Letter from India
by Anjali Patil
Anjali Patil heads marketing and communications for a leading European bank's operations in India. She has 24 years of experience in communications and has a well-rounded perspective of the function having worked with PR agencies and in-house.
'Namaste!' from Mumbai, India's commercial and financial capital. I wish I could say that it is the PR capital of the country too. But India's geographical vastness and cultural diversity does not allow for any one city to lay claim to that title. Three cities, though, could be said to be at the forefront – Mumbai and Delhi along with Bangalore, India's information technology hub.
With a country so vast that it is called a sub-continent, the geography and diversity are internalised when you grow up here. But it can be daunting for expatriates coming to work in India. Language, culture, food habits and dress vary from state to state. For public relations campaigns the implication is clear - PR strategy and messaging have to be tweaked by region, if not by state, without diluting the consistency to achieve a country-wide impact of the campaign. This is especially true for marketing PR, whether for consumer goods or retail financial services.
The beginnings of strategic PR as a discipline can be traced back to the 1990s and its growth has mirrored the liberalisation of India's economy since. In the initial years, PR was driven by the entry of global brands into India and marketing and lifestyle PR dominated. Corporate and financial PR practices grew as the financial markets became more sophisticated and Indian companies started making acquisitions abroad, giving rise to "Indian multinationals". At the same time, technology PR developed as India became a powerhouse of information technology.
Today, there are a number of domestic and international agencies that offer a full range of services. Indian PR agencies were leaders until a decade ago when international PR firms began to establish a presence, either by picking up stakes in the local firms or forming strategic alliances.
The media landscape in India reflects all the vibrancy of the country's cultural diversity. India is one of the few countries where print media continues to show growth – there are 85,000 publications registered, of which close to 12,000 are in English with a combined circulation of 373 million.
Every state has local language dailies and magazines, and, in many cases, English language ones, too, that dominate the region. As a result, there is no daily that could be called a truly national newspaper, although a couple of English ones do have a fair bit of national reach and readership. However, the circulation/readership of many regional dailies outstrips that of the national ones. Here's an example of complexity. While managing PR for a retail brand, I had press releases translated into 12 languages to take our message to investors in the top 35 cities!
A word about television, where you see similar trends in terms of local language channels ruling the entertainment genre. But when it comes to news, English and Hindi channels set the agenda. With a plethora of channels – 60 news channels in 16 languages of which four are 24/7 business news channels – there are plenty of opportunities to have spokespeople featured, but it is competitive.
India has one of the youngest populations in the world, and, not surprisingly, social media is quickly becoming an integral part of communications campaigns. This is more so with campaigns that have a clear call-to-action rather than purely brand building ones.