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Remote working, AI's impact on media-PR ties: Biocon's Seema Ahuja calls for building media- PR communities

Seema Ahuja advocates for a more balanced media-PR relationship

As the world grapples with the aftermath of a global pandemic and the ever-expanding influence of AI, Seema Ahuja, the driving force behind Biocon Group's corporate brand and communications, provides insights on the challenges faced by media and PR in their symbiotic relationship.

In a candid conversation, Seema Ahuja shares her expertise on navigating the shifting dynamics of media-PR interactions in an era marked by both pandemic recovery and the pervasive impact of artificial intelligence.

PRmoment India: Post-pandemic and AI what are the main challenges in the media PR relationship?

Seema Ahuja: The pandemic introduced us to the virtual world, which I see as a blessing in disguise. However, it also has a fallout, which many companies are experiencing now, there is a section of employees who would not like to come back to the office and would like to continue with remote working. 

This, I believe is a key challenge, and this holds good for media journalists too. This is why continuing with the traditional 'one-to-one' relationship-building meetings has become next to impossible now.

The relationship is more transactional, journos would send queries, which you need to address or if you want an interview to be set, you reach out. Not much beyond that, unless you already have a personal relationship with some of the journalists. In that case, that's more of personal bonding.

As regards, AI I think, we need to learn how to use AI effectively. We don't need to get insecure about it, but treat it as another tool to enhance our efficiency.

PRmoment India:  How would you fix the current media PR interaction? In the UK marketplace app platforms have come up for PR and journos to connect beyond the usual email, message format. Would that work in India?

Seema Ahuja: I think we need to look at building communities of journos and PR folks. For far too long we have stayed as separate groups. You know we have individual communities or groups on WhatsApp, for PR firms, corporate communications professionals, and the media. But we don't have a combined group! I think if anyone succeeds in building such a platform where all three converge, it will take care of many of the issues that exist today. We are a part of the ecosystem, we know it's a symbiotic relationship, yet we don't live it.

'That's also because some of the professionals think that their equation with journalists is great, so if someone else is suffering it's their problem. As long as my work is smooth I am fine.'

This mindset also needs to change, where PR & comms professionals need to show greater responsibility and accountability for their community. 

We need to fix this together. We already have a great platform run by OneSource where communications & PR folks are present, we need to get the third group of journos on it.

This would probably help in better understanding between the cohorts.

PRmoment India: The revised Google algorithm gives priority to editorial SEO results. Has that increased the pressure on journos as now SEO firms are also contacting them?

Seema Ahuja: I am not sure what exactly you mean by SEO firms contacting journos. But yes, journos in active reporting are under pressure, as now they have to report for the web as well as Print, in the case of mainstream media.

While doing so, yes, they have to follow SEO guidelines. This increase in the volume of work is one of the reasons, why many of them are quitting journalism and looking at other options, corp communication or PR firms being one of them.

Some of them however are unable to sustain their new jobs with PR firms or corporate communications since they discover these jobs are vast and complex and not as easy as they thought it to be.

Historically, the perception with media has been that PR or corporate communication jobs are all about taking media calls. Hence, journos can call us anytime, any day and it's our job to respond ASAP. But when they switch sides they realize it's not as easy as they thought it to be.

They realize that these roles require diverse skills and writing is just one of them and media engagement is just one of the verticals under communications, which probably is 10-15% of what they do. Plus they also realize how PR & Comms attention has shifted to owned media, how content development teams have come up and how writing is only one part of the content!

I only hope that this better understanding of the dynamics of our profession by media will eventually get them to respect our fraternity and improve our relationship.  While PR and communications professionals have always believed in the symbiotic relationship and the need for mutual respect, the balance in the respect equation is yet to be achieved.

It is this lack of mutual respect for our profession and empathy towards newbie professionals, alongside a lack of understanding of the young millennials' behaviour, who don't believe in hierarchy, which has manifested in the editorial that we saw recently 'All in Jest' on PR.

Seema Ahuja is the global head of corporate brand for Biocon Group & Biocon Biologics and also heads communications for emerging markets

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