Can the Indian PR business unlock the talent challenge?

Talent or the lack of it. It’s a word that makes many PR business leads break out in a cold sweat. The PR business in India is facing the twin problems of rising cost of talent and insufficient supply of job ready talent.

Sharif Rangnekar, CEO of Integral PR, points out that, while, “The PR industry certainly suffers from such a situation, this is also reflective of the times we live in where advertisers and the media often harp on now, live for the moment, tell consumers to say what they want, do what they wish but rarely talk of the future unless it is about insurance and investment into anything is always about money. In effect, there is no sense of sustainability either through education or skills. Having said that and it being part of the problem, the profile of the industry is not as attractive as it could be and the education system is at a distance from what it should be.”

Other PR insiders agree with this assessment. Says Tarunjeet Rattan, Managing Partner, Nucleus PR, “The key issue is ‘Practical Knowledge’. Somewhere the academicians have missed the bus on this aspect and the industry has also not voluntarily done anything to address it. Most institutes have been floating on the support of ‘guest lectures’ and the industry has baptized the newbies’ by fire. The ones that survive excel at the profession and the others just drown or quit. This was fine in the last decade but with the rising demand of the profession and the corporate and entrepreneurship world waking up to the power of PR the demand supply equation has been thrown out of gear."

As per Veena Gidwani, strategic PR consultant and trainer and former CEO of Madison Public Relations, "Unfortunately there are only a few institutes that conduct good PR courses which enable successful candidates to get entry level jobs. Most of the learning thereafter, happens on the job. Another important factor is that by and large with the existing fee structures, PR consultancies have constraints on the amount of time and money they can invest on training. They also need to make new hires, take on responsible roles soonest.  While these youngsters have the enthusiasm and passion, they lack the maturity to deal with senior corporate executives or journalists and other influencers’. This brings discredit to the profession.”

So what should be done to fill the talent gap? Insiders point to four main ways:

Improve education

Sharif Rangnikar says industry associations are already working on the state of PR education in India, "The industry association has already initiated steps with educational institutions. What is needed is a reality check on what is being taught in colleges and other institutes. There are only handfuls that produce freshers that have a strong future and carry a basic foundation to build on. Unfortunately, what is often taught is material for text books that is far from what the industry requires and clients need. In effect, it completely misses out on the ground realities and the dynamism that we live with."

Veena Gidwani believes that, “Industry professionals should collaborate with educational institutions to make the syllabus of various PR courses relevant.  Even at an under graduate level in the BMM and similar programmes the syllabus is quite out dated, but University regulations seem  to come in the way of  making changes. The industry must work to change that."

Tarunjeet Rattan says that a concerted effort across trade bodies and agencies is required: “This can be done by any of the many industry bodies that have come up in the recent years if it has to be done quickly. One can come up with a course guideline or recommended subjects that would be beneficial for the institute and endorsed by the body. This will also lend added credibility to the graduates of the institute. Individual efforts will also help but it will be a longer road towards redeeming this situation."

Bring in training modules

Training courses offer an additional boost. Several agencies already have well defined internal programmes , Tarunjeet Rattan believes thatAll agencies should have a training module according to their capability and resources that will help the employed professionals update their knowledge on the profession on a regular basis and keep raising the bar on the quality of talent in the industry. “

Veena Gidwani believes that what is needed is “, More   Internships   for students to get on the job training (perhaps two stints in a one year programme) and training programmes that are relevant to the changing needs of the business for executives at various levels conducted by senior industry professionals.”

Share knowledge

Veena Gidwani believes that what is also needed is more compilation and sharing of case studies of successful campaigns in training programmes and industry forums. She says,  “Exposure to global learnings through sharing of award winning campaigns. Some years ago, the 'The Advertising Club Mumbai’ organized screenings of winning campaigns at Cannes for the fraternity. This used to be a very well attended event.  Even though everything is available on the net today, it would be a good idea to select the ten most awarded PR campaigns each year and present them at a forum of professionals followed by a discussion. Several such other opportunities for learning and engagement can be explored."

Improve perception of PR

While making PR education more relevant and offering customised training courses will help to address the talent gap, the root of the problem lies in the perception of the PR business as a whole.

Sharif Rangnekar believes that PR by nature believes in third party endorsements. "This means we don’t go out and advertise what we do or thump our chest and make a noise of our work in the public domain. Given our proximity to a client’s business, the depth of work we do is not always something that can be put out for others to talk about. Even as we work with the media and other stakeholders, the media will not talk about a source of information; hence they will not talk about us. Yet we ourselves as an industry have not taken out sufficient time to work with educational institutions and do some PR for ourselves to get others to know our real value and the power we have in the space of marketing, image and reputation. Getting this profile right also helps educational institutes in seeing us as an attractive industry and a stream that they should sell more aggressively and invest in."

Addressing the problem is very urgent. Says Tarunjeet Rattan, "Our industry is very people centric and the success of its people reflects on the success of the company. So if we don’t address this issue immediately we are looking at a huge talent gap wherein the bigger agencies will have to pay through their noses for a decent / good candidate and smaller ones will wind up or reduce to being a one person show."

She adds, "Additionally, if a critical mass of clients have a bad experience with ‘mediocre / bad / sub standard’ public relations professionals the industry will gain a bad reputation and then we cannot complain if the importance and seriousness of our profession  is lost and we are categorised as ‘press release wale’ or ‘ media ko khush rakhne wale’ or ‘fixers’."

PR experts believe that if concrete steps are taken, the PR business will be in a much better position to address the talent gap in the next two to three years. Unless this is accomplished, the recognition that PR deserves as a strategic partner that works with external influencers will elude the profession.

Written by Paarul Chand