There was a time when masses were confined to limited and precise interactions through phones and hand-written letters, which were the prime tools of communication then. Today, the world condenses in a small screen of the computer with a click of the mouse at any social networking website, thus, giving power to opinions, open discussions and mass communication at a very accessible platform of online media. This convenience of communication has given rise to challenges for the PR industry.
According to Atul Ahluwalia, President, Corporate Voice Weber Shandwick India, “Corporations have to realise their responsibility today. The new normal has set in after the year 2008. Today, you have to be very careful. Earlier, they had a buffer for reactions by the masses, but that is gone with online media, so the consumer is now directly influencing. There’s no way bad news will not go out.”
He added, “When we handled the Jet Airways case, wherein people came on the streets to protest their layoffs, it showed angry publics are here to stay. It is the reality and it only grows with social media. This puts PR on top of the table.”
Bringing a global perception to the debate, Harjiv Singh, Co-founder and Co-CEO, Gutenberg Communications, said, “The PR tools available around the world have changed dramatically. In the last decade, we have seen social networks rising, which has left us thinking if this is the rise of the fifth state. For instance, the recent tragedy in Japan led people to tweet and give instant reactions on the situation there, but the government took its time to come out with an official statement on the disasters. So, it was a complete disconnect.”
Attempting to address the issue from a basic level, Ranjana Smetacek, Director, Marketing & Corporate Communication, Fortis Health Care, said, “Where does this anger come from? It stems from fear as these publics are not in a normal state of being. They really want to be heard, so listen to them. We need to show empathy and that is not the time to throw scientific know-how, that is the time for you show that you know where the person is coming from.”
Giving his take on Indian scenario of the PR industry, Singh commented, “I see people abroad advising even before anything happens. In India, it is ad-hoc, wherein you can never have perception. But it can be worked upon and bettered.”
Smetacek elaborated on the health industry’s perspective of situations, which are beyond one’s control. She stated, “Fear is a permanent stage and people are looking for closure. From our side, we want to bring in a higher level of enquiry, but feelings are beyond understanding. Maybe doctors could learn to communicate with the patients and his relatives and not just perform surgeries.”
Meena Vaidyanathan, Director for Development, Dialogue Se, suggested here, “Follow up by any PR agency should be from stage one of the cause. Most people can see through what is right and what is politically right.”
The eminent industry professionals were sharing their views during a panel discussion on ‘Dealing with angry publics: What and how in the normal world’ at the second exchange4media India PR and Corporate Communications Conference, which was held in Delhi on March 16, 2011. Meena Vaidyanathan moderated the session.
The Conference was presented by Adfactors Public Relations. CVB News Service was the co-sponsor. Eikona was the measurement partner, while ISB&M School of Communication was the academic partner. Insights were provided by Penn Schoen Berland.