This article first appeared in Reputation Today)
B N KUMAR
We often come across this expression – PR needs PR.
It is not without any reasoning that the veterans in particular keep saying this. The reputation of PR which has been taking a beating or evolving over the ages, many feel, it needs to stand up to further touchstone tests. My generation of professionals have weathered many a storm and tried their level best to be the torch bearers of PR. Many of us who continue to practice, adjusting to disruptions and now the New Normal, are still forced to defend the profession.
I am not trying run down anyone but the fact remains that the users of PR still consider us as use-and-throw material. Sad.
Ask T C Ajit, the journalist-turned-PR veteran who set up O&M PR (now Ogilvy) and worked with Reliance earlier. He would tell you that PR man used to be treated as an errand boy, courier guy or glorified protocol officer for his bosses and their families. His breed of professionals had a tough time in asserting themselves, trying to educate the corporates about the importance of PR and as a result literally reinvented the wheel. Much water evaporated from the Arabian Sea after that, but the issues around the reputation of PR men continue. The reputational issue has nothing to with any personal issues but the capabilities of the profession by itself.
PR continues to be used as a Press Release dispenser or at best for crisis communication, that too mainly as Preventive Relations rather than a reputation management tool. There could be some exceptions to the rule. But, there is always a but!
We continue to address senior editors with run-of-the-mill press releases, send mails after 9 PM to financial papers, gun for coverage in print even obviously without realizing that the newspapers have drastically cut the number of pages. Worse, inability to tell clients/bosses during April 2020, when there were no newspapers printed, that the Press Release could be executed. We continue to approach the media with the same old statement: the client wants it. With this kind of ‘professionalism”, can we expect to enjoy good reputation with the media?
On the one hand, top managements do not obviously understand the needs of media, while on the other they do not care to know the importance of the PR machinery, be it in-house or agency. We cannot expect the young professionals to try to educate the clients/bosses. PR or communication industry needs to add the word ‘Mentoring’ to their dictionaries. Mentoring need not be limited to just our offices.
Many of us do take up mass communication classes. It’s time we visited management schools as well and took up guest lectures. If universities and colleges invite corporate captains, advertising gurus and even film makers, for guest talks, why can’t they be made to calls PR veterans? The PR lessons that the managers-of-tomorrow learn will definitely help them understand the importance of the communication tools.
PR forums, conclaves too need to go beyond the awards events and patting-each-other or self-praising sessions. We need start working with other industry forums as well. Sounds like pontification?
Gone are the days when people had to travel and one had to pay for their airfares and 5-star hotel accommodation. The New Normal and the Virtual World has opened up new opportunities for us, communicators. We can surely request our bosses/clients to join us for online sessions on communication. Media veterans would love to talk to corporate veterans and vice-versa. Let us use this evergreen opportunity to connect them through our forums. Can we not explore a joint session with an industry forum?
I have seen many a conclave where media biggies come and tell PR professionals as to where they are going wrong and try to educate us about the trends. I think we need to raise the bar and have media professionals telling corporates: Please understand how media functions.
Media relations is just one part. Will it not be interesting to hear from a journalist as to how he or she covered the migrant labour crisis? This can teach us few lessons in crisis handling or on how not to handle crisis.
I think the opportunities are enormous for PR to start building reputation for itself. There is no harm in driving with an L sticker as learning is a continuous process.
Without indulging further sermonizing, I leave this food for thought.