PRCAI to expand to South Asia: PRCAI president Atul Sharma lays out agenda 2021

Atul Sharma and managing director, Ruder Finn India took over as president of PRCAI in December 2020. What is new on his agenda for one of the most well known PR associations in India? Sharma intends to focus on changing PRCAI's image as a North India organisation, bringing in certification for PR professionals and help guide members on the challenging issue of unpaid dues. 

PRmoment India caught up with Sharma to find out more about his plans for PRCAI going forward. 

PRMoment India: What are your top priorities as PRCAI President for 2021?

PRCAI: Taking charge as the President of PRCAI in the most dramatic year of the last decade, the managing committee at PRCAI has its task cut out, loud and clear.

We have chalked out four priorities for the association, which will lead the way for the public relations industry into the future: Talent, Trust, Leadership and Inclusion.

Nurture talent for the future: Unlike specialised professions, where you need a licence to operate, case in point law or medicine, in public relations one needs consistent research to keep in touch with the industry developments. We haven’t had any incentive to do this so far. What does it do to us as professionals? In the short term - we don’t grow, resist change and aren’t able to provide best counsel to our clients. In the long term, the overall standard of the industry drops. 

To address this problem, PRCAI will collaborate with a global programme to offer certification to PR professionals, qualifying them to practice and upskill. 

We intend to create this on the lines of the global standard developed by IABC, and will be aimed at four levels basis one’s experience.

We also need to invest into the future, to nurture talent that’s job ready. To do this, we intend to partner closely with academic institutions to create curriculum which reflects changing times. 

Build trust in India and beyond: We’ve made a good start in the past one year, putting together a united front for the PR industry opening channels of communication with multiple ministries and like-minded associations. 

To further build trust, we not only need to tell the story about our contribution to the marketing mix but also to the larger society, a story supported by strong facts and figures. You will see us investing in studies on topical trends in this industry like workplace trends, state of mental wellness, technology and upskilling and many more.

I also feel that the time is ripe to tell the Indian PR industry growth story to the world, with Indian member firms like Adfactors getting recognized on a global platform, we will get the attention that we have always deserved.

Raise the profile of our leadership: The corporate world and the government sector is struggling to drive diversity across its workforce. We should seize the opportunity to tell a story on how women have built PR in India. We will be looking at partnering with like-minded associations like GWPR, FICCI Woman to drive these initiatives.

To raise the profile of the industry further, we need to unite strong leaders across the board, and you will see a concerted effort from PRCAI on the same lines.

Additionally, we will work towards nurturing our symbiotic relationship with the media, bloggers and influencers to create trust for our profession. Partnerships with like-minded associations like the Ad club, EEMA, PAFI could also help pave the way in this direction. 

New markets: We will also be going beyond India, to South Asian markets and create PRCAI chapters for countries like Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Maldives and Sri Lanka to build a larger community that supports each other.

PRmoment India: Skilling and low retainer levels are some of the major challenges faced by the PR business. How will PRCAI tackle these?

 Atul Sharma: Solutions can come from anywhere. In fact, this is even more reason to invest in talent that is at par with our competitors. PRCAI in its capacity as an association can lead the way, with the model code of conduct, and the accreditation model for professionals which will surely determine how the rest of the industry will grow. 

Our goal for the industry is clear—we will prosper but displaying the highest levels of professionalism and ethics which I am certain will also get reflected in the increase in our retainers.

PRmoment India: PR agencies especially individual professionals and small size PR firms often complain about payment challenges and have frequently asked for PRCAI to maintain a client blacklist. Your views on that.

Atul Sharma: As an association we’ve dealt with such situations in the past. With our new charter, we are certain that want to be known as an industry body, that is India’s largest and most professional influential PR body.

Having said that, we also know that we’re an association and not a law enforcing body. We aim to provide guidance and counsel to our member firms on how to tackle delicate situations such as these, but we prefer not to interfere in their day-to-day functioning. 

At the end of the day, we can guide agencies and help them with the best legal counsel, however what road they decide to take is their prerogative.

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