PR Next

Monthly eZine for PR Professionals

PR IS IT TAUGHT ENOUGH AND TAUGHT WELL ENOUGH?

Posted by prnext on June 16, 2009


….By Amit Bapna

PUBLIC RELATIONS – Is it a science that can be taught in the haloed portals of a formal educational-institution, or is it an art that one is genetically coded for (or not)  or is it somewhere in between? Is the practice of Public Relations something that can be taught to people or is it a set of a few common-sensical practices, that are too simplistic to be formally imparted in a classroom setting?

Like all other professions, this one too has certain basics, which the new entrants to the profession need to be familiarised with, once they have completed their academic degree in communication. Even before we talk of the training and the investment being made by the companies (the PR firms) on their incumbents, it is important to look at the academic orientation and the skill-sets being imparted at the communication-schools.

One may well argue that for a vocational practice like this, ‘what’ is taught at the academic institution or even ‘how’ it is taught is not that important  but that would be far from the truth.  Undisputably, an educational institution is the first place where the basic grounding for any course – professional or other – is done and it has an incredibly significant place. When a person graduates from an IIM or an IIT, he/she is already imparted a certain weightage in terms of his/her skill-sets and competence  the assumption being that the institution would have imparted a certain level of skills, theoretical ability combined with a level of practical exposure, keeping the real-life scenarios in context.

As in any other case, here too, the institute-brand stands for a certain competence level, which in turn is buttressed by a multitude of factors, that include a stringent admission procedure, a vibrant and evolving course-content, ongoing industry-academic interaction, well-versed and competent faculty both internal as well as visiting-guest faculty, and finally an always-on-the move placement-scenario. Thanks to all of the above parameters, an IIM or an ISB have become brands in their own right, with a sharply focussed positioning, and a well-defined product offering. The product in this case, trained and educated industry-ready profiles of men and women, who stand for a level of academic orientation augmented by the relevant theoretical and practical skill-sets. That industry-readiness is what the B-school prepares the students for.

Now in that backdrop, consider the scenario for the communication schools in Indian context, offering courses in Public Relations that measure well on all of the above parameters, and the abysmally tiny numbers would explain at least partially the reason behind the constant ‘hue and cry’ on the insufficient talent-levels as well as the low score on the competence levels  all leading to insufficient job-preparedness. Very simply, the Output will be a function of the input that goes into making of a candidate’s profile. If there are just a handful of institutes  or even lesser  that are doing well on those parameters, then the obvious impact would reflect on the output. (Can you think of five institutions that can be like the IIMs of this industry? Chances are the answer would be a big NO.)

It is time for the existing institutes offering courses in PR to wake up, and smell the coffee. They need to spruce up their act, and offer tough courses, and even tougher processes while taking in the students thus clearing the common myth that PR is an ‘easy’ profession that does not really need too many skills other than ‘look good’ and ‘talk well’. Yes, they are important attributes but then they are as important in many other professions as well  and here too, they are just the starting points. Ultimately, they have to be augmented with other relevant skills, to prepare the incumbents well.

The screening process right at the time of taking in the students should be made a comprehensive and rigorous process, acting as the first filter  thus ensuring the minimum level of skill-sets. Post that of course, the academic curriculum that would be taught would play a major role in the skill-building of the students. They should be exposed to the real-life scenario while at the same time be inducted into a strategic way of thinking, which would help them immensely at the time of their entry to the professional world. It would also make them confident PR professionals, who would look at PR as a part of the larger marketing and brand-building process, and not just restrict their orientation to the profession as being all about media-relations and just that.

It is the job of the institution to create a sense of belonging and identity for itself and, ultimately, for its students. This would go a long way in help create a sense of identity for the profession at large  if there were many such well-established and balanced schools, clearly spelling out their USPs, and ensuring a credible delivery, then there could be IIMs in the PR space  and that could be a proud and defining (and also overdue) paradigm-shift for the profession. And the onus of this onerous task is clearly on the communication-schools, to be cutting-edge and the best in terms of their delivery mechanisms and their output  industry-ready and well-educated PR professionals.

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