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Published on: Nov. 28, 2022, 12:43 p.m.
Adfactors PR: Young at 25
  • Rajesh and Madan: Adfactors PR has revitalised strategic communications, advising India’s marquee conglomerates and new-age companies

By Lancelot Joseph. Executive Editor, Business India

Great excellences are built in the depths of character. And humans find pearls only when they dig deep. There is something fascinating and inspiring about these two distinguished gentlemen with silver hair – Madan Bahal and Rajesh Chaturvedi – and a golden touch. 

In a world where we consume news, views and trends and ideas from everywhere including newspapers, magazines, television, Twitter and Instagram, Bahal has been a beacon of light, presenting refreshing new ideas and constantly re-defining, reshaping, revitalising and re-invigorating strategic change communications. And Chaturvedi backs him with his astute understanding of the India media landscape, editors and journalists. The duo has elevated public relations into a fine art form and Adfactors PR is now a ‘masterpiece’ – an Indian icon in the communications business. 

So, it’s no surprise that Bahal, co-founder and MD of Adfactors PR, India’s largest and most recognised public relations firm, was inducted into the Page Hall of Fame, in Chicago. The award is a recognition of the pinnacle of achievement in corporate communications for individuals who have made a significant impact on the enterprises they served or counselled. Bahal is the first Indian to receive this award, thus bringing immense joy to the PR fraternity, and the people of India.

According to the website of the Arthur W Page Society, The Page Society Hall of Fame recognises men and women whose esteemed careers have taken them to the summit of the public relations field and have demonstrated strong commitment to the Page Principles throughout their careers, thereby contributing to the advancement of the role of the CCO. 

 “Madan’s strategic and reputation management counsel is sought after by many CEOs of the most prominent Indian companies, including the Tata Group, the Mahindra Group and the Godrej Group,” says Maril Gagen MacDonald, founder and CEO of Gagen MacDonald and chair of the Page Honors Committee. “They rely on him for guidance on the most pressing issues affecting their corporate reputation, corporate governance, sustainability and business strategy, including virtually every major merger and acquisition transaction in recent years.”

The accolade came at an opportune time when Adfactors PR, founded by Bahal and Chaturvedi, completed 25 years of communications in India. It was on 5 September, 1997, (popularly celebrated as Teachers’ Day), that Adfactors PR was set up to provide superior value to initial public offering (IPO) and corporate clients – and usher in change and strategic communications that have now become the hallmark of corporate and public relations in India. The individual awards are the icing on the cake. In the last 5 years, the firm has won over 500 national and international awards for campaign excellence.

Market leading practice

It was a time when the group’s advertising arm, Adfactors Advertising, had already become a market leader in the IPO market, having started it a decade earlier. With the series of macro-economic developments including opening up of the economy during that period and the acceleration of the Indian economy due to the reforms, there was a distinct need for a corporate communication firm that brought mint-fresh ideas to the marketplace. Bahal saw it as a golden opportunity to start the practice.

 “Adfactors PR was started to reinforce the competitive advantage for our IPO practice, which was largely advertising-driven at that point in time. We evolved our public relations practice to become the main engine of our growth in 2003. We feel privileged and grateful for enjoying the trust of the large constituency of businesses, financial institutions, government & non-government organisations that we serve,” says Bahal.

  • Nair: Adfactors PR is a conglomerate of micro-monopolies and mini-excellences

    Nair: Adfactors PR is a conglomerate of micro-monopolies and mini-excellences

“Over time we grew with our clients such as the Tatas, Mahindra, Godrej, TVS, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank and Larsen and Toubro, among many others and they are shaping the future of a modern India. These institutions are role models of integrity, good governance and social impact. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to serve them – some in continuity for more than two decades,” adds Bahal. 

When the firm took root in 1997, the capital market was increasingly becoming institutionalised with regulatory mechanisms firmly in place. Adfactors PR strategised to provide additional and superior value, initially to IPO clients, and expanded the practice to other corporates. The era also had many start-up PR firms that were achieving reasonable success.

Both Chaturvedi and Bahal were inspired by the many success stories of multiple PR start-ups. Besides, the PR agency business model provided a great adjacent opportunity for its advertising firm and consultancy. Naturally, reputation management and public issues including financial communications, became the first practices that set the ball rolling for Adfactors PR. The rest is history. 

Within a short span of time, Adfactors PR grew in stature and stride. Corporates large and small flocked to the duo for media relations and strategic advice. Adfactors signed more than 25 clients in the first phase of its growth, and in about a decade came to be well-known as an established and marquee PR firm. In the process, Adfactors PR soon ranked among the top 10 PR firms in the country. 

“We set a high service standard for our clients and signed about two dozen corporate clients in the first phase of our growth driven by our flagship practice in IPOs and financial services. In 2004, Adfactors created a vision and strategy statement to guide the firm’s long-term growth, and PR became the driving engine of our growth,” says Chaturvedi.

Adfactors’ co-founders set their sights on becoming India’s market-leading firm, and the strategy was to excel in earned influence and become a gold standard in communications and strategy. Around this time, Adfactors PR adopted its positioning statement of ‘Knowledge-driven Communications’ which became the central idea guiding all its thinking and action. 

The Hindi alphabet gya denoting gyaan (knowledge) adorned every visiting card of the firm’s personnel.  Adfactors also hired the best talent which saw a number of senior media professionals of high calibre and impeccable credentials joining the firm during this phase. The co-founders believed that the key to providing quality strategic thinking and consultancy was to be backed by a high calibre team. 

By 2006, Adfactors grew in size, with 70 talented professionals and revenues of less than R40 crore, but by then the firm had become one of the top PR firms in India. Adfactors not only had a large financial communications practice, but also conglomerates such as Mahindra & Mahindra and Larsen & Toubro. Bahal and Chaturvedi continued nurturing and believing in talent, and provided a large canvas for the team to explore opportunities. 

By 2010, Adfactors PR had achieved a market-leading position that has only been consolidated every single year since then. The firm was also a key part of several marquee PR campaigns, including work for Konkan Railway, IDBI, Resurgent India Bonds (RIB) and Coal India.

  • We set a high service standard for our clients and signed about two dozen corporate clients in the first phase of our growth driven by our flagship practice in IPOs and financial services

Today, Adfactors PR employs more than 1,400 people and has a network across 40 cities in India along with offices in Singapore and Sri Lanka. At the top end, Adfactors went on to build an even stronger team and people strength, with several stalwarts now a part of the team including Nijay Nair (CEO) and directors such as Dr Pradeep Raje, Arun Ohri, Percy Dubash, Arwa Husain, Dr. Samir Kapur, Manoj Warrier, S Roy Kandpal, among others.

“One of Bahal’s biggest achievements is that he must have interviewed over 25,000 people over the last four decades. After all PR is a business of scale and the quality of human resources was a priority for him. Adfactors PR has over 1,000 skilled professional resources handpicked by him. Today, Adfactors PR is a conglomerate of micro-monopolies and mini-excellences created by each resource, which contributed to its overall dominance,” avers Nijay Nair, CEO, Adfactors PR.  

Each resource had a certain speciality that was spotted by Bahal and he nurtured and channelised these diverse energies to stimulate growth. He encouraged his people to ‘learn and work’ and this resulted in many doing their doctorates, Master’s and several specialised courses during their stint in the consultancy.  “I had the freedom to build the business in any which way I wanted. The freedom that I experienced at Adfactors PR was liberating. Looking back, I would identify this one factor as the single biggest contributor to the firm’s success. All of us had and continue to have the freedom to use whatever brushstrokes to paint anything that we want. This is clearly a USP of Adfactors PR,” notes Arwa Hussain, Director, Adfactors PR, one of the early members of the Adfactors fraternity. 

 Recession-proof

Adfactors saw good growth till 2008 due to the economic boom which also saw a flurry of IPOs during those days. But the good run met with some rough weather as the Lehman collapse hit the global economy hard. Adfactors PR took a hit on its billing due to the sudden shock given the firm’s exposure to capital markets and the financial sector.

Events like Black Friday continued to roil the economy, and companies started to scale back on people and operations. However, the co-founders of Adfactors announced there would be no lay-offs and, in fact, saw this as an opportunity to rebuild and diversify. That year, Adfactors decentralised business acquisition with many of its team members participating in new business development. It diversified into sectors beyond BFSI, adding marquee verticals such as IT, telecom, healthcare, and more. Thus, despite losing some revenue in 2008, Adfactors ended the year with a growth of about 5 per cent. 

Over the next few years, Adfactors PR consolidated its position to become India’s largest PR consultancy by 2011-12. It continued to embark on a diversification drive to include more practices and sectors. The company entered practices such as travel and hospitality, and also launched new products in communication such as IPO Nurture and Crisis 24x7. 

Even during the pandemic, Adfactors continued to grow thanks to the growth agenda specified by Bahal. This aggressive growth agenda protected the employees from job losses and the firm from client losses.  Adfactors PR was perhaps the only firm that grew in the year of the pandemic. The firm ended FY22 with a revenue of Rs372 crore over its FY21 revenue of Rs245 crore.

  • Madan Bahal inducted into the Page Hall of Fame at the Page Annual Conference in September in Chicago

With every passing year, Adfactors grew by leaps and bounds, while adding more new projects. Bahal and Chaturvedi always innately believe that all their people had immense possibilities. The firm also entered into verticals such as sports communications. “Every time I went to the management stating my desire to do something new, the gauntlet has been thrown down, together with the freedom to take it on. We started a new era of sports with the Indian Premier League,” points out Percy Dubash, Director, Adfactors PR. 

As the practices grew with more marquee clients being added to the rosters, the firm continued to expand from strength to strength. In 2018, the Tata Group awarded the mandate to manage its public relations and communications requirements across India to Adfactors PR. Some key clients of the firm now include Tata Group, Mahindra Group, Godrej Group, Apollo Hospitals, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank, Axis Bank, Citibank, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, and Larsen & Toubro.

Apart from these marquee names, Adfactors serves more than 500 retainer clients (plus hundreds of projects) across its 18 offices in India along with Singapore and Sri Lanka. Over the last few years, Adfactors continued to add more clients, and also grew its family of employees. By FY2023-end, the firm will have offices in Bangladesh and Nepal as well.

Today, Adfactors PR is a market leader in most of the practice areas or industry sectors it operates in. Its key practices include reputation, issues and crises, media relations, financial communications, and public affairs. The key sectoral practices include BFSI services, fintech, edtech, pharma & healthcare, energy & resources, core sectors, mobility and technology. During the last few months, the firm has launched two new practices – mobility and social impact. New age clients account for one-third of the total composition of the clientele.

“Our clients, like Tatas, Mahindra, Godrej, TVS, State Bank of India, ICICI Bank and Larsen and Toubro among many others, are shaping the future of a modern India. These institutions are role models of integrity, good governance and social impact. It’s a blessing to have the opportunity to serve them – some in continuity for more than two decades. Over the last 25 years, it’s been our privilege to be a part of most of the defining events of corporate India, including M&As, restructurings, board-room issues, fund-raisings and advocacy or crisis projects,” says Bahal. Adfactors PR’s 25-year growth journey, in fact, makes for a fine example in the Atmanirbhar Bharat story.

  • The Adfactors family is growing larger every passing year building on the credos of delivering excellence

The best is yet to come 

Still, the question gets asked – what next? Bahal is no doubt a firm practitioner of service with excellence and a believer in India’s potential. With the pace of change accelerating and disruptions caused by technology, businesses will be constantly scrutinised in the 24x7 news cycles, notes Bahal. This makes the practice of communications more relevant than ever before.

With business facing both existential threats and exponential opportunities, strategic management tools such as public relations are gaining more importance among board rooms. Bahal and Adfactors have already started focusing on preparing for the future with a focus on improving core competencies. And the future is digital….

“The bundle of competencies required for a practitioner today include analytics, critical thinking, a broad understanding of business along with knowledge of contemporary digital tools and techniques. Beyond sound communication skills, we need an understanding of humanities ranging from economics and politics to psychology, anthropology, and sociology,” says Bahal.

Bahal also believes in building a great culture driven by compassion and excellence, which are at the heart of building a globally renowned PR practice. At the recent award function where Bahal received the Hall of Fame Award for excellence in PR, he had this to say about Adfactors: “A culture rooted in the virtues of empathy, compassion, selflessness and generosity, of conducting business from an ethical high ground beyond the demands of laws of the land. An idea of remaining independent forever. An idea of pursuing relevance in every passing year.”

Bahal is a staunch advocate of the belief that he and Adfactors PR have to continue to march on to newer pastures and greater glory. Key lessons are learnt from the legacy of the past but the focus should always be on future growth and deeper market penetration. With just the tip of the iceberg touched so far, the mission is to win the PR mandate of the bulk of Indian companies, start-ups, entrepreneurs and businessmen and women. The best is yet to come.

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