PR offices are shut. Staff is restless. Salaries delayed. Undercutting rampant. Clients being lost. Job cuts are on the way. A slowdown and recession, eminent. Bollywood PR agencies are having their worst nightmares during Coronavirus.
The Indian entertainment public relations business is undergoing a dramatic shift in its business model. Following the 21-day lockdown and impending months of social distancing, Coronavirus is forcing brick and mortar PR agencies in Mumbai, large and small, into a day of reckoning.
The PR industry is suffering in ways it never has, with PR professionals being driven indoors because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly, all the assets traditional agencies have normally boasted about, are turning into overheads and liabilities.
PR offices are shut. Staff is restless. Salaries delayed. Undercutting rampant. Clients being lost. Job cuts are on the way. A slowdown and recession, eminent.
Luckily, the internet is proving to be of the greatest value in this time of crisis. As PR account executives disperse and work from impromptu home offices, a shakeup in the traditional Bollywood PR agency model is coming about.
Hovering over media
The current situation is helping only those who have prepared for technological changes ahead of their time. One such publicist Bollywood’s only PR guru Dale Bhagwagar, who is suddenly seeing an upswing in his PR business. Yes, the same one who has been criticized for exercising excessive PR control over the media, for even asking journalists and editors for ‘copy approvals’ (a practice unheard of in India).
Defying norms, Dale has often shocked people in the industry who work with established methods. For example, this guy simply refuses to adhere to many media policies, and even expects journalists to follow his diktats on headlines and news angles, for their articles and news features.
Earlier, this PR consultant also received flack from some actors and filmmakers when he got lines edited and words changed on some websites carrying film reviews, just because he felt the reviewers were biased and prejudiced towards his clients.
But strangely, Dale’s business is growing faster in times of the Coronavirus crisis, with three new PR clients having signed him on, in the last fortnight. Two of them being actresses, who wish to stay in the news in media glare, throughout this rough time.
The publicist has boastfully announced this on his social media account. For him, its seems as if this crisis is an opportunity. His Facebook post reads:
“The last 14 days have been really strange… or should I say pleasantly strange. Lol. Because businesses are downsizing all over the world, PR offices in India have shut shop, most PR agencies are bothered about overheads and survival… and my PR business is booming with online money transfers. Got not one, two… but three new clients in the last 14 days. Two of them (actresses) actually signed me specifically to STAY IN THE NEWS in media throughout the Coronavirus period. Guess this boom is something to do with me having shifted to cloud networking during the last recession in 2012. It worked great for me then, and its working great for me even now. And I’m loving it. #Dale #MediaFuturist”
The last 14 days have been really strange… or should I say pleasantly strange. Lol. Because businesses are downsizing…
It’s a fact that celebrities thrive on publicity, and so it is more important for filmstars to be seen and heard, especially at a time, when they’re sitting at home without work, with all film shoots and events cancelled.
Quashing the quarantine
They want to ‘survive’ this time and age and emerge stronger when this whole Coronavirus thing ends. That could be a reason why they have rushed to this publicist.
Dale is the same chap who legendary international PR Max Clifford called the “go to publicist in India,” and who Shobhaa De has termed an “on-the-ball publicist.” His PR agency Dale Bhagwagar Media Group has handled the media for names such as Hrithik Roshan, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, and films like the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer Don and Farhan Akhtar-starrer Rock On!!
Is cloud everyone’s future now?
Being the most famous Bollywood publicist with thousands of search results online, is helping him further. But while Dale remains an exception for now, the Coronavirus pandemic may soon force many of the traditional PR agencies to go the same way and shift to cloud.
The most vulnerable will be the top-tier corporate PR firms with unsustainable bureaucracies built on a hierarchical structure, where a significant percentage of their clients’ retainer goes to agency administration and overheads.
What PRs feel
Entertainment industry is meanwhile making it up on their social media, living their stage life on it with fun and exciting, inspiring and advisory videos and posts on Instagram, Facebook and Tiktok.
Co-Founder and CMO, Hats-Off Digital Private Limited, Husain Habib believes that the entertainment industry gets a huge blow being considered as the non-important side of an economy prioritizing on meeting necessities.
For him, Bollywood PR has become slow and reached a standstill. It, however, is here to stay. Though, there is a possibility of a huge requirement for PR once we come out of the lockdown situation, with most people making fresh starts and comebacks, or highlighting all the good work they have done in the past.
Delhi-based PR freelancer, Aditya Singh seconds Habib blaming the virus-caused pandemic for the perils of traditional PR agencies and subsequently professionals. Elaborating his viewpoint, Singh feels that the entire PR industry has come to a grinding halt.
“Freelancing requires me to come face-to-face with a lot of artists and promoting their work first hand. I feel Coronavirus has taken a major toll on my work and as a matter of fact the entire “chain” quite badly,” Singh lamented.
“As things return to normalcy, the industry will pick up right from where we left. It, however, will take quite a lot of time. Till then, let us all hold on tight, and be safe,” he added.
Senior PR executive at The Other Circle, Shweta Singh has witnessed a clamp down on the PR industry. She, however, appreciates the power of digital revolution and accepts the spike in the consumption of digital content in India.
Holding that shooting promotional content can be irrelevant besides being insensitive at the time of a killer pandemic, she believes a sudden increase in stories like recommendation stories, a day in the life, easy recipes, home workouts, live singing and performing, are likely on the cards. It is the best time to reap benefits of digital PR, she believes.
There are meagre new announcements to give to media as events. Public appearances and launches have been cancelled due to the lockdown. Some PR professionals are drawing PR plans for clients, with comparatively longer tenure in the industry.
Founder & CEO of Pune-based Cynosure PR, Gaurav Singh had to change his strategy around filmstars, giving fitness and nutrition tips for media stories.
Similar posts including photographs and video content is being posted on clients’ social media channels, to maintain their brand image and catch the eye of public.
Chris Rosica, the president and CEO of Rosica Communications, a New Jersey-based PR and crisis communication agency, says that it is vital to maintain open, transparent communication with stakeholders and the community.
“People panic when they feel a lack of control, and if you are consistent, calming and communicative, you will be supporting those who matter most and protecting your organization’s best interests,” he remarks.
Losses & saving graces
Meanwhile, around 3,500 cinema halls have been shut across the country. The Hindi film industry alone, is predicted to incur a loss ranging between Rs 500 crore and Rs 800 crore in the initial weeks itself.
That apart, filmmakers have been rushing in to register Corona-based film titles such as Corona Pyaar Hai (a funny twist to Hrithik Roshan’s superhit Kaho Naa… Pyaar Hai) and Deadly Corona.
While some movie stars are spreading awareness on COVID-19 and its prevention, others are donating readily to charities and trying to help those diagnosed with symptoms.
Celebrities including Adnan Sami, Ajay Devgn, Akshay Kumar, Alia Bhatt, Anushka Sharma and Virat Kohli, Ayushmann Khurrana, Bhushan Kumar, Hrithik Roshan, Kangana Ranaut, Kapil Sharma, Kareena Kapoor and Saif Ali Khan, Katrina Kaif, Lata Mangeshkar, Rajkummar Rao, Rohit Shetty, Sara Ali Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra, Varun Dhawan and Vicky Kaushal have already made notable contributions to various Coronavirus relief funds.
Many of them have also contributed to the PM’s Citizen Assistance and Relief Emergency Situations (PM-CARES) constituted by PM Narendra Modi. Others have donated to Maharashtra Chief Minister’s Relief Fund, UNICEF, GIVE INDIA, Zomato Feeding India, International Association for Human Values (IAHV), and also to the Federation of Western India Cine Employees (FWICE). Hrithik Roshan is providing N95 and FFP3 masks for Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC) workers and other caretakers.
Anil Kapoor, Ekta Kapoor, Genelia and Riteish Deshmukh, Himansh Kohli, Kartik Aaryan, Pareeniti Chopra, Priyanka Chopra, Rakul Preet, Ranbir Kapoor, Sonakshi Sinha and Sunny Leone have been seen sporting masks and propagating their use.
Author: Aditya Vaibhav
Aditya Vaibhav is an accomplished journalist and researcher, having contributed articles and news stories for media platforms such as The Times of India and The Wire.