Prema Sagar is a pioneer in the Indian PR Industry. She set up one of India’s largest public relations firms, Genesis PR in 1992 when the public relations industry was still at a nascent stage.
The company was acquired by global giant Burson-Marsteller in 2005. Prema is the Vice Chair for Burson-Marstellar Asia-Pacific and has received many accolades for her work in the industry. She speaks to SheThePeople.TV about her journey, how her company paved the way for the PR industry in India, and how it has adapted to changing digital landscape.
Prema’s journey is that of someone who, at every point in her life, decided to break away from the norms and take the path less trodden. Raised in a home with a services background (her father was in the Indian Air Force), discipline, fighting all odds, and seeking uncharted territory was in her DNA.
From riding a bike to breaking ranks from her father when she wanted to set up her own printing press with her brother, Prema has never backed down from a challenge.
Running the press and then starting the city magazine ‘Genesis’, Prema learnt that no task was too small and none too big. These were the first seeds of entrepreneurship that she sowed, and at a time when there weren’t the vast resources that entrepreneurs have access to today.
How she came to set up Genesis
In the course of running the printing press, in the late 80s, Prema came in contact with Priya Paul of the Apeejay Surrendra Group that owns Park Hotels. At that time, Park Hotels was looking to promote itself without advertising. With no understanding nor idea of public relations, Prema helped Priya organise a series of musical evenings called Going Public at the Park. The event gave visitors a sample of what the Park had to offer and that led to a rapid rise in the occupancy rate.
Today, a client won’t just come to the agency asking for it to communicate something it has done. It will have the agency sit with it on the high table and plan what needs to be done, and then to communicate it
With this, Prema took her first steps in public relations and realised she wanted to get into it more seriously. In November 1992, she set up Genesis Public Relations. It was the right time for a firm like this because the Indian economy had just opened its doors for foreign companies to invest. While on the one hand, these companies came in expecting someone to manage PR for them, they also awakened Indian organisations to the need for PR. In this way, Prema didn’t just set up her own organisation, she also led the charge in laying the foundation of what is today a thriving, vibrant industry.
How the PR landscape has changed
From a market that didn’t know what PR was till 25 years ago, to now an industry that plays a strategic role in the running and growth of every organisation, India’s PR and communication landscape has seen vigorous ebb and flow. During the first few years, the firm’s role was as much about educating clients as about managing PR for them. As awareness levels grew, so did the expectations of the clients, but for most of them, PR played second fiddle to advertising.
Today, PR and communications aren’t just an integral part of any organisation’s functioning, it plays a pivotal role in helping organisations build their strategy for growth.
Nowadays, a client won’t just come to the agency asking for it to communicate something it has done. It will have the agency sit with it on the high table and plan what needs to be done, and then to communicate it.
Curiosity and being open to learning is one of the most empowering things. It will help you avoid being redundant, help build relationships with mentors as well as mentees, and of course, add to your repertoire of capabilities
With the rise of digital media, reputations that have taken years to build can be destroyed in moments. Building reputations also need much more than before—understanding the dynamics of the market and customers through data and analytics, crafting campaigns that can break through the noisy world of communication to deliver impact through creative storytelling, and being agile to prepare for and address any crisis. These campaigns no longer have different elements working in silos, but an integrated offering for the client.
Mediums and tools of communication are evolving every day. To counsel clients and help them navigate this maze, agencies need to be ahead of the curve in terms of knowledge and experience. They need to be agile and creative in order to adapt quickly and with impact.
Advice to other entrepreneurs
There are three things to keep in mind, according to Prema—be a constant learner, don’t wait for others to pave the way, and never compromise on ethics.
Curiosity and being open to learning is one of the most empowering things. It will help you avoid being redundant, help build relationships with mentors as well as mentees, and of course, add to your repertoire of capabilities, she says.
You have to pave your own path, which doesn’t just make things easier for you, but also gives you the first-mover advantage.
Ethics and integrity are the bedrock of trust. Without them, all your other efforts may get you short-term gains, but you won’t be able to sustain it.