Prema Sagar is a recognised leader in India’s Public Relations business, serving as Principal and Founder of Genesis Burson-Marsteller. She is also the Founder-President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI), an organisation that encourages the sharing of best practices in the business, and the President and a Founding Member of the Public Affairs Forum of India. In a candid talk with Shree Lahiri, she opens up on entrepreneurship, millennials, the growing clout of digital media and more.
RT: Tell us about your journey as an entrepreneur?
PS: I come from a services family, where no one had ever tried to run a business. Much against the wishes of my father, I plunged into the unknown world of entrepreneurship. I started a printing press with my brother and published a city magazine. During the course of this, I came in touch with Priya Paul of Park Hotels. Together we started Music in the Park, an event that brought more people to the hotel, not realising that what we were doing was
classic public relations and reputation management.
RT: How are you dealing with the challenges of the new-age professionals, also known as Millennials?
PS: Every new generation of professionals brings with it its own set of new ideas and new ways of working. There is a lot to learn from them and their creativity and energy can drive any firm to greater heights. In our firm, reverse mentoring is a very accepted norm. All they need from us is an understanding of their unique needs. They consider work as only one part of their life-there are friends, family, and more importantly, passions to give their time
to, besides work. And frankly, that is the source of their creativity and energy that we so benefit from. So from our side, we work towards giving them the experiences and the freedom they need of course, while keeping client demands in mind.
RT: What is your advice to young entrepreneurs, who are building PR firms today?
PS: I think this is a great time to be an entrepreneur, in any field. Today, there are so many resources of support for entrepreneurs that we never had. However, I think we had eagerness and an appetite to take more risks than you see in people today. In terms of advice, all I would say is that we often lose sight of basic values and ethics in the drive for growth. It is important to lay that foundation right at the beginning so that it becomes part of the DNA.
RT: Given the growing clout of digital media, how does GenesisBM plan to integrate digital media into its campaigns?
PS: We understand that we are a part of a constantly transforming business and new ways of communication evolve every day. That is why we created our centres of expertise – to give us both, the width and depth in communication. Digital media is now all pervasive and you can’t create a campaign without it having a digital leg. Our Digital Studio centre of expertise has a range of specialists in the various digital platforms and they help us deliver integrated solutions to our clients. Additionally, we are nurturing those with digital skills within the mainstream PR function to enhance those skills to give our clients a more seamless execution layer for their campaigns.
RT: Is measurement a good thing to talk about, but difficult to implement?
PS: I have never been one for talking about measurement for the sake of measurement. What we often forget is that communication in itself has no meaning if it is not supporting an organisation in its business imperatives. How has a campaign moved the needle for a client’s business objective? If you can’t talk about that then merely counting coverage, share of voice or even AVE is pointless.
RT: Where do you think the Indian Public Relations business stands today vis-à-vis the international arena?
PS: There are two ways to look at this. One is to compare ourselves to other parts of the world in the kind of work we do. I think in that we are quite comparable. Of course, each geography has its unique opportunities and challenges, and so the work varies to some extent. Some would lean heavier towards particular industries and the public relations mandate would be driven by that.
The other way to look at it is the position of the public relations business in the larger scheme of things in the country, and comparing that with other countries. In that, I believe, we have really come of age in the last few years. Just as our peers in the US or Europe, we are playing a bigger and more pivotal role for our clients today.
RT: What have been the three biggest achievements of your firm in the last 25 years of its existence?
PS: It would be difficult to pin it down to three, because at every step of the way, we have had people putting in their best to bring us to this point, and I wouldn’t want to place any of that lower than any other. What I would say is that over the last 25 years, we have built an institution that stands for pushing the boundaries of communications and setting benchmarks with our imagination, creativity and agility, whether it is for our clients, our people, the profession or the community. Even as we set our sights on pioneering new initiatives and ideas, we also promised ourselves to never lose sight of our values. There are times we have refused business when it has not sit right with our sense of integrity.
RT: What do you envisage as the future of Public Relations to evolve into?
PS: At the core, public relations will always be about building and managing the reputation of an organisation. However, with time, what that reputation management will include could evolve. The tools and tactics keep changing anyway – as you mentioned before, digital plays a huge role and with it, we have added direct communication with the consumer to the mix of stakeholders we address. We are already connecting with the media, the government, the key opinion leaders, the partners and even the employees. The evolution that I see would largely be in the mediums – more vibrant content, more distribution mechanisms, more mediums, like virtual reality, and more depth in specialisations, besides breadth – what we call T-shaped talent, a broad understanding in a range of areas and specialisation in one.