As economic liberalisation began to show an impact by the mid-'90s, the Indian MBA suddenly found demands being made on him far beyond the available skill set. He was expected to be a super MBA, able to handle everything from marketing strategy to navigating the new opportunities brought in by liberalisation. Today, the Indian PR professional is in much the same position, social media and the wide-ranging disruption of the internet led products and services, has put the greatest demands ever on the PR professional. In the last 5 years, the PR role has moved swiftly beyond media relations. While a lot of what needs to be the new PR personality is yet to come in, there are clear additions to the typical PR personality seen as a person ringing up journos about stories
Kamakshi Bhaskar, PR consultant with PR Pundit, points out that, "Earlier, having basic knowledge of public relations was a big deal in itself. But now having that basic knowledge is just seen as a starting point. Lines of PR have now become so blurred that a professional is seen to have added value if they have beyond traditional PR knowledge. Brands now also look at hiring professionals and consultancies with experience in image consulting, crisis management, integrated marketing and communications, corporate and CSR."
Video, video everywhere!
Mou Chakravorty, manager brand and communications, Deloitte India says, "Today video storytelling or podcasts have become one the most innovative and easy mode of grabbing consumer attention. And hence, 60 seconds videos are a big hit. Video storytellers are much in demand and are expected to know the knack of creative storytelling through multimedia."
Praveen Kumar Singh, advisor-strategic communication at Integral says that " Today PR consultancies arming themselves with skills in analytics, strategy, blogging and/or vlogging, graphic designing, and digital storytelling."
Singh warns however that, "If I have to talk about the availability of these skills in the market, I would say bloggers/vloggers and graphic designers are relatively easier to find but analytics and strategy are skills where people need training. Having said that, let us remember these are skills that are best learned on the job."
Amitabh Saksena, founder director, Actimedia PR, has a strong opinion on video storytelling as a core PR skill saying, "Of late, video storytelling happens to be on the rise, however, I would stop short of calling them PR professionals. In my opinion, PR professionals still need to be strategists, who call upon specialists from different fields as and when the need arises. The PR professional needs to think of ‘brand’ and ‘story’ first, and then decide how to tell that story in the best possible manner – be it via twitter, or print or video."
Data and Digital Skills
Another skill set that PR professionals need, and is in the process of acquiring is that of the data scientist.
Navanil Sengupta, head - corporate communications, HDFC Securities says that "PR is seeing professionals using of data extrapolation to get a story angle out. For example, statistical analysis of consumer behaviour and aligning stories and brands according to it, this way a touch of science and critical thinking is introduced by the presence of some engineering graduates in PR roles.
Vinay Krishnan, who is with global corporate affairs at SAP Indian Subcontinent says, "The old adage of ‘Information is Power’ is more relevant now than ever before and for the PR industry, this calls for data scientists to take centre stage. These professionals possess skillsets across analytics, visualisation & consumer insights combined with business acumen, thus making them a formidable member of any communications team, be it in-house or agency. They will have the ability to identify compelling information out of the ever-expanding data & content repositories and present it in the most impactful way to the audience, thus enabling the organisation to be ahead or even be in the driving seat of news cycles."
Ruchika Mehta, corporate director, communications and public relations, The Park Hotels, says," We need smart digital marketers who are able to understand who their target audience is and what they want and is nimble enough to create impactful communications for their brand."
Chakravorty agrees that " Data Analysts are growing as professionals since the massive data generated on digital platforms leads to a strong business strategy which skilful analysts can help derive." This is, however, Chakravorty says not as popular in PR as content marketers."
Arnab Samanta, who handles PR and corporate communication for Sundew Solutions Private Limited, says that, "The future of PR will bring about more dependence on analytics. Any business that does not take a note of the validation of the power of analytics will clearly be at a disadvantage. It is easier to evaluate ROI for anything published online with more tracking tools coming into play. “Data techniques,” “Data analytics” and “Geo-location” are coined as tools to aim people with relevant, customer-specific content.:
Content creation is now firmly entrenched as a core PR skill.
Krishnan calls these new content specialists, ‘PR Artists’ whose expertise is on digital media and creative content and lesser on traditional skillsets such as media relations. Clarifying the kind of content specialists who are entering PR driven by the need for digital storytelling, Krishnan said that, " They are highly proficient in tools for the new age, they are, though, more likely to focus on telling a story than on creating a story worth telling. Remarkably, these professionals are effective for the current fast-moving content cycles owing to their design-led thinking process."
Adds Krishnan that, "However, there are very few ‘PR Auteurs’ in the industry who possess the capability to create impactful and long-lasting campaigns by merging modern design elements with age-old techniques of communications led by strategy and messaging."
CSR and PR
Even since the Indian Companies Act 2013, mandated that companies of a certain size will have to contribute 2 % of their turnover for CSR activities, communicators are being increasingly called upon to look at CSR mandates.
Tilak Chowdhury, DGM - corporate communication, Egis-India said that " CSR is another area where there is a huge opportunity to create content that helps create a positive and humane image of the brands we represent. PR professionals are also doubling up as the happiness ambassadors with events and posts that make the company full of happy people. So in a nutshell, today the PR person is not just a communicator but also a community manager, happiness ambassador and positivity spreader for the company or brand they belong to. These new dimensions require a lot of additional skills and the PR person today is constantly learning to be an entertainer in addition to being an information provider."
Super PR professional
There is no doubt that the expectation from PR professionals is rising exponentially and PR executives in India are mostly rising to the challenge except in areas such as data and consulting. Arpit Garg, business lead - corporate and financial practice at Genesis Burson-Marsteller, sums it up saying, "The underlying skill behind developing relations - networking - now extends to engaging audiences across in-person, virtual and global platforms. Therefore, one's ability to harness a blend of skills comprising of analytical thinking, appreciation and understanding of crafting content for different audiences, and creativity to develop campaigns that cut-across platforms efficiently and economically will hold one in good stead."
Sunayna Malik, managing director, Text100 India & senior vice president, Text100 APACA outlines the future PR professional saying "As an industry we are at a critical inflexion point today. Given the emerging trends around AR/ VR, AI/ML and their increasing play in communications, PR professionals need to have a strong understanding and passion for technology and be able to combine rich technology expertise, tools capability and creative thinking to deliver competently on their clients’ business goals. I see a very strong demand for analytics, integrated brand strategists, strong creative & content specialists and specialized digital communicators, as some of the upcoming trends in this segment."
Adil Bakhshi, head public relations & corporate communication at ICICI Prudential Asset Management Company Ltd says ays that he also hopes to see more professionals moving from the business to the PR side. Bakhshi who himself moved to PR from the business side and has an MSc Degree in international banking & finance from the University of Salford and an MBA degree from the prestigious Aligarh Muslim University, says that his background in management and business enabled him to bring a better grasp of communicating in a dynamic capital market and mutual fund industry.