A wakeup call to the PR industry

By N.Chandramouli,

The author is the CEO of Blue Lotus Communications Consultancy, a knowledge based public relations agency headquartered in Mumbai. He can be reached at

What the PR industry really needs is HTSR talent...
If you know someone who working in the PR industry, you'll be familiar with the sudden acute shortage of people that the industry is facing. A good thing and a bad thing at the same time. Economic theory suggests that high demand is a good thing because it demonstrates a growth in the sector, and it's a bad thing because the industry is scrambling over the few good people leading to exorbitant salaries and therefore a significantly stretched profitability.

The organized PR industry is just over a dozen years old in India and over these years, PR is slowly evolving to become a critical tool for Indian businesses. Currently valued between Rs. 175 & Rs. 200 crores the industry is estimated to be growing at robust pace of approximately 40-45% p.a.

Estimates show that the top 15 to 20 PR agencies in the country contribute upto 60-70% of the total sector turnover; the balance 35 to 40 odd agencies form the middle segment and the balance 1000 to 1100 odd agencies are one-man shops set up (usually) by ex-journalists/ex-professionals. The total number of professionals working in the PR industry is estimated to be between 10,000 to 11,000; with 25%-30% of them working with the top 20 agencies.

The Indian PR market is burgeoning into a force to reckon with, and the world's focus on India, and India's focus on the world will make the communication imperative impossible to ignore.

The real challenge
The biggest issue that faces any public relations agency that's on a fast growth track, is a steady flow of talent that can 'Hit-The-Street-Running' (HTSR). Unofficial estimates show that the PR industry in India will double by 2010 absorbing about 10,000 to 12,000 new professionals. On the supply side, there exist about 30 good-to-average institutes across the country, which offer specialized courses in Public Relations, churning out about 1500 professionals each year.

With a shortage of good people already being witnessed by the industry, it is estimated that the demand-supply gap will increase significantly within just a few years. If the salary costs become prohibitive because of this, PR businesses are bound to suffer leading to a decimation of PR agencies leading to the stagnation of the sector.

A mature industry perspective
Most other high growth industry sectors which were peaking their maturity curve took cognizance of similar demand-supply gap of professionals and took steps to ensure that the industry and academia joined hands to create innovative avenues for professionals to enter their sector. If the same does not happen in PR soon enough, the sector is bound to suffer immensely.

I was talking to the head of a large international public relations agency urging him to look at the concept of the industry getting together to create a program which would help in creating better functional professionals for the industry. Initially excited about the idea, he took the investment proposal to their regional office in Singapore, who shot it down saying, education was not a core focus of their business.

Of course education is not the core of any of our businesses. But we all have to invest in education to create more professionals and better professionals for the PR industry. Whether it is money, time, unless all understand the urgent need and act on it, the industry will collectively suffer

The contribution of the academia
More significant is the fact that the students who pass out of these courses are just not equipped to be a good fit with the industry. There needs to be a very serious discussion that the academia and the industry need to initiate that will make this talent better suited to the PR industry's needs and design an academic course that will create real HTSR talent.

HTSR talent should be in a state of readiness to accept the challenges of the organization almost immediately on joining, so as to be able to extract peak productive value from even the new talent. I know it sounds impossible, but if the academia puts its will behind such a project, the curriculum can begin to include the industry's needs.

Not only must the talent be functionally ready in the theory and practical aspects of communications, but the talent must also have a specialization in their final semesters that allows them to choose their functional area of expertise.

Lets raise the bar a bit further. The talent must also come with existing relationships with the media, where the institution can play a vital role in teaching the students to practically 'sell' the story to the media.

Those from the industry who think this would be a good idea, please raise your hands!! There are plenty going up, I can assure you.

The vision for leadership
The blueprint for success for any PR agency on the fast growth track can only be by a continuous creation, acquisition and sharing of knowledge and ensuring that the requisite HTSR talent is acquired and retained is an essential pre-requisite to leadership.

It is imperative, therefore, that the academia engages the industry and gets a more 'real' feel of how they can make their students a better fit for the industry. Jaago Academia Jaago!

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