MUMBAI — Adfactors has emerged as the winner of one of Asia's most coveted PR assignments, the Holmes Report can reveal, securing Tata's $5m PR remit following a series of closed-door meetings with the $100bn Indian giant.

The decision, which will surprise few Indian PR observers, follows a review of the lucrative PR mandate that began three months ago, putting six-year incumbent Edelman on alert and triggering widespread interest among rival firms. There was no formal pitch process.

Edelman had handled the assignment, which covers domestic PR support for Tata Sons along with the conglomerate's 29 group companies, for the past six years as part of its alliance with ad agency Rediffusion. However, Tata Sons chief communication officer Pradipta Bagchi put the firm on notice last year, signalling his desire to bring in new PR support.

Several of the country's biggest PR firms responded by pursuing the business, but it is understood that — aside from market leader Adfactors — none of their efforts had any meaningful impact on the decision. While many sought a meeting with Bagchi, a number of potential contenders — including Genesis B-M, MSL and Text100  — told the Holmes Report that no such audience was granted, contrary to market speculation.

Adfactors' mandate includes most of Tata's 29 companies, including Tata Consultancy Services, Tata Steel, Tata Chemicals, Indian Hotels, Tata Power, Tata Global Beverages and Titan, as well as Tata Sons and Tata Trusts.

Tata Motors remains outside the mandate for the time being, as Adfactors attempts to navigate conflicts with existing clients Mahindra and Ashok Leyland. Meanwhile, Vistara — Tata's joint venture with Singapore Airlines — remains with Avian Media.

The assignment includes strategic counsel and planning, media relations, issues and crisis management, investor relations, advocacy, and integrated campaign development across India. "We are pleased to partner with Adfactors PR, India’s largest PR agency, to drive the Tata communications strategy and make the brand engaging and relevant to all our stakeholders," said Bagchi. 

Adfactors begins work on February 1 and will service the Tata Group mandate out of its 16 wholly-owned offices across the country, supported by a network of 24 support offices covering all state capitals and principal markets. Dedicated sector and market-specialist teams will be established to lead the account in Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore, where most group companies are headquartered.

"The opportunity to work for an iconic institution like the Tata Group that is India’s best known and most trusted brand represents an exciting opportunity for the Adfactors family," added Adfactors CEO Madan Bahal. "The Tata Group is at an inflection point in terms of reinforcing its leadership and growth. We look forward to adding value to its efforts in engaging with a rapidly transforming nation."

The high-profile account helped to underpin Edelman's growth into India's largest international PR firm, with 450 people across 11 offices. More than 100 agency staffers have worked on the Tata PR business, which accounted for around one-third of Edelman's India revenues and covered a broad range of practices, including corporate, consumer, B2B and technology.

Edelman India CEO Rakesh Thukral told the Holmes Report that while there would be some 'marginal resizing' of his firm, no offices would close. "It has been a privilege and an enriching experience working for the Tatas," said Thukral. "We take pride in our association, our work and our partnership. We continue to be committed to the growth of our people, quality work for our vast client base in India."

Edelman's hold on the business has always been the subject of keen speculation among rival firms, particularly in the run-up to the contract's original expiry one year ago. That deal was extended for another year ahead of the boardroom coup that unseated chairman Cyrus Mistry and led to a protracted war of words. Mistry was eventually replaced by TCS CEO N. Chandrasekaran, who brought Bagchi with him to oversee communications.

The boardroom struggle, which undermined a painstakingly-built reputation for corporate probity, also saw other PR agencies drafted in to support various parts of the Tata empire, notably Adfactors on investor relations and Avian Media for Tata Trusts. Tata Sons' international PR agency is Teneo Strategy.

Edelman secured the Tata mandate in 2011, after the last significant dent to Tata's reputation until last year's saga — the Niira Radia lobbying scandal that ultimately led to the closure of favoured Tata PR firm Vaishnavi.

Rediffusion's lead role on the business, meanwhile, owed much to a strong relationship with former Tata chairman Ratan Tata. With Chandrasekaran and Bagchi now calling the shots, though, Tata has commenced a series of changes.

Two-thirds of Tata's revenues are now generated outside India, by such global giants as Tata Steel, Tata Tea, Tata Motors, Tata Consultancy Services and Tata Communications. At present, these companies use an array of PR agencies in various markets.

Story updates:
16 Jan: Story updated to include information regarding Tata Motors and Vistara, along with denials of meetings from Genesis B-M, MSL and Text100.