On a strong pitch

From spinning stories for clients to giving strategic advice to businesses, the ubiquitous PR professional has travelled a long way, Mayura Amarkant discovers.

Last Updated: Aug 27, 2013, 19:29 PM IST

From spinning stories for clients to giving strategic advice to businesses, the ubiquitous PR professional has travelled a long way, Mayura Amarkant discovers.

Not so long ago, a public relations officer’s job was to smile warmly at guests, greet them and make them comfortable. At the most, she or he would make travel reservations and occasionally send letters to journalists. Later, PR professionals chased reporters to get a few news clips for their clients.

Since then, the PR industry has come a long way. “There has been a noticeable transition in the last 15-20 years. Today, even small and medium enterprises seek professional PR support to define their brands and products better,” says Deepak Kanulkar, CEO, Good Relations India. The role of the PR person within the organization has also changed, asserts BN Kumar, executive director, Concept PR. “Today, they act as a bridge between the management and employees.”

The economic downturn has led to companies respecting PR more than ever, observes Ashraf Engineer, vice-president, Content & Insights, MSL India. “The Industry is at an inflection point. Clients, who are looking for impactful and cost-effective communication solutions, are beginning to truly understand PR’s strategic value,” he says.

Outgrowing its cocoon of media-centric activities, the industry today offers a universe of diverse activities that require myriad skills-sets and deliverables. “Today, PR consultancies are respected and PR activities are regarded as potent business tools,” highlights Dr Samir Kapur, senior vice president, Adfactors PR Pvt Ltd.

A PR professional is now expected to play the role of a business strategist where she or he plans and implements ideas and engagement models that help in building a profitable business, adds Kanulkar.

The media boom coupled with technology advancement has changed the way businesses are run, thus making a PR person’s role increasingly significant. Though technology has made communication easier, the flip side of the coin is that it`s now even harder to manage the flow of information.

Rahul Puri, executive director, Whistling Woods International, says, “Digital and social media have made the need for urgency and engagement the biggest priority. PR people must squeeze their deadlines on getting information out to a wide market quickly, even before social media and the digital sphere can overtake the story.”

Public Relations and Communications consultant, K Srinivasan points out, “The companies have to watch social media. A mere Facebook status, tweet or online review by an insignificant person can affect the brand negatively”.

All this has created a demand for digital and social media strategists who would dovetail traditional PR with online PR, and remain constantly vigilant. A PR professional now has to thoroughly understand the relationship between information, social interaction and dissemination of that information on the web. “Else they may find their communication redundant,” says Puri.

PR has opened up a plethora of career options. Kanulkar says, “It is no more about only publicity. Many interesting services that add value such as corporate strategic communications, integrated marketing communications, CSR consulting, image audit, digital PR has found a firm footing in PR lately.”

Starting salaries vary and a trainee may earn anything from 1.2 lakhs to 2.4 lakhs p.a. depending on his/ her academic and other credentials. “A deserving candidate may earn much more,” says Kumar. “Given the rate at which the industry is growing – 15% to 20% – career growth is rapid; you can expect to progress faster in this field than in most other professions. Talent is scarce in this industry and all PR agencies are hiring,” shares Engineer.

Seniors say that the quality of professionals entering PR has improved a lot. They attribute this to various factors including specialized courses, increasing number of journalists joining this profession and changing client expectations. Vikram Kharvi, PR blogger and media strategist says, “Having a formal qualification in PR and Corporate Communications ensures that the trainee fares better.” Observes Srinivasan, “Attitude, aptitude and ability to learn is very important. An aspirant must shed the bookish knowledge, be analytical and think in terms of the clients.”

On their part, educational institutes are leaving no stone unturned to ensure that students are industry ready. They hire the best industry faculty and use innovative pedagogy in order to bridge the gap between industry and academia. “The teachers focus on practical elements and endeavor to evolve a skill set, which the industry needs and values,” says Puri.

A PR aspirant must be well read and well informed, and must be able to communicate effectively, says Kumar. Also a flair for writing is a must. Kanulkar lays importance on commitment, focus, result-oriented approach and people skills. Kapur prefers the aspirant to be a positive thinker, multi-tasker and problem solver. But the one quality that the industry looks for is the passion for the profession.

“One should enter PR with a clear understanding of what the profession is about. It is exciting, offers great learning and growth, and also the opportunity to travel and meet interesting people. However, it is also tough and requires a good head on the shoulders,” Engineer says.

“Internationally, PR is a matured industry and rarely do clients approach it purely from a media relations perspective. It is considered an integral part of all communications plans. If you have India or China experience, and if you show the spark and talent, you would eventually grow into an important cog in the wheel.”

Ashraf Engineer

“PR is no more only about publicity. Many interesting services that add value such as Corporate Strategic Communications, Integrated Marketing Communications, Crisis Communications, Public affairs, CSR Consulting, Image audit, Digital PR have found a firm footing in Public Relations lately.”

Deepak Kanulkar
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Career Options in PR

Client servicing, New Business development, Digital PR Expert, Social Media Strategist, Content Developer, Investor Relations Specialist, Labor relations Specialist, Public Affairs Specialist, Media Relations Manager, Corporate Reputation Management, Consumer Products Communicator, Crisis communication Expert, Corporate Strategic Communicator, Integrated Marketing Communications Expert, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Consultant, Image Auditor, Business Writer, Research Analyst, Sport and Celebrity Manager and Media Coach.

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Institutes offering PR specializations

• Whistling Woods International, Mumbai (www.whistlingwoods.net)

• Xavier’s Institute of Communications, Mumbai (www.xaviercomm.org)

• Sophia’s Polytechnic, Mumbai (www.scmsophia.com)

• Symbiosis Institute of Mass Communication, Pune (www.simc.edu)

• Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi(www.iimc.nic.in)