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PR executives evolving into brand owners: Madison PR CEO

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Paresh Chaudhry, Chief Executive officer, Madison Public Relations

Paresh Chaudhry, Chief Executive officer, Madison Public Relations

Madison Public Relations is trying to change the mindset,s attitudes and build capabilities in the realm of the PR sector, removing ‘account’ and ‘service’ by bringing in the ‘ownership’ aspect in the industry. In an interview with Pitch, Paresh Chaudhry, Chief Executive officer, Madison Public Relations talks about the importance of PR in a marketeer’s life and its  prominent role in the brand building process.

How do you relate to Madison PR and the market as of now?
It is great to recognise novel people and that is the reason I took up a job in the PR industry as I  think there are  small gaps where we can see the corporate slide and it is not entirely the fault of the industry. Moreover,  clients think that this is utopia, and only run after the media  We are changing all that in Madison. This is really working, for example I am finishing a year now and I think the teams have worked very hard and we have grown 35 per cent. We  would be amongst the fastest  growing agencies. . This is based on pure selection of  clients and not taking on any client that comes to us, as we have declined  a lot of businesses.

How important is recognition in the industry?
We think it is not just recognition but also building a lot of credibility around the new companies. Every single member in Madison PR is the brand owner of one or two brands, whether it is an executive or a CEO, including me.  I am the brand owner of minimum two brands. Typically, there would be a team of 4-5 people handling about 7-9 brands. If one person is  on leave, or one has fallen sick or  gone for a presentation, the buck just keeps rolling, but in taking ownership the buck stops at you. We are very pro-active in this regard.   Understanding  consumer behavior and  their attitudes as part of our own market research, as well as  understanding and listening to channel partners, has proved to be very useful and gained us tremendous client respect in return..

There is a lot of research that is coming in. Are you in the process of taking the brand to a whole different level altogether?
Our objective this year was that at least 80 per cent of our entire team membership converts into “Brand Managers” and are not called PR managers. The minute you become a Brand Manager or a Marketing Head, from a Marketing Manager’s perspective, your ability to have a conversation with a Brand Manager of say P&G or Café Coffee Day or a Levi’s or a Puma suddenly becomes more involved. C clients respect you much more than they were respecting you earlier, because you are talking their language, you are talking e market share, t growth, competition, attributes, product management, delivery and related areas.

From a marketeer’s point of view, beyond handling media, are PR agencies going beyond and getting into strategising and brand building?

What we have done is for example, on major clients ; is that we actually have a process of being involved with the  strategy right from  the beginning. Getting different sectored agencies together, thrashing out the positioning does a brilliant job. Suddenly you become gate keepers, because the stake holders are just not the media, but also the Government,  and  employees as well as the academia to a large extent. Social media is something that will reach millions of people within 5 minutes. Therefore what they would think, what would be the backlash is all discussed and therefore your positioning becomes tighter.

Should the marketers be given a crash course on PR?
What we insist on doing when we sign up, is to have a presentation about the myths,  changing mindsets and decoding of  the Indian media. For example, across our teams and clients, we have started looking at global trends, Indian trends, what’s happening in the industry, what is not happening in the industry, so that we can send this to targeted select media  covering us. We are sharing info on global trends, so it makes the media professional’s life easier.

What are the basic changes you are bringing about to market PR?
Also about the designations, from Account Executives and Account Managers, we dropped the word Account and Servicing. It is now Brand Communication. So we have Executive – Brand Communications, Senior Executive – Brand Communications, etc.  For example now we have somebody joining us in a  strategic Brand Planning  role. We look at content and research that would add value to the brand so this is not about PR Strategy or addition, it is really about providing some content and research enabling them to provide a better plan to the client.

Does this also help in building the brands overall perspective towards whatever they have to promote or whatever they need to include in their strategy?
Brand ownership is very important. We  will not go for any company where there is limited understanding of  value of PR and Communications. ! To a marketeer,   he understands that the PR professional  is actually going beyond the call of duty and is  part of the extended team and  not an  afterthought.

Purely from a 4Ps of marketing point of view do you think PR comes under the fourth P that is ‘promotion’ or should there be a fifth P for ‘perception’?
We think perception management is what it should be along with  passion for brands. We always tell our clients, it is not about you, not about your marketing head it is not about me it is about your brand and we’ll do everything for your brand. From the marketeers’ point of view, to add to what you are asking, it is important that  at any level across  the agency, the communication professional should be able to put a foot on the door and say no! Would you call PR a medium of push marketing?
We are not painting  everybody with the same brush; all we are  saying is; barring a couple of people in the agency when there is a crisis or a huge campaign when they can add value, they become paper pushers, very few people think about the strategy and being pro-active. And while PR is an effective part of the marketing mix, we tend to lose focus.

It’s a general view that the overall marketing expenses can be reduced if marketeers start spending more on PR. Is that true?
Absolutely, it is completely true. . There are many examples of Category Heads chipping away a part of Advertising spends and keeping the faith in earned media. While the overall pie is still with Advertising, increased effort in PR and Social Media has yielded superlative ROIs.

How important are relationships with the media for marketing a brand?
In the media list that we create and we have already created quite a few, each team leader owns  a section of the media, somebody’s owning fashion, somebody’s owning lifestyle and corporate. I firmly believe  that  one to one engagement with the media is critical,  never tell the reporter what to write, that is the first thumb rule. Never ask the reporter or the media “can you stop the story?” it’s not my job to stop the story.  I have to give him a compelling story and it is up to him whether to write it or not. Except editorial freedom, I think you should be able to help him write a better story by giving him authentic information.

What is the right choice you think a marketeer should make while going in for a PR agency?
We think it is very important to see who is the driving the agency, what  is the quality of people in the top ranks of the agency, how are they trained, do they understand the fundamentals of becoming a communications business partner rather than just a good PR professional? How do we build credibility saying you know what, fine this the campaign, this is the brief, this is what we can achieve and this is what we can’t achieve? I very clearly tell my team, please align expectations, never say “oh I’ll get this done don’t worry.” I’m sorry there is a reason to worry, I can’t do this. If he has to go to six people I must convert 60 per cent that too is a great benchmark. If he does convert 100 per ecnt then he is in for a bonus.

How realistic do you have to be?
We have to be realistic.  We cannot lie to him because we are  his partner. There is always a slip  between the cup and the lip, so we have to be realistic with our clients.

PR is taken as a face of the brand by  the media agencies. Do you see a change or a trend? Apart from media is PR moving towards more of corporate B2B communication?
Absolutely, in fact from the media stand point,  if your face is not credible then it reflects on the brand. We have seen a lot of people complaining straight to the CEO and CMO  about the quality of  agency they are employing. With media, you have to engage and build your credibility only then will you  be able to build credibility with the client. We are the face we represent top leadership and the brand, , for example we do a lot of work for Britannia so we represent Vinita Bali, We should be as  credible as them because we represent them. Therefore everybody who is managing the account from across the country represents  the brand values.

What are the new strategies that you have developed for your clients?
We are going into the routine, looking at the industry and the competition. What we want to do differently is that we want to position brands differently. We want to target the media who write about innovation, about brands and simple marketing and the 4Ps. So our communication is segmental to this group of people who write. It can be bloggers too. We have identified media and non media, there is a list of bloggers, who could be housewives, social activists or in the woman’s associations, who are influencers. We called this Influencer Marketing, which Madison has started. We influence these categories, whether food, fashion, FMCG, beauty and we communicate with them. One to one engagement amplifies the 4Ps, as you are segmenting the message to the specific TG. Hence, there is no one single release that goes to everybody. You are taking out the consumer element, the design element and becoming the marketeer for the brand.

What is the future of PR, so you see PR sitting down with the creative agencies and others when a marketing strategy has to be formulated?
We think there is still a long way to go, but what I feel is  that PR agencies and professionals must be called as Communication Specialists. I hate using the term PR. We are not transitioning from a PR professional to a Communications professional and we are to be blamed.. All our efforts of the past one year has been to convert  PR professionals to Communication professionals.  Once we do that, automatically we become  a part of the marketing team.e Brand recall for Communication specialists has to be instant to help in long term brand building.

What is the major challenge that you face?
I think talent and manpower is a major challenge. There are very few professional courses available.  Trained professionals from colleges and the industry are limited. The onus is on us to customize training to help PR professionals become Communication professionals.

Paresh Chaudhry is a key member of the advisory board for the upcoming exchange4media India PR and Corporate Communications Conference & Awards 2013.

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