The PR “Swayamvara” – The art of selecting the right partner!

Swayamvara (Sanskritस्वयंवर), in ancient India, was a practice of choosing a husband, from among a list of suitors, by a girl of marriageable ageSwayam in Sanskrit means self and vara means groom in this context. (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

It’s not because I just finished reading Amish Tripathi’s ‘Raavan’ that the word Swayamvara has stuck in my mind. The ritual song and dance around selection of the right partner even in the PR parlance is something very important to ensure that the partnership delivers!

For a moment, without getting in to ‘who is the groom’ and ‘who the bride is’, if we imagine we have to make a match between a client organisation and a PR consultancy, it would entail a lot more than just one competency. I guess, the “PR Swayamvara” would be more complicated and would entail a lot of thinking pre, during and post the process so as to make the marriage a happy and productive one, of course that means with great business impacting outcomes rather than petty measures like AVE, coverage and pics on front page!

I have had the fortune of leading the process to select a PR consultancy, few times. Having observed it closely, I am taking the liberty to share with you some of my learnings on what clients as well as the consultancies could keep in mind to ensure long term relations and avoid unnecessary heartburn! 

To make it simple, I would divide the entire courtship process into three parts.

Briefing & shortlisting

Well, it’s not Tinder, so articulate the PR need clearly and include it in a well drafted briefing document. Some serious consultancies will also ask for a face to face meeting. Let that not be speed dating! Post which, give a significant amount of time to all the potential partners to prepare and come back. In absence of these, most will come unprepared, without doing research, and clueless having refrained from asking the right questions. I have seen shoddy, vague, cut and paste jobs just to please a client rather than showcasing real convincing proof of their capabilities to understand your business and partner with you. Shortlist those who demonstrate seriousness, hunger to associate and who give you that great positive vibe of confidence.

Evaluation & Selection

Evaluation has to be fair. I have seen that ownership also goes up if the evaluating panel is drawn from across the internal stakeholders (business heads, CEOs, CFOs etc.) who matter. Have a uniform framework of parameters (could be around Experience, Business understanding, Passion etc.) for the first round to rate the multiple consultancy presentations – ideally done on the same day so that relative ranking is easy. Select two or three top contender’s basis the above parameters and set up a date for detailed presentations around their thought process, servicing structures, investments etc. In large listed organisations, appropriate board members should be included at this stage.

Some of the undesirable traits demonstrated at this stage by consultancies that put off clients are; reaching late for the pitch presentation, focusing on own credentials and trying to give a strategy or a PR plan even without understanding the real needs and issues and sometimes being overconfident. Mind you, a good client will simply try to understand your thought process and approach at this stage. The plans and strategies are co-created once you are on-board!

On-boarding and living happily ever after!

I guess the most important part post selection of the partner is on-boarding. I have seen corporates fail in extracting value out of a PR consultancy due to a lackadaisical on-boarding approach. They assume that magic will happen once the team is on the job and fail to realise the fact that the PR consultancy team needs to understand the issues and business well. Mutual efforts, transparent communications and a bit of chemistry are pillars of good relationships. This step should be so immersive and well planned that it sustains the spark even post the honeymoon period!

The process can be time consuming. But if the essence is diluted and due diligence is taken for granted, it may end up with either the consultancy dumping a client or the client announcing a new Swayamvara! Such is life, dearies!! 

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Sujit M Patil, ABC
Sujit is a IABC (International Association of Business Communicators) accredited business communicators and a three time winner of the IABC International Gold Quill award. He has been listed as India’s top ten men in corporate communications by Reputation Today and featured on the PR Week Global Power Book, the definitive guide to PR industry’s most influential operators around the world. From 2018 to 2022, he has been listed every year on Provoke media (erstwhile Holmes Report) Influence 100 research and listing of the world’s most influential in-house marketing and communications professionals. Sujit is a part of the prestigious Arthur W Page Society..

Sujit is a qualified Instrumentation engineer with MBA in marketing and a Diploma in advertising and PR. He is a regular speaker and jury at various national and international bodies such as the World Communication Forum, Davos, AMEC, ICCO, PR Newsweek Asia, Public Affairs Asia, etc. He volunteers as a guest faculty at various B-Schools, is a weekend farmer, loves travelling, understanding cultures and experimenting with new cuisines. He is passionate about Sparrow conservation.

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