Is public relations misunderstood in India?
10th October 2013
Public relations is changing. It is changing worldwide and it is certainly changing in India.
Public relations has an identity crisis. To be honest, my mother doesn't really understand what PR is. I've tried to explain it on numerous occasions but now I think we have both kind of given up! She is happy not to completely grasp what I do and I understand that for some reason she is unable to understand it either.
This vacuum of PR’s definition means that public relations professionals, especially young PR professionals find it difficult to explain what they do and potentially put a value on what they do to their peers and their families.
Parental pressure in India has often meant that they want their children to gain an MBA and in the pre-liberalisation times, aspire to be a doctor, an engineer or a bureaucrat.
It seems that there is some work to be done to raise the profile of PR as an exciting and worthwhile profession in India. Especially at a time when society is becoming much more open to different kinds of jobs, other than the extremely popular Science/MBA streams. To my mind, and perhaps I should say this to my mother, PR people help organisations communicate, to sell stuff and perhaps most importantly, senior public relations people are the ethical compass of the organisations for which they work.
As PR is changing we asked a range of public relations professionals, under the age of 30, in India whether they believe their job role is still misunderstood.
Below are a selection of their answers:
Neha Bahl, 25, Delhi
Senior Executive of Brand Communications
Blue Pigeon Image Management
“It’s absolutely true that most people don’t understand the exact meaning of PR. Be it your family members, your friends or the clients you pitch. Many people often get confused between PR and Advertising. Advertising is a paid form of getting visible in the market, whereas, PR is a non-paid form to be in the media.
When I initially joined my job as a Media Executive, my parents were confused about my job profile. I was selected for the post of PR but my parents used to ask me: “Will you go and sell advertisements to people”. Most of the time, it gets difficult to explain to people the basic difference between both of the subjects.
Same goes with the clients who are unaware of the term PR. Whenever we go for meetings, we make it clear in our first sentence that we do not sell advertisement or we will not advertise you in publications, but we will make you visible via getting the right space in the media for you through articles, product placements, interviews.”
Hari Prasad Gogikar, 26, Hyderabad
“It is difficult to explain about PR and the kind of work we do, to family members, friends and relatives. The problem is even educated people do not have any idea about PR. If anyone asks about the job profile, we need to explain to them that every corporate company will have a Communications Department – one is the Marketing Dept which takes care of Ad Agencies, their job is to place advertisements in various modes of media and Corporate Communications (that’s where our job comes into the picture) where they outsource communication specialists through an agency. So, we are a part of Corp Comms and we plan media activities for the company and our (PR Agency) job is to call journalists to share the company’s developments with them.
And the worst part is, despite explaining the whole concept, people hardly understand and then lose interest in PR.”
Mansi Thatte, 22, Indore
Student of Masters in Public Relations
“Currently I am pursuing a PR course, and nearly every day I face misconceptions about PR. Right from the time I joined the PR course, I had to convince my family and parents about the profession. I made my parents read about the 'Being Human' campaign of Salman Khan to make them understand what PR is and how it works for brand reputation management. I am from Indore where the concept of PR is not known to people. My mom used to say PR is a ‘personal’ relation course to all our relatives. I helped my parents understand the skills you use in PR like pitching stories, developing media relations and building reputation. Today, at least my parents understand PR and they can even help others understand. Except them, nobody I know understands public relations.
I have to explain PR to every second person when I tell them that I am doing Masters in PR. The first response I always get is what is a PR course? Followed by, what do you study in PR? Then, what kind of job you will do? What salary you will get? And so on.
The major misconception about PR is that it’s either advertising or marketing. Right now I am an intern at a PR agency. I often display my work to others but they still get confused between advertising and PR. PR has no solid base in India. It’s even worse when people compare or even say that PR is HR. PR is evolving in India. 5 years down the line I hope every parent will understand and know what Public Relations is.”
Shaheli Chaudhuri, 28, Bengaluru
Leading PR firm
“My family always think PR and event management is more or less the same thing. I can understand if unaware people do not know what PR is, but most of the
time it happens with highly qualified people as well. People are still in the dark about PR and think it’s kind of a courier job from the client to media.”
Divya Anilkumar, 23, Mumbai
“I have been working in PR for the last 6 months and my parents still find it difficult to understand what public relations means – they think we are similar to customer care executives, which it isn’t.”
Vignesh Nair, 24, Mumbai
Senior Account Executive
Leading PR agency in India
“Public Relations (PR) is usually thought to be something similar to guest relations and many times people also relate it to event management. And now when people know a little more about PR, they've started confusing between lobbyingpublic affairs and PR. As I am a science graduate, when I got a job at my first agency, I had a tough time explaining to my family and friends as to what exactly PR meant and why it is not only a job for arts graduates. Even though I am successful in explaining that it is image management or communicating on behalf of the company, it gets really difficult when you're asked questions like: “OK I understood that you manage the image of your client company among their stakeholders, BUT, how do you actually do it? Do you bribe the media?”
"I think we are slowly seeing a change with so many colleges in India and around the world actually teaching specialised PR courses. People are starting to realise that PR is an integral part of the marketing mix or the start of any marketing campaign.”
Neha Bahl, Senior Executive of Brand Communications, Blue Pigeon Image Management, Hari Prasad Gogikar, PR Professional, MSLGroup India, Mansi Thatte Student of Masters in Public Relations, Mumbai University, Shaheli Chaudhuri, Senior Associate, Leading PR firm, Divya Anilkumar, Account Associate, MSL Group, Vignesh Nair, Senior Account Executive, Leading PR agency in India,