How many times have I had my mother call me up when she was trying to boast about her daughter with a big career, working with all the big wigs, and ask me, “So what is it that you really do?”. After I patiently explain it to her, to the best of my ability, she comments knowingly, “Oh! Like Madhur Bhandarkar’s Page 3 wale people na?”
Niira Radia also didn’t help to add credibility for the profession. Most of my cousins were first introduced to PR via her and gave me knowing nods during our conversations, ‘Oh so you do what Radia did. Aren’t you afraid you will get caught?’ And I cringe but cannot do much to change the opinion! I credit Mr Madhur and Ms Niira for single handed creation and establishment of a reputation for the PR business, albeit a skewed one, to a widespread audience – and that reputation is here to stay. And I certainly cannot blame my relatives and friends for thinking as they do? No, certainly not and you know why? Because we haven’t done anything to refute the claims and allegations.
Professionally, it hit home when I had an unsettling encounter with a client last year where she insisted that I do not mention on any social media or our website or official communiqué that we handle her brand. Needless to say my first reaction was not pretty! But I kept my anger in check and demanded an explanation. The client in question, though very happy with what we were doing for her brand, had met an industry mentor. They quoted several media articles and his personal experience and ‘advised’ my client to not make the fact that she had hired a PR agency public knowledge, as it would reflect negatively on her brand. I was able to convince her otherwise, and our good work did the rest. But it got me thinking, this is one isolated case based on media reports but very important to my client. Have we as PR professionals and an industry as a whole missed out the relevance and impact that industry influencers can have on shaping up the progress or growth chart of our industry? Have we become so short sighted that we do not think that word of mouth publicity, strong referrals, industry endorsement or educating corporates and influencers on our profession is not important in the long run? Have too many of us, in the hopes of meeting our targets, signed up the client without educating them on what exactly PR can do for them, subsequently not managed expectations and left them disgruntled with the profession?
Our profession is not for the weak hearted. Most of us who survive the initial years and are still around are here because we love what we do passionately! Then how is it that we don’t actively seek out opportunities to talk about our profession or add to the credibility of the profession. Then how is it that we don’t respond or bother to all the claims made by various verticals of mass media on what the PR industry does. We track 40 papers a day and read and analyse and help our clients build our brands, we have the ear of some of the top most influential journalists and media houses, we have a long list of strong media relations that we can boast about, but we can’t be bothered about responding to people who write about us or portray us in a derogatory manner. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t mean we can’t take a joke or a comical portrayal once in a while! Lots of times! We PR guys have tough skins if nothing else. But who better to understand the impact of a negative comment or the incorrect portrayal of a profession on one’s reputation. If you are not vigilant then before you know it you are stuck with an impression that is impossible to change.
I strongly feel that each and every one of us needs to work together to collectively build a credible image of our profession. Imagine what a less than credible image or one that is constantly depleting in brand value will do for us; we will end up attracting the wrong king of talent, clients, media because of which the quality of work will suffer, clients will demand lower billables and journalists will not give you the time of the day. Where does that leave the PR industry? Will a talented candidate even consider joining this profession? Will a reputed company ever consider hiring PR over advertising? I know we cannot change things overnight, unless of course we have Shah Rukh or Narayan Murthy endorsing us. Even though this is a long term process and will take time but unless we start standing up to protect our reputation now it will be difficult for the industry to come retain a respected and professional status.
But things are looking up. In fact, 2012 to 2013 has been like a wakeup call for the industry and somewhere I think all these discussions have hit home as a result of which a lot of positive changes are happening. All the talk about this subject has gotten majority of the industry to introspect and try and address this issue in their own way – individually and collectively. With dedicated PR portals, offline seminars, college seminars, online forums and groups, networking meets, individual PR blogs, company pages on FB sharing knowledge, sessions and recently an award function – the place is buzzing with action. It is indeed a fantastic place for PR to be right now in the country. It is a fantastic start, but a lot more can be done.
Tarunjeet Rattan is Managing Partner at Nucleus PR