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 > Amith Prabhu on how the PR industry has evolved and adapted to new changes
Episode-34

Amith Prabhu on how the PR industry has evolved and adapted to new changes

Mrigashira
Amith Prabhu on how the PR industry has evolved and adapted to new changes
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Host

Hi Amith. Welcome to Mrigashira. It’s great to have you on board. For me, it’s like almost having, Devang Mehta of NASSCOM come to my show because I have always looked up to you as somebody who has steered this industry, do a lot of initiatives so I’m actually privileged to have you on my show.

Amith Prabhu

It’s my honor, thanks for choosing me, I feel I’m not even a speck compared to the Devang Mehta, but you’re being kind in saying that.

Host

So Amith I just want to sort of ask you, where did it all start? I mean, you know, where did you feel the need for getting the industry together and, you know, rallying people around, and, and sort of focusing on the critical issues that, you know, over a period of time the industry has always been facing?

Amith Prabhu

So there, there have been seeds germinating in the year 2009 and 10 when I worked in my last job in India, and 2011, I got lucky and moved to Edelman Chicago. And that’s when I got exposed to a bunch of initiatives that happen in the United States. And I felt the Indian market was mature enough for such initiatives, but nobody was belling the cat. Yeah. And I felt maybe I should bell the cat sitting remotely in the US so I just put out a tweet one day saying we in Indian PR need a conference of our own, which didn’t exist of the kind I was referring to there were small seminars happening, but none in the offside model. Couple of people wanted to that tweet and said, If you organize one, we’ll support it. And that encouraged me to say, okay, maybe sitting in the US, I should plan an event in India and then fly for it. And that’s how in 2012 March, the idea of Praxis was born. We didn’t have a name for it at that time. But six months down the line, when we’re getting closer to the date of November to do Praxis in Pondicherry, we came up with this name. It was more an acronym for the Public Relations and Corporate Communications India Summit so PRACCIS when I googled the word Praxis is and I realized there was a word with a meaning that said, to do to do or to act. And that’s how Praxis was born. It was more of one of the things. I did not think it would be an annual effort at that time. But the encouragement and support we got in the first event made us believe it was a small bunch of volunteers that I was working with, to do it year on year. So that’s the origin of the whole larger frame of things we did.

Host

So you know, from Praxis to now almost about nine years. Right? So how do you see your journey and what have been some of your highs and lows?

Amith Prabhu

My journey has been very, very interesting to say the least. I don’t look at life and especially your professional life as having any lows at all. I look at it as having highs and more highs and that’s about it. Maybe that’s because I choose to be positive and optimistic about these things. And I’m sure we’ll talk in a few moments about last year which was crazy for everybody and how we looked at it from a high point. So no, no real lows, yeah challenge to do two things. We decided to do certain things that are difficult format, we said we’ll never repeat speakers and we as much as possible encouraged speakers to be at Praxis who have been to a previous edition as a delegate, and never repeat menus as well. So those were some challenges for us where we get a lot of speeches from people from PR teams of corp com saying hey can I have my boss, my client as a speaker, and also negotiating with Hotels because a huge investment is hard. If you have one venue every year, then it’s easy to do five years, 10-year deal. But you have to go to new hotels, new cities, that’s the only tough time we have sometimes lose their positions. But otherwise, getting people interested and invested in the Praxis is not a difficult thing, because people have seen and got value from it over the years.

Host

And, you know, you were talking about last year, right. I mean, that’s, that’s a critical point because a lot of remodeling I have seen, you know, a lot of remodeling happening because you had to move a lot of your events online, do smaller events, do regular events. So how hard was it? And what were some of the key takeaways for you last year?

Amith Prabhu

Right, I would be not doing justice when I said it was easy. It was 100% hard in the first three months, so on March 20th and thereabouts when the Prime Minister announced the lockdown, for at least three months we were all completely like headless chickens running Helter Skelter without an idea of what the future will be. But by June, we figured that there is no chance to do something of that nature in that calendar year, we thought the earliest we could even look at doing something was January-Feb 2021. But we said the only way to survive was to do a lot of small things, instead of few big things that we did in the past. And try and do enough that everybody is excited, interestingly, at least one of those many things we do. So we moved overnight to do weekly online events. I mean, the world was in webinars, we purposely called them online events, because we knew in the first month of the lockdown, the word webinar was becoming a word that people didn’t like, just calling it an event made people feel okay, they’re not calling it webinars, let’s enroll and go for it. And most of our online events except spectra was were free, of course, people didn’t have to pay they got knowledge learning interaction. And then we said we don’t want to do Praxis as an online event at all we want people to remember practice as an offline event. So we said we’ll onboard an online event like Praxis, calling it a different name, and spectra was born so we created delegate bags, send delegate bags to almost 500-1000 people who registered in the first phase, we also got almost 400 people to sign up for lunch and we work with Taj hotels to serve lunch in Delhi, Bombay, Bangalore, Delhi. So people get everything that they get in the conference, and not that people are dying for that lunch but people always feel good, I’m having the same meal, the same content, sitting in my own house. So that worked very well. And we realized that we will continue with spectra this year, for sure, make an online event in some part of the year, and if things open up towards the end of the year, we’ll also try and do a smaller version of Praxis, because that meet and greet interaction, shake hands will be important when things get better six, eight months down the line.

Host

This industry is also all about, you know, networking and, face-to-face interactions, right? So, have you seen, among your users in the last one year a kind of a fatigue value of doing everything online? I mean, how, how have How was the response been from people?

Amith Prabhu

So again, like I said, what we do differently compared to many others who do events is we don’t repeat speakers in any format. So 50 online events we did in 2020, we didn’t have except one or two cases where a co-partner or sponsor insisted on a specific speaker, we already adapt previously, we had almost a diverse range of speakers. So people liked the fact that there will be new faces new names for a change, that was one and second, getting 100 people to an event is not difficult online. So we have reached out to about 2000 people, even if 100 or 2000 come, there were 50 very constant and 15 new faces each time. So it wasn’t difficult to get that 100 minimum quorum for each of our online events to the year.

Host

How do you manage to get different speakers each?

Amith Prabhu

It’s all about two things. It’s research and database building. So what we did early on when Praxis was born in 2012, we said the only way to do it uniquely is to have these 20-25 new speakers each year. So, you would appreciate and know that we’ve never had a single repeat speaker in Praxis, there have been two or three exceptions, but they were not an occasion that some of the time why they were repeated. Maybe two or three people in early Praxis editions with a mic failed and we promised to them that we have another additional feature where you two or three people, will get another chance was a very silly thing, but we made up for that reason. Otherwise, largely we don’t repeat 98.9% of us speakers. And it’s just a database what we do is we mind the internet, mind LinkedIn mind with to build a database over 400 speakers. Over the next five years. We are not worried about getting speakers from the world of PR corp comm from India and across the world. It’s easy. I’m three years back, I would say I had 200 speakers, but thanks to lockdown I got more time to spend, to build a database of larger chunk of speakers. So we have more 400 speakers that we can tap anytime we want to. So thanks to LinkedIn, and Twitter, these things are easily possible in these times.

Host

Yeah, I mean, 400 is, is an amazing number.

Amith Prabhu

Yeah, so if somebody says, Oh, you won’t be able to do it without repeating yourself, why not, we can do five PRAXIS’s every year, if you want to be 25 speakers each. Because there is I mean, today, there are hundreds of people getting into corp com from journalism, from PR consulting, for marketing. So just tapping the corp com fraternity gives us a large bandwidth as well. And now we move to getting speakers beyond corp comm as well and, and the sky’s the limit when people are invited to talk on topics around reputation.

Host

You know, probably when you started off in 2012, you would have been like, the lone man standing, you know, in terms of, you know, the magazine that you brought out in terms of the events. But today, there are a lot of people, even in the side where people are focusing on PR as a topic, or some people are doing events, some people are doing awards. So, you know, how does it feel to, you know, to, in a way sort of pioneered all these things Amith.

Amith Prabhu

Again, you’re being very kind and calling me a pioneer, I think they were people doing these things, even prior to what we did, and they will be doing in the future as well. But what we chose was to do it slightly differently. And I mentioned those couple of things we use as concepts that we do differently. So, I think my simple answer to that is more the merrier. If there are more people doing it, the category grows the concept of PR as a profession as a career choice grows and helpful in the long term for everybody. So I think that’s a good thing. There are a few people doing it, then people feel that, oh, why only two or three doing something it doesn’t look like a carrier with promise or a profession with a lot of scope in the future. So I think that’s a good thing that everybody is getting into doing similar things, it helps keep the momentum alive for a longer period of time.

Host

What are some of those key changes that you have seen and the key challenges that you see for the industry?

Amith Prabhu

Right, so changes and challenges two different things, the two changes I’ve seen in the last 10 years or nine years from 2012. One is a lot of people who were averse to being digital, have embraced digital in different ways, whether creating their personal websites, having a more robust LinkedIn profile, being active on Twitter, writing the regular column or blog that has happened more than ever before. That’s the one major change. The second is a lot of people want to make a positive impact to the fellow community professionals. Earlier it was if as long as I was making an impact to my team, and my friends, it was fine. But people want to go above and beyond. And an example is yourself,this podcast that you’ve created in the last few months and the commitment you and a few others like you do to write a weekly column and Reputation today, I think is very, very flattering and at the same time fascinating. At least five years back, I would be calling in saying, Hey, I have an idea. Where do I publish it? And that was the problem we’re trying to solve. He said, where does a person publish his or her column without putting it on her own blog, which is easy to do. But the blog is, after all your own attraction to people coming there’s only if they know you. So, we say we’ll create an entire column series our Reputation today, two years ago, and invited people openly It was not specifically saying hey, you can write or you can write but anybody who wants to write can opt-in and do that every week or two, we get some people raising their hand to do that. So that was a cool change I saw. The challenges are two, one is when there is a problem of plenty, the quality can dropdown. So, I think that’s something we all need to be aware of both in terms of quality from writing for public consumption and quality from both PR servicing a competition the person himself or herself, being able to guide the company to do better. Today, I see a lot of youngsters who are smart, coming corp com heads in their late 20s and early 30s 10 years back, that was not the trend, because every startup today wants to have a corp com head. So somewhere that person is a little bit of a pampered professional, who are getting fat salaries, and then they have greater demands. That can be a challenge in the future. But I think over a period of time, it all evens out for me. Because I’ve seen the project is what the PR is seeing it now in a greater way than before. So I see this challenge of younger people getting a lot of responsibility, which is great, but sometimes that becomes The challenge because when they move on from that job, they want a similar kind of job with a similar salary. And they’re not open to a connection. And I think that becomes a worrisome situation for various people involved in the profession.

Host

Correct. That’s true. And one last question Amith, you know, events, awards, masterclasses, meets, and webinars and conferences. You also run an institute SCoRe, you know, which is basically meant for PR and communication professionals. So, it’s like now, like a complete package for the fraternity so what next?

Amith Prabhu

No, actually, I don’t think there’s anything next. This was a triangle that we were trying to close. So the triangle, one side was the events piece, one was the media and content piece, one was the learning and training piece. So we have done all the three areas, and the center of these three, there is recognition, awards, and networking that happens as well.

And we did those when we began, with Praxis and smaller events around Praxis. Then a couple of years later, we launched the magazine reputation today online and in print. And in the School of PR also was born at that time, but it took life in 2017, or 18. So these three things have happened. I don’t see anything new to be added. Because we’ve got all the three or four things we plan to do. They look like many, but like I said, there are three things with various tentacles in various satellites to each of them so no idea what the future holds. We’ll wait and see how the next six months pass by. If the world is still grappling with COVID and in India struggling with COVID, we’ll have to find newer ways to do something smarter in the future. But for now, we’ll just stick to what we’ve done in recent times and continue doing it better.

Host

Great, all the best Amith. It was great talking to you. And thanks once again for coming to the show.

Amith Prabhu

Thanks, Radha, for your kindness and for having me here. I think there are many people better than me who deserve to be on the show, but you have been gracious to have me. Thank you so much.

Host

Thanks so much.