Does PR education in India need to change?

As the PR business evolves to deal with a rising strategic profile and being an always on profession; is education in PR keeping pace with the rigors of a very demanding business?

PR as a curriculum has been fairly widely taught for almost two decade in India. While premier institutes like The Indian Institute of Mass Communications offer specialist post graduate diplomas in Advertising and PR, there are other well known institutes such The Delhi School of Communication (Delhi), Xavier's Institute of Communications (Mumbai) and Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication (Pune), that all offer specialists courses. There is also a rise in the number of institutes that offer PR courses in various forms including short term skill courses.

Dr. Jaishri Jethwaney, Professor and Program Director (Advertising and PR) at the Indian Institute of Mass Communications says, ”The last two decades have seen an immense mushrooming of Institutes teaching mass  communication and public relations, because there is a perceived and real demand for PR professionals among Institutes and universities. These courses are as good as the faculty and their understanding of PR.  Unfortunately the problem lies here. It is important to treat PR not as just “nuts and bolts” discipline (in other words, a craft) but an academic subject embedded in social sciences.”

Dr. Jethwaney says that the biggest challenge for education in PR today is; “To be up with times, both in terms of knowledge (including understanding the changes in social, economic and political milieu), and not only to understand the role of technology in facilitating the change  and the advent of social media that has changed the world for ever; but by also adapting to a seamless market situation (as lots of changes have been technology driven). "

Even as academia grapple with the challenges of keeping PR education updated and quality control from the plethora of institutes offering the subject for study, PR practioners who have taught PR classes believe that greater effort is needed for bringing in real world exposure. Moksh Juneja, CEO, Avignyata Inc, says, “The challenges are quite a few but if we overcome this, we will have industry ready talent. Whereas bookish knowledge models are being taught, what really needs to be taught is how to use the PR tools most effectively. There are some faculties with the experience from journalism taking PR courses, which is a good idea giving the students a perspective from journalism, at the same time what would add value is inviting people from the PR industry as a visiting faculty.”

Alumni of the Indian Institute of Mass Communications, Advertising and PR post graduate course, Kavita Ayyagari agrees that PR courses in India require greater practical exposure. Kavita, who is currently Project Manager at Save the Children, says, “The stress should be on the basics of PR. Students should be taught how to write press releases, how to approach the journalist , how to pitch and expose the journalist to the story, how far should you go in your pitch. Even basics like learning how to track coverage with the correct keywords –you don’t need every keyword in the story tracked.”

Dr. Jethwaney says the PR curriculum is beginning to rise to the challenge of practical PR and is learning to handle the changes in the PR business by keeping an eye on how the communications environment is evolving. She points out that a lot of the students come with pre-conceived notions about PR as a professional and the formal education of PR helps to undo some of these perceptions that PR is about mostly media relations.

She says, “Most of them who come with no or half cooked knowledge of PR (especially those who come from mass media stream at under graduate level) they need to be “detoxified’’ and given the understanding afresh. It is not uncommon for those who have had some formal education in PR to believe that PR is a woman-oriented discipline; that PR is lobbying and networking; that there is not PR unless media per se is appeased et al). In fact some faculty members drawn from the media to teach PR (which happens often in smaller towns) also don’t believe otherwise.”

While education struggles to keep pace with the fast changing PR business PR practioners call for radical changes in the education format. Kavita Ayyagari points out; “Education in PR needs to be suited much more to the real world. There is need for at least two to three internships during the course in different types of organisations and communications areas. Out of this internships in media houses to see how journalists and editors function is a must. Only then will they start to think about the whole process. I would even say that 75 percent of the education needs to be practical internships and 25 percent of the course should be theory.”

Internationally such internships are paid exercises and India too would benefit from a similar system of paying interns to ensure a good supply of talent across all sections of society.

PR education in India is poised at the crossroads of change; a change that may make it the bedrock of learning for the rough and tumble of the PR business.