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Is the Indian PR industry itself a newsmaker today?

13th December 2012


The advertising world has the Mad Men series to build an ongoing narrative around its industry in popular culture. Will the PR industry ever see that happen, where iconic stories about its inner workings become mainstream culture? The question arises, because of late; the PR industry in India is making news more frequently than it ever did.

Two completely unrelated incidents in November saw a travel company make the firing of its PR agency very public via a blog. There was also front page coverage in mainstream media of the publicity management around the Narendra Modi election campaign. For once, the image managers were themselves the news. Are these the first stirrings of a churning, where a more muscular, more assertive PR industry in India is beginning to find a voice? Is this a sign of its growing influence, driven partly by social media?

Karthik Srinivasan, AVP Corporate Communication at Flipkart.com, says, “Yes, absolutely. On a strictly anecdotal note, PR professionals seem to be one group that has taken to social media the most – particularly Twitter and Facebook. As a result, you see more PR professionals online, interacting and talking to people than they did say, five years ago, where they predominantly worked in the background. As a result, PR is making news too, these days.

"Earlier, it was only advertising agencies that made news with their client campaigns – PR didn't even dream of doing anything like that because advertising is a more straight equation... 'Pay for space, get your message out', while PR was more of intelligent and contextual (it should be; not necessarily that it is) engagement. Now, even PR campaigns are being discussed by agencies, but even here, they seem to be more about how it was multi-platform, including paid spots, bordering on advertising.”

This greater visibility means that questions are being raised about how the PR industry in India can promote itself better and create a consistent narrative about its value. Amith Prabhu, the catalyst of PRAXIS, the first summit by and for Indian corporate communications and public relations professionals, says a focus on talent is a core issue; “The first thing that the leading PR firms should do is start hiring talent from the top five business schools of the country and bring in ten per cent of its work force who are expats.

"This is an expensive proposition but the clients that these professionals work on should be charged a premium and they will be willing to pay if they have an IIM graduate or someone who has worked in Brussels or New York advising them on reputation. Secondly, PR firms need to invest more on training and working closely with the academic institutes that offer courses in PR. Lastly, clients and consultants need to meet once a year and deliberate the changing dynamics of the profession and find new ways to operate in a world that is embracing transparency.”

Before the PR industry in India gets to a place where it can attract top talent- whether inside or outside business schools -and gets the Indian industry to agree to pay for it, it has the bigger task of building brand PR India and changing popular perception created by movies like Wag the Dog. Srinivasan, points out that, “We need stars in PR who can talk about how they operate and how things are done. PR has the perception of being a wheeler-dealer, a spin doctor of sorts. That is not true and things can be a lot more open and transparent if it stays on topic, going beyond mere relationships and favours.

"The focus needs to be on content and respect for relevance in content than connections and relationships alone. The true value a PR agency brings to the client is not a rolodex of media contacts, it is in the counsel of structuring the myriad messages of a client's business, prioritizing them based on what is important for the client and what is of interest to relevant media, and articulating and executing both to precision. If the activity is this straight and open, it can be spoken about with pride, thereby making the industry truly aware of the value addition of PR.”

As the messaging market becomes increasingly complex with scattered audiences, PR may be the one common factor that can straddle all of these and become the focal point of communication strategy for a business, an organisation or a personality. This has perhaps created an internal flux that has pushed PR into the news headlines .


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