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264. PR industry – what’s that?

February 1, 2013

1)      Is the PR industry in India finally ready to take center stage as a strategic partner that helps to build business value? Firstly, I am of the opinion that the word industry and agency are being used wrongly and there is nothing called a PR industry. Public Relations is a rapidly growing community of professionals and has been bringing value through the various firms and through in-house professionals. PR plays a strategic but supporting role and has contributed in building solid reputations for several brands and corporations.

2)      As per reports US companies spend $150 billion annually on advertising and only $5 billion on public relations, according to eMarketer and PRSA respectively. Advertising professionals make up to 75% more than their PR counterparts, as calculated from PayScale data. Would the situation be similar in India? The comparison is uncalled for. It is like comparing painters and plumbers – they both contribute their bit to the construction business but would be incorrect to say that there are 100 painters for every 20 plumbers. In the end each has a role to play and numbers don’t make a difference to the contribution each profession makes to brand building.

3)      Does the fact that PR itself appears to be making news now, a sign of the growing influence of PR on business activities and stakeholder management? Every business and every profession makes news but when the profession that helps brands and corporations manage their news gets into the spotlight there is a hue and cry about growing influence. There have been couple of instances lately of some firms being in the news for not-so-good reasons. But these are just coincidences and have to be looked at from a different perspective. Media outlets are used by certain interest groups to meet certain objectives and this can happen to any sector which plays a strategic role in the corridors of power. PR does not make news intentionally. It is certain organisations that think that bashing of their business partners or their rivals business partners including PR firms will make them look sane and sober. So be it.

4)      Is the reason for the increased attention incident specific (Gujarat elections for example) or are we seeing a beginning of trend of a more muscular and influential PR industry. As I said earlier referring to the community of PR professionals as an industry is the worst form of abusing the word industry.  I don’t see a trend. I see that there are more outlets mushrooming that cover the business of Public Relations and  Marketing Communications is gaining prominence in the coverage from mainline media outlets.

5)      What else can the PR industry do to market itself better and change perceptions? This question is like asking ‘What Can the Law Industry do to market itself better’ – just as there is no law industry let’s get this straight – there is no PR industry. There is no production that PR professionals get into like other businesses do. Consultants can never be an industry. Whether management consultants, financial consultants, legal consultants or reputation consultants. However, the PR business has taken a few steps in India this year of coming together as a community of professionals to engage with each other. PRAXIS organised in Pondicherry was a step in that direction. Every second client contact in every organisation that engages with a PR was a former employee of some PR firm or the other and they are aware of the strengths and limitations of a PR firm. THE business of PR consulting is here to stay and PR firms can only be as good as the people they hire and the clients they serve.

6)      What would be your top 2 or 3 factors that influence the perception of the PR profession and how can that be changed. The first thing that the leading PR firms should do is start hiring talent from the Top 5 B schools of the country and bring in 10% of its work force who are expats. This is an expensive proposition but the clients that these professionals work on should be charged a premium and they will be willing to pay if they have an IIM graduate or someone who has worked in Brussels or New York advising them on reputation. Secondly, PR firms need to invest more on training and working closely with the academic institutes that offer courses in PR. Lastly, clients and consultants need to meet once a year and deliberate the changing dynamics of the profession and find new ways to operate in a world that is embracing transparency

I was interviewed by a media outlet for a story they were doing and a few of my responses were used in the story. Here are the questions I was asked and my responses.

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