What can be done to further PR education in India?

The public relations industry is growing due to a diverse and growing consumer base and informed audience. But, the most important factor behind this growth is the recognition among industry that PR can significantly impact brands if done right!

This year, will provide tremendous opportunities and the PR industry should embrace these trends for holistic growth. But, we can take advantage of these opportunities only when we have enough talented manpower. The biggest challenge facing the PR industry in India for some time now is finding and retaining talent. I fear that this shortage of qualified manpower may limit the industry’s growth if action is not taken in the long run.

Though a number of institutes teaching mass communication and public relations have come up in the last two decades, they impart knowledge of mass communication and journalism. However, what really needs to be taught is how to use PR tools most effectively. The state of communication education in India needs to evolve. Public relations should be treated as a separate discipline from journalism and advertising. In fact, the larger impact would be to give students a rounded view of marketing and how PR is an important spoke in that marketing wheel.

We need dedicated PR courses which will give students both theoretical and real-world exposure. More than half of the course should have practical work, which would include at least two or three internships - one with a media house and one/two with PR agencies. PR is not a business of fluff. It is touted to become one of the 10 fastest-growing professions in the next 10 years. PR involves grueling work, quick thinking and execution and all this should become clear during the internship. So, the people who join will do so for the love of the profession. Globally, internships are paid exercises and India, too, would benefit from a similar system to ensure a good supply of talent. It’s also important that students coming in understand what they will do after their course. I think XIC does a great job in sensitising students before they apply which weeds out the students who realize they want to do something else.

Most students coming out of colleges still think PR is equivalent to media relations. While most PR agencies are largely driven by media relations it is up to us to change all that. Therefore, students need exposure to other facets as they will be drivers of change for us tomorrow – exposure through case studies; ensuring internships are in the areas of financial PR; again CSR among other areas will be crucial to create that rounded individual.

Finally, my two biggest bugbears – reading and writing. I am truly appalled during interviews, when I realise that the candidate does not read newspapers. Knowledge will be the key driver for us going forward and in fact, to be more precise, we will be the curators of knowledge. Reading will also enhance writing skills and in today’s text-driven language we seem to have forgotten how to write. So I encourage institutes to focus a lot on knowledge and writing.

While institutes can do their bit, agencies should as well. Avian has a one-year training programme called SEED for fresh recruits. We need to hone fresh talent and invest in training ourselves or through bodies like the PRCAI. There needs to be a rigorous and certified training programme to build capability for students as they move up the value chain.

Lastly, there is a need for India-specific books on PR. As industry leaders we should take time out of our busy schedules and compile various case studies into books for future reference and studies. This has to change at both the academia and industry levels.

PR skills have never been more relevant or in greater demand than today. They say a good PR education should enable one to become an entrepreneur in less than three years. Hence, it is high time we made a concerted effort to change the face of PR education in India and build a talented pool of professionals. It is not an easy task, but if we overcome the challenges, we will have a vast workforce of industry-ready talent.

Nitin Mantri is CEO and Business Partner at Avian Media