Allow the heading to the writer’s preoccupation with twisting words to make an impact. No inference to the non-aligned movement the headline is triggered by the recent news of Hanmer & Partners selling out to MS&L. Before offering comments and views, let me try to quickly put this development into some context:
- With Perfect Relations also in serious marriage talks, the big 3 of Indian PR firmament will sooner or latter be foreign owned.
- Unlike dating (affiliations, partnerships and representations) which was prevalent hitherto and which meant there was no control transfer, the preference this time around seems to be marriages (buyouts/acquisitions)
- The firms at the time of selling out were doing very well for themselves
- India was one of the largest potential markets for PR across the globe where none of the global networks could make a significant dent and which was ruled by indigenous PR firms till very recently
So what is really triggering the change? Here is my two cents of hypothesis:
- Global networks are in a hurry to have a foothold in the Indian market what with all the hype around India and they are willing to pay a premium or play ball
- The Indian management of the firms see the future better as part of a larger network (aka advertising)
- The valuation offered is attractive and it is tempting for many of the founders
- At the level of Prema Sagar /Sunil Gautam there may not be many dreams left to conquer in the Indian context and if just needs a good offer on the table to clinch the deal
The next logical question is what are the various factors and arising implications?
- One of the factors that was behind indigenous firms ruling the roost was the uniqueness and complexity of the Indian market which I strongly feel even today the big networks do not understand well (for most of the top brass of global networks the experience of India is limited to attending big summits in Delhi or Mumbai or having breakfast/lunch/dinner at five star venues with the Indian top brass of big PR firms or atbest presentations/reports being churned out). Does this mean many are taking the risk and walking down the aisle simply because of the importance of the market
- Will this means Indian PR industry aligning itself to the global model and globalizing itself faster than happening currently? This is a tough question and from whatever little have learned from working with the big networks, there will be some learning and some best practices borrowing but there is no denying the fact that locals will continue to hold sway in the area of understanding of the local market
- Will it mean global work practices becoming prevalent? My answer again is mixed because global work environments need global scale revenues; With most Indian clients still not willing to open their coffers and not comfortable with the man-hour billing model, it is going to be a long haul
- Do not see great changes in the industry because of the development except interms of ownership and additional benefits accruing to the respective firms
- If many of the remaining big PR firms choose to adopt a different path, it might still mean we do not walk the path of advertising where there is only one agency of worthy size that is still independent
- India is not an easy market to crack for PR and global networks need a lot of time to crack the local market
- There are other large global PR firms which are preferring to go solo (Fleishman Hillard, Text 100, APCO to name a few) or take different paths which again might see the PR industry not walking the advertising path
- The choice is primarily of the team at the helm in many of these PR firms and their interest levels in sustaining their success stories.
The best bet is to wait and watch and see how the whole thing shapes. As a footnote, let me place on record that have immense respect for Prema and Sunil Gautam and infact have sought advice from Sunil on a couple of occasions for my own firm. As regards global networks, I have friends and contacts in most of the global networks and we do work with many of them at varied levels. Am bit of an insider as well to these developments and my comments have to be hence treated as purely personal and that of me as an industry professional than an agency owner.
Xavier Prabhu is a leading writer, speaker on PR in India. He runs PRHUB, a fast growing integrated communications firm and he can be reached at Xavier@prhub.com