An influx of foreign investment, privatization of industry and initial public offerings (IPOs) by domestic companies are three factors contributing to a boom in public relations in India. In fact, foreign business travel into India is so heavy that hotel rooms in major cities, such as Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi and Madras must be booked at least a month in advance, according to Michael Neri, chief executive of Profile, a GCI Group affiliate based in Bombay. Domestic airlines, which were recently deregulated, are also filled to capacity with business travelers, Neri told PRJ recently on a visit to GCI New York.
"There's already massive annual growth" for the handful of public relations firms with strong Western ties operating in India, he said. "The public relations market [for firms] is growing in excess of 200% per year." For instance, Profile's five-person operation, which serves as the public relations division of Trikaya Grey Advertising Ltd., has grown from zero to $60,000 in fee income in just a year and a half. Burson-Marsteller's Roger Perrera affiliate and Hill and Knowlton's IPAN affiliate are each doing about $300,000 in annual fees, Neri said.
The expansion of public relations activities is fueled in part by an influx of foreign capital from Asia, the Middle East, Europe and the United States. In 1993, foreign investment in India was $1.5 billion, up from only $300 million in '92, he reported. "In 1994, the government's target is $13 billion," he added.
Most of Profile's clients are domestic companies making IPOs, he said. Many of these clients have been referred by the firm's advertising agency parent. "U.S. merchant banks are pressuring companies seeking foreign capital to pay attention to their images," Neri said. "A number of Indian enterprises raising funds are facing similar public relations challenges."
Media changing rapidly
There's a "big scramble" among global media interests for new or joint ventures in India, Neri reported. For instance, the Financial Times' parent company in London has just bought into the prestigious Indian newspaper house which publishes The Business Standard. There's hot debate in India today about opening up print media to foreign investors, he said.
India's English-language press is very sophisticated, the public relations executive noted. The Times of India, for example, is a principal forum for "academic ideas and discourse," Neri said. "Magazines cover a very wide spectrum with quality business analysis that vies with FORTUNE and Forbes." However, Indian publishers do not put as much money into production, he explained, and do not have the large editorial budgets for "depth of coverage. …