Sunday, February 04, 2007

Living in a disruptive age


Indeed, these are wonderful times we live in. I prefer to call this the Disruptive Age - an age where almost anything, anyone (and not to mention, any country) can disrupt even century old concepts, beliefs and businesses. An era where the old gives way to the new with ease, a time when anything is possible!

This era has also seen a resurgence of some old business concepts like public relations which have reinvented themselves and have taken a prominent central stage in all other businesses. Till some years ago, it was rare to find someone who understood public relations, and today while many understand it, not everyone who does uses public relations to do what it is meant to do, viz to build brands. Reputation is the most basic building block of brand image, and public relations is arguably one of the most reliable tools of reputation building, making it indispensable to brand building in the current disruptive era.

For practitioners of PR in India, 2006 will be considered a watershed. It is the year when public relations shifted gear into overdrive and, as a result, also became more visible. Stealing some limelight from their older cousin advertising, PR professionals must surely be smirking with glee in knowledge that their moment has come and it is now their time for a place in the sun.

Those who chose PR as their career are already reaping the benefits of their choice – though the rapid growth of the industry has another effect which is not entirely productive or harmonious with growth; it has created an enormous demand for good quality personnel. This demand-supply gap is stretching servicing new businesses to the limits, and it is no longer unthinkable for a professional in this field to be offered double the salary for a change of jobs. Just about everyone, the placement consultants, the professionals and the PR companies are hearing pleasant music from the ringing of the money tills.

The growth of this sector is also evident from the sudden globalization of the business. Almost every global giant in public relations has already set up shop in India or is actively considering it. In fact, India will be a defining part of the growth strategies of even the big five agencies. Consolidation is another strong indicator. Like the advertising deals in the 80s, there is a fervent race for international PR agencies to consolidate their position in India. Signs of takeovers, mergers and acquisitions are already very visible. I personally know of at least 5 to 6 of India’s high growth agencies (including ourselves) who are evaluating potential alliances. The knocks on the door just don’t seem to stop!

Two questions crop up pretty quick after reading the above. One, where’s this business coming from? And secondly, will this last?

One of the critical and seemingly contradictory factors responsible for this sudden spurt in growth is the fact that due to an increasing tendency of merging differentiations. Brands are feeling the pinch of a lack of a distinctive personality. In a world where the choices are a plenty, every stakeholder is looking for a perfect match to his or her needs. A world full of clones is hardly going to represent choice, or be interesting, fun or productive.

Let us consider it established that brand distinctiveness (as we will call it here), is a core driver for the existence and evolution of a brand. Also consider it established that PR is the most innate driver of this ‘distinctiveness’. If the two are true, what will be the answer to the question – ‘Will this phenomena last?’

There are two parts to this answer. The first part is generic and almost philosophical – one that says that nothing lasts forever. This trend is cyclical and we’re all happy to be riding the wave. But, if you become more specific and ask the question, will this industry outpace others and witness a boom in the next two decades –‘Without doubt’, would be my unhesitating answer.

The reasons – firstly, brand trust is an essential. Without trust in the brand, there will be no brand. Secondly, distinctiveness is as basic to survival and growth of a brand, as air is to breathe, water to quench thirst. Distinctiveness is the unique ‘me’ of a brand and therefore an essential in meeting the increasing demands of the consumer. Added is the fact that customer demands are inversely proportional to customer loyalty. So unless brands have an aura of uniqueness about them, it will be difficult for any consumer to identify with the brand.

If you read the above paragraph again, you’ll see that public relations is the only communications tool that can help achieve both effectively. Building credibility and trust in the organization, brand or individual are innate objectives met by any PR campaign. Creating a distinctive identity is the creative design of the campaign that attaches relevance to the public relations deliverables

The field of public relations is already growing at a hectic pace and we can only expect it to accelerate in the years to come. But, of course, the industry will need to innovate in order to answer the critical demands of accountability, transparency and relevance. PR has become like an essential nutrient for the growth for any company irrespective of industry and it is entirely upto the professionals to ensure that they do everything to maintain the credibility in their industry.

An anonymous quote which aptly summarizes the way the public relations industry is moving can be found in “Yesterday we were learning and still finding our feet; today we run to race the storm, tomorrow we will fly and find the wind beneath our wings.” - Anon

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