The issues and challenges that are dominating PR in 2014 by Vikram Kharvi

PRmoment India:  As PR is moving towards an increasingly integrated communication world, what can PR professionals do to communicate better within the profession and with the world outside?

Vikram Kharvi:
  You are right that PR is now increasingly moving towards integrated communications, but when you use the term integrated amongst PR practitioners, what they understand is using traditional PR tools and social media tools in sync while communicating a particular message of a client. But this is only half the truth , because integrated communications is not only about traditional media communications and social media communications, it is about integrating all the available tools in the marketing mix to communicate a unified message, reaching out to all the target audience through the medium that is most suited to them.

But we PR practitioners have grown up with blinders of traditional media and we have seldom made any effort to see beyond media communications, but now with the emergence of social media we have slowly started to see it as an alternative to traditional media communications. But still the real truth is 60% of the senior PR leadership are still very naïve about digital communications. Most don’t even have a twitter handle of their own, even if someone has created it from them, they are rarely active.

Coming to integration, we need to evolve and we need to try and understand how the overall marketing mix works, how they complement each other, how one tool may be used to support the strength of another tool to amplify the messaging. We ignore this way of working or consider this not our domain or our clients themselves keep us away from being part of the marketing mix. But it is in our own interest to look at communications from the holistic marketing view point, suggest strategies that benefit the client, whichever medium they choose to use to communicate comes later. We need to persuade the client to involve us at the initial stage of conceptualisation itself, so that we can align our strategies and help integrate PR in the overall mix.

To be able to do this we need to upgrade our understanding on not only PR, but even in the areas of marketing, branding, experiential marketing, BTL activations etc., There are many forums and groups on each individual area of communication that interacts on various issues related to their domain. We need to take some time out to join them and understand the on-going discussion and later think on how we can alter/change/add value to our own plans. We need to be more aware about our surroundings and understand how messages are being communicated by various brands using innovative mediums of communications.

In one line, we need to stop suggesting the same laundry list as a strategy for any and every PR program and think innovatively, aided with the knowledge of holistic marketing and integration.

PRmoment India:  What topics and issues does the PR fraternity feel are important for 2014?

Vikram Kharvi: The Indian PR forum recently organised a Tweet up on #PR2014 for PR professionals. Here are some of the top trends that emerged as issues of concern during the tweet up.

10 Most Talked about topics:

1.       PR pros strongly feel that the industry should do PR for itself

2.      Digital media will increasingly be a part of the PR strategy

3.      PR should stop working in silos and offer integrated solutions – evolve from media relations to Public Engagement 

4.       Well researched, analysed and thought through content will be the King

5.       Top Resolutions of PR pros: Increase Reading, Writing, domain knowledge of client, Case studies and updated media lists

6.      PR industry in dire need of Creativity & Innovation

7.       PR measurement is a universal concern but the good news is that the industry is now moving to qualitative measurement

8.       Industry will hopefully have a lot more story tellers running creative campaigns

9.     Corporates should move beyond print coverage and AVE

10.  PR fraternity should get a place amongst the CXOs

PRmoment India: What can be done to handle some of these challenges?

Vikram Kharvi:  A lot can be done if youngsters come together and decide to take up the onus of doing something for their own fraternity. One of the most important issues that was highlighted during tweet-up #PR2014 was that the industry needs to do its own PR to enhance its own reputation not only amongst its key constituents but also amongst the general public.

To do this, I have suggested we do a small survey amongst all the key constituents and identify what is their perception about our fraternity. Based on the research findings PR practitioners from across agencies and corporation communicators can come together and form a group to plan a strategy to change the negative perception, utilizing the same knowledge and tools they have been using for their client’s reputation enhancement.

Implement the strategy on a pan-India level, measure the result and submit it all the international awards as a case-study (if at all we are successful in changing some perceptions). This can be the first and only one of its kind done in any country. We can take the lead and PR Practitioners can volunteer to come ahead and participate in this activity.

PRmoment India: Why is PR for PR important?

Vikram Kharvi: It is important because traditionally we are being branded as spin doctors, a bunch of people who use unethical means to persuade the media to get favourable coverage for the client. The allegation of using the media to benefit the client could not have been possible without the nexus of media and some unethical PR practitioners, but it is we who are always projected as the bad guys.

The general public are not even aware how we work or why our work is as professional as advertising (though the truth about the professionalism of advertising finally did come out at recent awards functions) but yet they are at least known for their work. I have not heard any kid say “one day I want to become a PR practitioner” nor have I seen an insurance agency advertising PR as a career. No mass communications colleges have more students of PR than of advertising or journalism.

Apart from the above it is in our own interest, in fact in the interest of PR agencies (for them to grow and prosper) and in the interest of the practitioners (to continue growing in their career and at least having a job) to make the business community aware about the power of communications and what we can do to enhance their brand image and reputation, leading to more business and more profits.

As compared to other nations the market share of PR is not even a fraction. According to the research conducted by Indian PR Forum (using various reliable sources), we found the entire agency business is not even more than Rs. 2000 cr. That means that there is still such a big market that needs to be educated about the importance and significance of PR.

Hence there is dire need for PR for PR in India particularly.

PRmoment India: Why do you think the PR business has not managed to present a united image so far?

Vikram Kharvi: The reason is most PR businesses are not owned by corporate institutions but by individual businessmen. They have deep rooted rivalry amongst themselves to outweigh each other. No PR association in India has all agencies under one roof, every association has a group of agencies. No one trusts each other, everyone has their own agenda to push and the history says that most associations were started by a group of agencies and hence the other group who consider it to be the rival party does not join in.

There is a need to have an independent neutral body that speaks with one voice, takes initiatives round the year (and are visible round the year and not during one annual event) and goes beyond its constituents in educating the general public as well as talented youngsters to consider PR as a future career.

Vikram Kharvi, Founder of Indian PR Forum

Indian PR Forum’s next tweet-up is scheduled on Saturday January 25th between 4pm to 6pm with the hashtag #PR4PR.

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