR market size is only about USD 200 million. This does not reflect our population or the size of the economy. However, we are growing much faster at about 18-20 per cent vis-à-vis 5-6 per cent globally.

RT: What are the major challenges facing the PR business today? Where do the growth opportunities lie?

Ans: In the global context, the common challenge is talent and slow economic growth in most markets. In the Indian context, talent remains the principal challenge but there are other challenges too. The professional redundancy is a cause of worry, particularly at senior levels. Our pace of change is slower than our clients, government, or society at large.

The other challenge specific to India is the way PR firms are compensated. The business model is under stress – in most cases, fixed retainers are paid for unfixed volumes of work. Also, inelastic fee growth while annual service cost inflation of above 10% is a dark reality. Unlike most industries that are able to pass on their cost increases to customers, the PR business in India has not been able to do so.

As for the growth opportunities, they are everywhere – in every practice area, in every sector, and in every geography. We just have to be competent to get the desired share.

RT: What are the three top things we can hope to see in the PR trade in 2016?

Ans: We believe multiple factors will be driving growth in 2016 and beyond. These include: a GDP growth of over 8%, a stimulated rural economy, a wave of entrepreneurship sweeping India, and Governments emerging as a strong customer segment. Also, digital acceptance will grow among clients. Lastly, consolidation will continue while in parallel, we will see a healthy growth of start-up PR firms.

RT: What is the share that Internal PR – Internal Communications and Employee Engagement, enjoy today in the overall PR universe?

Ans: There is a mismatch between the need and actual level of activity in internal communications and employee engagement. The share of internal PR is still quite small.

RT: Today, social media is top priority. What opportunity is social media providing the PR business?

Ans: The social/digital pie is clearly growing. All Marcomm service providers, including ad agencies, media buying agencies, specialist social/digital agencies and PR firms are gunning for a piece of action. However, there is some confusion. The PR firm must develop clarity on defining its mandate in the social/digital context and develop offerings that are driven by its core strengths of relationships, engagement and reputation management

RT: What has been Adfactors PR’s growth like, in the last five years – globally and in India? And, what is the road ahead?

Ans: Our CAGR over the last five years is approximately 17 per cent. Over the next five years, we are targeting a growth of 20 per cent. It gets a bit challenging as the base grows but, we will have to be innovative and hardworking. Our focus is to deliver international quality combined with an unmatched India perspective and execution capability.

RT: Is the PR profession in India doing enough PR for itself? Please comment.

Ans: There is a profound school of thought in Public Relations that says, “Good public relations is 90% behaviour and 10% communications.” If we follow this simple maxim, there won’t be much need for the PR business to do PR for itself.

RT: What are the focus areas in Internal Communication today?

Ans: Businesses and institutions across the world are grappling with challenges coming from volatile, complex and fast-changing business environments. A collective organisational response is critical for its survival and success. Thus, the single-most important focus of internal communications has to be change communications – continuously explaining to the employees the compulsions, vision, strategy, and rallying them to deliver the brand promise.

RT: Ignoring employee expectations does happen in the business world. What are your views, especially keeping millennials in mind?

Ans: Firms that ignore employee expectations do so at their own peril; this is reflected in the balance sheets and growth profile of most PR firms in India. In a people-centric business, human resource will be the central plank of strategy. The principal need of younger employees is empowerment to deal with a rapid changing world with digital becoming mainstream. Our focus is to train them in critical areas required for professional and personal growth in this environment. My focus is also to make them fearless and free-thinking individuals, who are not afraid to think or express themselves.

RT: What is the interplay of culture in PR – both organisational and Indian? How do you think Indian companies are filtering corporate values down to employees?

Ans: Peter Drucker famously said, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” A strong culture based on shared values promises organisational and societal sustainability. India is a great example of the only surviving culture in a continuum for over 5,000 years. For example, the first tenet of all schools of Indian philosophy is ahimsa or non-violence. Another is: Bahujan hitaya, bahujan sukhayo (All our action should be for greater good). At Adfactors PR, we have imbibed these in our founding principles. We do not work for businesses engaged in meat-processing, alcohol and tobacco.

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