Indian PR: Looking for balance between Atmanirbharta and global consolidations

India’s booming economy has become a magnet for international players, and the PR industry is no exception, with the entry of established foreign firms through acquisitions altering the landscape, particularly for independent and mid-sized agencies. The first part of this story analyzed the acquisitions by international PR firms in India during the last two decades, and the resultant opportunities and challenges, especially for mid-sized firms.The second part of this feature dives deep into this dynamic shift, exploring how these acquisitions are impacting strategies, operations, and the very future of Indian PR. We will examine the challenges and opportunities presented by this consolidation wave, and what it means for the competitiveness and innovation of the industry as a whole.Also read:The most transitional shifts in Indian PR: One acquisition at a time - Part 1Consolidation and self-relianceUltimately, achieving self-reliance (Atmanirbharta) in the PR industry requires a deep understanding of regional dynamics and market nuances, points out Bhaskar Majumdar, Head – Marketing Communication, CSR and Digital, India and South Asia, Egis.According to him, strategic foresight, innovative service delivery, and effective talent management will be pivotal for mid-sized firms to thrive amidst evolving industry dynamics and global competition.“The entry of international PR firms into the Indian market through acquisitions is significantly reshaping the strategies and operations of independent and mid-sized PR firms across the country. The presence of international firms with global expertise and extensive resources intensifies competition for both clients and talent. Independent and mid-sized PR firms are compelled to enhance their service offerings, innovate more aggressively, and differentiate themselves in specialized niches to remain competitive. International firms bring best practices and advanced technologies to the table, raising the bar for service standards in the Indian PR industry. This pushes local firms to adopt new technologies, improve operational efficiency, and elevate their overall service quality to meet client expectations,” says Majumdar.He further adds that the entry of international PR firms introduces global perspectives and practices into the Indian market. This can lead to a cultural exchange of ideas, methodologies, and strategies, enriching the capabilities of local firms and enabling them to offer more diverse solutions to clients.Majumdar stresses on the importance of fostering ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ in PR.“The consolidation wave affects talent dynamics in the industry. While larger firms may attract top talent with global exposure opportunities, mid-sized and independent firms can differentiate themselves by offering more personalized career growth paths, entrepreneurial environments, and specialized training. The challenge lies in comprehending the dynamic nuances of the Indian market, where indigenous firms inherently possess an advantage. In PR, fostering ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ is crucial. Larger Indian firms, leveraging their deep-seated understanding of local market intricacies, naturally maintain an edge over competitors. While the consolidation of international PR firms in India brings challenges for smaller players, it also presents opportunities for growth, specialization, and professional advancement. The future of the Indian PR industry looks poised for transformation, driven by global integration, higher standards, and enhanced client outcomes through strategic partnerships and innovative practices,” he concludes.<img src='\4f23af0ae495077f5103e00b1d6d4a86.jpeg' class='content_image'>Rishi Seth, Founder and CEO, Evoc Communications, reckons that many international clients find it easier to work with their international counterparts in PR and advertising due to standardisation of processes and client experience across countries. This, he adds, obviously presents challenges to independent firms, who will inevitably have a unique culture and service delivery standards, leading to a client experience that may be very different from the global network firms (important to note that even international firms are not homogenous, and thus, will have differentiated processes even among themselves).According to Seth, the key for the independent firms is to invest in elevating and differentiating their client experience to compete effectively and meaningfully with international firms. “This calls for world-class systems and processes and a quality-oriented culture. Other possible strategies can include developing competitive advantages through deep local insights and stakeholder relationships, which may not be easily replicable by foreign firms. These strategies definitively work – as is evidenced by the fact that the largest PR firm in India by a huge margin is still an independent Indian firm,” he adds.A word of cautionThere is a word of caution from Akshara Lalwani, Founder and CEO, Communicate India. International firms, she warns, must be cautious about buying past successes, for, the future of PR lies in innovation and adaptability, not in traditional methods.“Despite numerous international firms entering the Indian market, success has been limited. Many have entered through acquisitions only to exit later, as the disparity between the global and Indian models remains significant. This makes it challenging for international companies to scout quality acquisitions and maintain a positive ROI. Until the Indian market matures and globalizes further, this disparity will persist,” she notes.According to Lalwani, the challenges include:Increased competition: The entry of well-established international players intensifies competition. Mid-sized firms must continually innovate and differentiate themselves to maintain and grow their market share.Cultural and operational differences: International firms often face challenges in adapting to the unique cultural and operational nuances of the Indian market. This can create a complex environment for mid-sized firms navigating collaborations or competing with these global entities.Retention and talent acquisition: The competition for top talent becomes fiercer with the presence of international firms. Mid-sized firms need to invest more in retaining their key talent and attracting new ones to stay competitive.The future of the Indian PR industryThe Indian PR industry is at crossroads. Consolidation, fueled by international acquisitions, is reshaping the landscape. But what does this mean for the future? While consolidation will drive professionalism and innovation, there can be increased pressure on independent firms, potentially leading to further consolidation.The Indian PR industry, fueled by entrepreneurial spirit, is not yet in a consolidation phase, remarks Vikram Kharvi, CEO, Bloomingdale PR. According to him, unlike saturated markets where consolidation is more common, the Indian PR landscape remains relatively young and vibrant, with ample room for the emergence of new firms. He reminds us that the notion of a consolidation wave does not accurately capture the current state of the industry.“Instead, what we are witnessing is a phase of dynamic growth and expansion. New players continue to enter the market, bringing fresh perspectives and innovative approaches to public relations. This period of growth ensures a competitive and diverse environment, fostering creativity and allowing more firms to thrive. While larger entities may acquire smaller firms to enhance their capabilities, this trend is part of the industry’s evolution rather than a sign of consolidation. The future of the Indian PR industry will likely be characterized by continued diversification and the rise of new entrepreneurial ventures, driving the sector forward,” Kharvi concludes.While the PR industry worldwide is witnessing a wave of consolidation, with established giants merging and acquiring smaller players, India presents a slightly different picture, points out Rishi Seth. Here, he adds, the trend has been more towards outright acquisitions by international firms. However, it is important to note that the Indian PR scene is a breeding ground for new agencies. He thinks that this constant influx of young, dynamic firms, led by both seasoned and emerging communication professionals, suggests a more optimistic outlook. So, unlike the global consolidation trend, the Indian PR landscape might be headed for a future brimming with diverse players, creating a richer and more competitive ecosystem, Seth concludes.Akshara Lalwani is certain that the consolidation wave is likely to drive the Indian PR industry towards greater professionalism and sophistication. While the entry of international firms brings challenges, it also fosters a more competitive and innovative environment.Lalwani stresses that the future success of PR firms in India will depend on their ability to adapt to changing market dynamics, embrace new technologies, and offer value-driven services.As the market continues to globalize, the gap between global and Indian models is expected to narrow, leading to a more integrated and mature PR landscape in India, she concludes.Ashraf Engineer, Head of Strategy, Ideosphere, foresees that the pressure on independent and mid-sized firms to raise their game will increase. This might mean they too would look for investments or outright acquisitions.“Growth is the mantra, in my view, for survival. And you need investment to fuel it. While the industry has been in consolidation mode for a while, there are still attractive targets for the picking. Global groups will have their eyes on them. In my view, we will continue to see consolidation for at least five more years. I believe it is good for the Indian PR industry for the reasons outlined before,” Engineer says.However, he does not believe that all Indian agencies will look to sell. He states that there are major independent players that have resisted the temptation to sell outright or part with a stake. “And they’re doing very well. Once the dust has settled, what we’ll have is a layered industry that comprises agencies of varying sizes, independent and otherwise, each layer catering to different budgets and client needs,” concludes Engineer.

The most transitional shifts in Indian PR: One acquisition at a time - Part 1

The past two decades have seen the public relations industry in India undergoing a fascinating transformation. Global PR giants are no longer bystanders, but active participants, shaping the narrative through strategic acquisitions and independent ventures. Economic liberalization opened new gates of opportunities and partnerships for global giants to test the Indian waters. This influx of international players, flush with cash and an eagerness to tap into one of the ever-growing markets, has changed the face of Indian PR.In this two-part series, Adgully will delve into the dynamic shifts in India’s PR industry as international giants enter the playing field through strategic acquisitions and ventures. We will explore the impact on the industry, the opportunities and challenges it presents, and what it means for the future, particularly for mid-sized firms.Major dealsLet’s take a look at the noteworthy deals in the past two decades:2005: Burson Marsteller’s acquisition of Genesis PR. This was one of the early significant acquisitions, marking the entry of a major international player into the Indian market.2005: Edelman’s acquisition of a 50% stake in R&PM. Led by Roger Pereira, this move was significant for Edelman’s strategy in India.2007: MSL’s acquisition of Hanmer and Partners. Another major deal that helped an international firm expand its footprint in India. In 2012, Hanmer MSL re-branded itself as MSL India to better align with its parent company. This re-branding coincided with the company's expansion plans for the next three years, focusing on strategic communication, digital communications, and talent development.2008: Sampark Public Relations formed a strategic partnership with New York-headquartered Ketchum. This collaboration enabled Sampark to leverage Ketchum’s extensive global network while maintaining its strong local expertise.2014: Ketchum increased its stake in Ketchum Sampark, acquiring a majority interest in the firm.2013: Sixteen years after initially acquiring a 40% stake, Weber Shandwick, a global PR firm under the Interpublic Group (IPG), acquired the remaining 60% stake in Corporate Voice from MAA.2015: Cohn & Wolfe’s acquisition of 6 Degrees PR. This acquisition further illustrates the trend of international firms seeking growth through local partnerships.2016: Dentsu Aegis Network, a global media and communications company, acquired Perfect Relations Group. This acquisition strengthened Dentsu’s PR offerings in India.2018: WE Communication’s acquisition of Avian WE. This acquisition allowed WE Communications to strengthen its presence in the Indian market.2022: Marketing and communications agency Finn Partners acquired SPAG.2023: Havas, a global communications network, acquired Indian PR firm PR Pundit. This expanded Havas’ PR capabilities in India and marked the entry of Havas Red, Havas’ global PR network, into the Indian market. PR Pundit was rebranded as PR Pundit Havas Red.2023: Kaizzen secured an undisclosed funding from Maven Corporate Advisors in 2023. This investment has reportedly led to a shift in the company’s ownership structure.<img src='\3587bb7423d940bcc585637359875879.jpeg' class='content_image'>A double-edged swordThe recent acquisitions by international PR firms in India are a double-edged sword for the industry, presenting both opportunities and challenges, especially for mid-sized firms.The acquisition of Indian PR firms by international entities has been a consistent trend for over two decades, reflecting the long-standing recognition of India’s vibrant market potential, points out Vikram Kharvi, CEO, Bloomingdale PR.Despite this, Kharvi adds, the largest PR agency of India continues to be an independent Indian firm, showcasing the robustness of local expertise and the ability to cater to the unique nuances of the Indian market. He reckons that the influx of global players will further expand the PR landscape, bringing in advanced methodologies, global best practices, and a broader appreciation for strategic communications across various industries.“Maven Corporate Advisors’ recent investment in Kaizzen highlights an intriguing development: advisory firms are now valuing PR as a vital component of their service offerings. This move can be transformative for the industry, signaling a shift towards more integrated and comprehensive business solutions. For mid-sized firms like Kaizzen, this presents an opportunity to leverage additional resources, enhance their service portfolio, and compete more effectively on a larger scale,” says Vikram Kharvi.However, he adds, this also introduces challenges. Mid-sized firms must navigate increased competition from both established international giants and newly empowered local firms. Maintaining competitive differentiation will require a focus on deep local insights, agility, and the ability to deliver personalized, high-touch service. Additionally, these firms will need to invest in talent and technology to stay ahead in an increasingly sophisticated market.There is certainly no doubt that Indian PR firms’ acquisitions by foreign firms help bring global processes, perspectives, knowledge and expertise to the former, opines Rishi Seth, Founder and CEO, Evoc Communications.“Over a period of time, these advancements permeate through their peers including independent agencies as well, and end up raising the service delivery benchmarks for the entire PR industry. For independent mid-tier firms with adequate capital, perhaps a big opportunity lies in building world-class systems and processes through partnerships with academia and third-party consulting firms. This approach can help build some unique and differentiated capabilities that are necessary to compete effectively with the global network firms,” Rishi Seth adds.Acquisitions by global networks are hardly a new phenomenon in the Indian PR industry; we’ve been witnessing them for at least a couple of decades, says Ashraf Engineer, Head of Strategy, Ideosphere. Having said that, the fact that networks are still looking to invest in the Indian market shows how vital it is to the global PR industry.According to Engineer, these investments certainly impact the dynamics here because it means the further introduction of global best practices, more multinational clients extending their partnerships through the buyers to India, and it means more money for skills enhancement and exposure to international markets. It also means more jobs and geographies within India being serviced.“Just look at what acquisitions in India did for global giants like Publicis Groupe and WPP. At a time when global growth was slowing a few years ago, it was the Indian and Chinese agencies in their portfolio that kept the networks growing. Simultaneously, the firms these networks acquired grew from strength to strength. The acquisitions also facilitated and accelerated the shift towards digital and data. As far as investments in mid-sized firms are concerned, it’s what will fuel their evolution and expansion. As the Indian economy expands, marketing services – I regard the PR industry to be part of this sector – will play an increasingly vital role for brands. The demand for strategy formulation, messaging structures and outreach in the form of PR, advertising, below-the-line offerings and activation will only balloon. So, we need more sizable players in this space for the market to expand and evolve. The investments in small and mid-sized firms will fuel that,” he explains.The Indian PR landscape has been witnessing a surge in acquisitions by international firms, which has significantly impacted the industry’s dynamics, says Akshara Lalwani, Founder and CEO, Communicate India.According to her, these acquisitions present a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges, especially for mid-sized firms like Kaizzen, which recently secured funding from Maven Corporate Advisors.According to Lalwani, the opportunities include:Enhanced capabilities and global reach: With international firms bringing in advanced tools, global best practices, and a wider network, mid-sized firms can leverage these resources to enhance their capabilities and reach. This funding and the potential partnerships it brings can help firms like Kaizzen expand their service offerings and client base.Innovation and learning: International acquisitions often introduce new perspectives and innovative strategies. Mid-sized firms have the opportunity to learn from these global players, adopt new technologies, and stay ahead of industry trends.Market expansion: The influx of international firms underscores India's growing importance in the global PR market. This can attract more international clients to Indian PR firms, providing opportunities for growth and diversification.The entry of international PR firms through acquisitions is certainly impactful, says Kulpreet Freddy Vesuna, Founder & Managing Director, Impact Public Relations. The effect largely depends on the service packages these international firms introduce, he adds.“Indian clients typically seek comprehensive, cost-effective solutions. If these international firms can provide this balance, it could pose significant competition for local firms. That said, there is also a positive side. Indian PR firms are innovating and putting their best foot forward to drive change and evolve with the market. The industry will likely see consolidation, but it will remain dynamic, requiring Indian firms to stay agile and cautious. Ultimately, the presence of international firms could drive higher standards and push local firms to continuously improve and adapt, shaping a more robust and competitive PR landscape in India,” Kulpreet Freddy Vesuna says.(Tomorrow: Part 2 of the report will delve into how the entry of international PR firms through acquisitions is impacting independent and mid-sized PR firms in India. It will also explore how this consolidation wave is shaping the future of the Indian PR industry.)

Bloomingdale Public Relations appoints Vikram Kharvi as CEO

Full-service communications consulting agency Bloomingdale Public Relations Pte. Ltd has announced the appointment of Vikram Kharvi as its new CEO. With over 27 years of strategic communications and marketing expertise, Kharvi is set to lead Bloomingdale PR into a new era of growth and innovation.Diana Fernandes, Founder and Group CEO of Bloomingdale Public Relations Pte. Ltd., expressed her excitement about Kharvi's appointment: "We are pleased to welcome Vikram to our leadership team. His extensive experience and innovative approach to communications will be pivotal in driving Bloomingdale PR to new heights. Vikram's leadership will enhance our capabilities and unlock new opportunities for expansion and creativity. With Vikram at the helm, we are poised to elevate our operations and further solidify our position as a key player in the Industry."Vikram Kharvi has held senior roles at leading firms such as Adfactors PR, Tata Housing, Sampark PR, ANSSI Wellness, and Indian Express. His expertise in public relations, corporate communication, and traditional and digital marketing demonstrates his capability to lead Bloomingdale PR with exceptional confidence and vision. Kharvi's appointment aims to leverage his extensive expertise to drive Bloomingdale PR's strategic initiatives. He will focus on growth, operational excellence, talent development, and expansion into untapped geographies."I am honoured to join Bloomingdale PR," said Vikram Kharvi. "Having known Diana for over a decade, I have always been inspired by her tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit. This role is more than a professional milestone; it's an opportunity to work with a dynamic team that shares my passion for excellence. Together, we will elevate Bloomingdale PR to new heights, transforming it into a powerhouse of strategic communication and brand excellence. I am excited to embark on this journey and drive impactful change across industries and borders."