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Mixed Media: Why PR continues to be Plug Relations in India

18-May-2010
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Mixed Media:  Why PR continues to be Plug Relations in India

I have had two stints in public relations in my career. I know it’s had nothing do with the organisations I worked with, but those 25-odd months have been the most forgettable moments of my life. Even though it did bring me up-close with some of the brightest business brains in the country, I was sure that it wasn’t the work path I wanted to take. I have now taken a conscious decision to avoid hopping on to the PR bandwagon ever again. At least not in the shape and form it exists today.

One of my biggest peeves is that most of our public relations firms fashion themselves as media fixers. So a client puts forth a certain announcement it would like to make and either along with advertising agency or without it, the PR professional is called in.

In all probability, this person is untrained, or is a product of one of the hundreds of mediocre media schools in the country. The PR pro is smart and the basic qualification is the ability to smooth talk his or her way with the client or the media.

It’s not that clients take the PR process very seriously. Most don’t. In fact PR is possibly at the lowest level of the entire communications process in the Indian media. And the objective of the agency is to organise free editorial and its work is measured in terms of value of the editorial mention.

It’s in this context that it’ll be interesting to witness the deliberations of the Indian Public Relations and Corporate Communications Summit on Friday in the capital. It’s organised by exchange4media and most of the people in the business are will be in attendance.

The event happens in the backdrop of the alleged involvement of a PR agency-owner in a lobbying scandal throwing up issues on the kind of work PR honchos take up for their living. Obviously, all of it’s done at the behest of clients, but the role of the PR professional as a wheeler-dealer has come to the fore thanks to this incident.

Frankly, I am not too concerned about the scandal that possibly every PR professional in India is ashamed of. To my mind, the greater worry is the daily grind. Agreed it’s not such a mess everywhere, but a few rotten apples (and horribly so!) have ensured that the business is not being taken seriously.

While the objective is to influence and shape public opinion, the worry is that the modus operandi adopted isn’t always aboveboard. Some PR agencies frequently bribe journalists to publish their stories and pictures leading to the regressive practice of institutionalised paid editorial.

The only way in which the PR industry can get out of its current state is by doing a soul-search and get itself out of the mess. Some amount of promotion of their business roles and practices could help educate corporations.

When a friend recently told me that he was quitting advertising to hop on to PR, I was aghast. Advertising, he said, was no better. Guess the grass is always better on the other side.

The views expressed here are my own. Post your message below or please write to pradyumanm@exchange4media.com

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