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PR for the Hospitality Sector

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

hotelEvery hotel has one goal in common: to satisfy their guests’ requests no matter how odd, peculiar or demanding. If you re a luxury hotel, the number of requests increases and their nature becomes even more complex.

In the midst of daily operations like preparation for arrivals, room inspections, hosting private events, and countless other details, there is a small department that devotes its efforts solely in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between the hotel and all its publics. Within hospitality, examples of publics include course guests, VIPs, unions, activists, the government, community leaders and employees, only to name a few. The PR team or an individual professional leverages the hotel’s mission and goals to reflect its interests to these publics and acts as a communications liaison. But a PR manager’s time is more often than not occupied with a certain genre of people known as media.

Choosing the right people to liaison with the press is crucial. Many hotels are torn between spending the extra thousands to hire agencies, which outsource their professional services or to employ a trained professional within the organisation.

PR Agencies are able to act as seasoned representatives for their clients in events, fundraisers, networking parties and can participate in all the glitz and media glamour in order to get their message out to everyone. Agencies also usually have all the tools necessary to create appropriate messages. Typically, they have a graphic designer on staff responsible for updating and maintaining the client’s website, designing collateral material such as brochures, fliers, promotions and advertisements, among other things. Agencies are also experts in preparing general managers and/or executives to handle reporters in public appearances, press conferences and other types of interviews.

But this elite service will cost you plenty, as most agencies work on a monthly retainer fee. Depending on the nature of the hotel, there are some months that are ‘dead’ from a press perspective. For example, Mumbai is very slow in the rainy season, which makes publicity during those months highly competitive. Agencies will still charge the retainer fee during those months, since they are tapping their media contacts regardless of results.

What is the difference between having your own gourmet kitchen and going to a fine dining restaurant? Along with price and service, there is another variable to consider: You can prepare meals in the kitchen, the way you want, whenever you need to and at any time. Most factors are flexible. A similar philosophy applies to in-house PR staff.

More often than not, especially for small hotels, this is a more economical alternative. The on-site PR professional works from an office in the hotel and manages media requests and pop-ups fast. While the agency handles multiple accounts, the in-house person has only one focus, and therefore outreach can be far greater and more customised. Also, there is more time to develop editorial relationships like the ones the agency has and focus on pitching various story ideas.

What is more, the in-house professional is always available to provide walk-in press tours (agencies work with appointments only), therefore maximising publicity potential. Since the on-site professionals are hotel employees, they tend to know the property and its functions in greater detail than an agency would. This fact provides an additional advantage when exploring new editorial angles. Simply because a relationship is established does not always guarantee placement in an issue. The pitch is definitely essential, but it is the quality and timing that need to match the outlet’s editorial focus and audience.

However, the image, reputation, and the foundation of all hotel relationships lie in the formulation of one key factor: the message. What are you telling the media that is newsworthy, and why should they talk about your hotel? What makes your establishment unique? These questions will be answered differently when you ask an agency, which is specialised, and a hotel employee who manages PR on-site. The main difference lies in the method of approach, strategy and tactics. And the tricky part is that both approaches may be equally effective.

Furthermore, the on-site manager most likely lacks the printing, design and web tools and has to work with freelance designers and printing houses to get the message properly planned and executed. Although this situation is not ideal, you may even get someone who is multi-skilled and can easily handle the above tools on his own, which will save the hotel a lot of money. The hotel will also gain from the fact that there is someone on staff, who can handle media-related episodes, which arise quite often.

If anything, a communications plan is non-existent without a clear and concise crisis plan. Few questions that should be asked when outlining a crisis plan are: How does the hotel respond when a story is leaked? How is executive management handling the crisis? Is there a complete statement drafted? Have you prepared a list of media outlets that need to be contacted first? Who is the point of contact for updated information? What tools will be used, and how will they prove to be effective to contain the media?

The agency is experienced to writing strategy plans, although some may lack the inclusion of internal response during a crisis, for example, ‘How will the employees be notified? What will they be allowed to discuss?’ Regardless, agencies can be beneficial in pinpointing the right avenues to take during a media response. They may have a better edge in identifying speaker opportunities and may be more effective in leveraging the media during a crisis. Meanwhile, for an on-site manager, this amount of responsibility may become overwhelming in spite of how well prepared and proactive they may be.

Here are some factors to consider before hiring an in-house professional or choosing to outsource:

  • Size – The smaller the property, the more branding and relationship-building it requires. You should evaluate if you need someone who is willing to take the project on-site and put in 100 percent effort, or if you should trust your property into the hands of an experienced agency who will agree to convey the image what you are looking for.
  • Time and money – Cutting costs is essential but maintaining quality is always the challenge. Find a balanced solution that will not set back your outreach efforts, but not exaggerate them either.
  • Quality of people – As per our earlier analogy, investing in a gourmet kitchen versus always going to a fine dining restaurant certainly has advantages. Searching for the right people is imperative and directly affects your bottom line.
  • Inside Out: A balanced approach – Even with all this advice, some properties may still find themselves caught in the middle. In many cases, it is healthy to have a strong in-house presence that directs all public relations and simultaneously have an agency on a project-based fee, ‘on call’, to supplement outreach efforts, issues and crisis management and assist with media person who may at times not return calls or respond to emails. Over time, you might find one or the other to be more cost-effective and choose the best alternative.

Finally, it is essential to recognise the importance of this specialised group of professionals whose success lies in making everyone else look good and thrive by working in the background. All else cast aside, these are the people who have experienced and appreciate the unparalleled feeling of earning positive publicity for their organisations and smile when their executive’s name makes it in print or on TV. Knowing that their name will not be in the credits.

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Posted in Articles, Sector Talk, September 2009 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Journalism to PR – Is it a right choice?

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

2599hatA recent survey conducted by PR Week highlighted that over 50% of media professionals are now considering a career outside of journalism (Maybe even on the “dark side,” as PR is commonly referred to in the journalism industry). It seems as an epidemic of job swaps among the senior journalists, has sparked fears of a vacuum of experienced journalists at the top of the profession.

Interestingly, it’s not just reporters who are crossing over to PR, even mass communication students are opting to study PR over journalism as well, because they feel the opportunities will be better for them in PR. based on what’s happening with print newspapers and other [media], that [journalism] might not be as feasible of a career for them right now.

Speaking informally to some of these ex-journalists who turned to the world of PR, when asked what made them switch. The common explanation given for the migration is money. It is a well known fact that PR pays more than journalism. Then you may ask, how about the passion, making a difference and being part of the ‘fourth estate’. Is the big salary enough reason to just leave this noble career to go the ‘other’ side? Most of these ex-journalists-cum-PR practitioners will tell you that passion cannot pay your bills at the end of the month; they say ‘reality’ has got to them, that is why they crossed over to PR.

PR is evolving and it looks more opportune than journalism. It comes with a big salary together with attractive perks. There are more career opportunities in PR, contrary to journalism which has very thin ranks to move up the ladder. PR practitioners have an opportunity to attend the meeting with the Board of Directors of companies and also sit in some of the lavish offices.

Despite the fact that PR seems to be so much better and monetarily rewarding, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for journalists to make the switch to the other side.

For ex-journalists who become PR people (and I am one of them), there are a lot of new skills to learn. If you’re an ex-journalist-turned-PR person, or an executive who hired one, here are some tips, that would help you to make the transition:

  • Look at PR as corporate journalism: As soon as you become’ a PR consultant, you will find yourself in a highly credible position to advise MD & CEO’s of various companies on what constitutes legitimate news as opposed to marketing hype.
  • Bringing a fresh outlook to the job: Let’s start with the most fundamental element — who you are working for? In your previous job, you report to the editors. In PR, you service the client directly and many a times report to the MD & CEO of the company. The target audience for your client may be as diverse as customers, shareholders, employees, competitors, regulators and the media. And unlike in the media, the peculiarities of each of these audiences has to be factored into your strategies and materials — which is why so much PR information comes out like it was written by a committee.
  • Adopt Customer Service: Journalists are used to being brusque. They’ve got deadlines, they’ve got an audience, and they don’t have time for minutiae. That won’t fly in PR. Most people expect PR people to be nice, even obsequious to a fault. You are now a service provider, and will be expected to do things with a smile that in your previous job. In PR, everyone’s feathers need to be smoothed, and it’s usually your job to do it.
  • Think like a businessman: Many journalists have lived a sheltered existence, with careful separations maintained between editorial and advertising, insulating them from the realities of profit and loss. I know that the current difficulties in the media has been a wake-up call, but once you come over to PR, you’ll be fully immersed in the world of budgets, profits and competitors.
  • The buck stops with you: I was stunned when I got into PR to realize how carefully clients followed what was said about them in the media and how quickly they jumped to conclusions about the motivation of the media when something was said that they didn’t like, or when they were left out of stories. As the PR person, you will find that when this happens — when the media says something your client doesn’t like, or doesn’t cover you when you think you should have been covered — it’s your fault. You’re the bottom of the food chain, you’re the one touting your media relations skills and experience, YOU should have made sure this didn’t happen. Even if there was nothing you could have done.
  • Your friends in the media: Your media experience means a lot to your new clients. But your new clients don’t mean as much to your friends in the media. You’ll probably be able to leverage your connections for some stories but one can’t count on making your living asking your friends to do stories. Which brings us to:
  • Pitching: In all likelihood, you will find yourself emailing or calling journalists you don’t know asking them to do stories on your clients. I don’t mean to be too much of a downer, but let me say that this will be an eye-opening experience. You will now understand what it feels like to be on the other end of the line pitching what you think is a decent story, only to be ignored, hung-up-on, berated or belittled. And that’s if you can even get a response from the journalist you’re pitching, which often times, you won’t. I’ve been on both sides of these calls and I fully understand the frustration of the media getting pitched non-relevant stories by people who have no clue who they are pitching, but this has created an environment in which many journalists view all PR pitches with suspicion bordering on disgust.

There’s one bigger caveat for ex-journalists and the people who hire them: the need for marketing expertise. PR and media relations are subsets of the larger marketing function, and all PR activities are designed to support marketing and ultimately sales. Journalists whose training took place in journalism school and who experience is solely in the media have a great deal to learn about the discipline of marketing.

Just as I advise a would-be media relations expert in the PR field to read journalism books, take journalism courses and immerse themselves in the craft of journalism, so I would advise career-switching journalists making the effort to learn about the intricacies of marketing.

Posted in Articles, PR Insights, September 2009 | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Online resume: A link to the future!

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

onlinerThe mantra of ‘if you have it, flaunt it’ just got more technology friendly. Clearly, many of you reading this have a great deal of achievements you want to talk about, a good deal of contacts you want to show off and probably a large portfolio of work you want to showcase. Here’s a thought. How about putting it up online? Just one click, one link, and your life’s achievements are up for the entire world to admire. Maybe, its time to take the concept of online resumes more seriously.

Posted in Articles, September 2009, Tech-A-Byte | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

3 Key Messages

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

BullseyeEvery organization that you work for has some key messages that it wants to convey it to its stakeholders through its communications efforts.

So what is a key message, and why is it important? Key messages are the core messages you want your target audience to hear and remember. Key messages allow you to give directions to your communications and enhance relationship with your target audience. Key messages are designed to work out what you really need to get across about your company to the audience.

As a PR professional our job is to identify these key messages and communicate the same to the company’s publics.

You may very well be trying to get a slightly different reaction from each of your target audiences, and that’s why you may have multiple key messages pertaining to each of your key publics.

Some criteria for developing key messages

  • Be believable — support with evidence
  • Be understood — reflect stakeholders understanding
  • Be distinctive — clear competitive awareness
  • Be agreed — company strategy
  • Be credible — know your stuff
  • Drive your agenda
  • Avoid negativity
  • Enhance positively
  • Use the brand

The most important thing in communicating key messages is that it needs to be consistent. Consistency gives comfort to people, and public relations professionals are charged with providing a comforting view of a company or client.

Just identifying the key messages is not enough you need to make sure that these selected messages forms the part of every coverage you get for your client in any media.

But the question is how to communicate the messages effectively so that it finds its place in the coverage that you may secure for your client. I will try solving this query with an example, which I believe we all must have gone through at some point in time (or many) in our PR career.

Your client is really impressed – he’s just had an hour-long interview with a reporter from one of the national dailies which you secured for him. You wait with bated breath for the newspaper to hit the streets so you can bask in the glory of the unpaid glowing editorial. After all your client told him EVERYTHING he thought the reporter should know – or did he?

After searching the paper a couple of times you eventually find the article – you were beginning to think you got the date wrong. There it is on page five, bottom left hand corner and it’s all of two column inches! As you find it your client is on the phone and he’s livid – have you seen the article and what happened to all the comments I made and the information I gave? And where did that headline come from – that wasn’t the one on the press release you sent them?

Your explanation to the fiasco

The comments and information went the way the majority of articles written by tired journalists go – cut by the sub-editor and again by the news editor. You see, what you hadn’t factored into the equation was that an insurance company placed an ad it insisted went in that day and a cellphone company said it’d give an order for six weeks of ads but it insisted on page five also.

This meant the sub editor had to find an article to take up what was left of the page – two column inches. The journalist did what he was trained to do – write the story in the inverted pyramid style, starting with the most important information and going down until he was left with the least important. Now depending on how your client gave his information this could be where the problem started.

If he’d chosen to put forth the three key messages to get across and made sure he got those in right at the beginning of his interview and then used the balance of the interview to back these messages up with facts, figures and even anecdotal information, then even if the article was cut at least one or possibly two of the messages would have made it through to the reader.

But then again would they?

Scary part

Research shows that the interviewee gives 100% of the message – the reporter’s interpretation is around 60%. By the time it’s subbed, 40% of the original message has survived (if that) and by the time the editor and anyone else has fiddled around with it there may be 20% left. The scary part is yet to come – the reader’s understanding and interpretation of the article. Yes – this is where the problem really lies – this is 10%!

And what about quotes – how do these get twisted? Well, here’s some advice. Do what we follow religiously when we go for client-media interactions – use a tape recorder so you also have a record of the conversation. Now this may pee off a few journos but it would get the message across loud and clear that you expect the quotes to be accurate.

The problem comes when journalists take the quotes out of direct speech and use them as ‘so and so was quoted as saying he was unhappy with the situation in the industry right now.’ The problem here is what he actually said was “I’m not that happy with the current situation but am excited and reassured with what our industry is about to do.” This is a mild example of what can happen with quotes.

Best form of exposure

This means that the best form of exposure is the controlled one – live radio and TV – but I hear you say that’s scary. Not if you are properly prepared and again decide on three or two key messages you need to get across and then make sure you get these across as quickly as possible. Sometimes you’ll literally have a thirty second chance to answer a question to a talk show host – or five minutes on morning television. You need to take full advantage of that time to get your message across and remember if it’s live no-one can tamper with your message.

Posted in Articles, My Space, September 2009 | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Slog for that blog!

Posted by prnext on June 16, 2009

By Anuradha Kelkar

Let me tell you a story that you might find familiar. One day you wake up to realise that the world around you is blogging and you don’t have the slightest clue as to what it is all about. An Internet search throws up only a million searches on how blogging is the latest phenomenon and just about the simplest thing since writing letters. Most blogging software’s are free and soon enough you have in place a pretty looking blog with your first post ready to be read. So far so good. Then comes the twist in the tale. No one wants to read your pretty blog. Any why is that so? Well, coz it happens to be just one among the 36 million other blogs already existing in the cyberspace.

The point I am trying to make is that it’s best not to listen to anyone who says ‘oh! Blogging is so simple, you know…just keep updating your blog every week and you can make truckloads of money off it.’ While both statements are in fact correct, I would not quite put it like that.

Its easy to lose relevance in the online jungle, especially if your posts are not interesting and catchy enough. Sometimes it so happens that your posts are excellent and yet nobody reads them. This is because its not enough to just write a blog, update it each week and expect readers to show up. Just like any project at college, the good grades come in only when the research is in place and sufficient time has been devoted to sculpting a masterpiece out of it.

Most professional bloggers spend anything between 12- 14 hours a day just reading others blogs and RSS feeds to get a good idea of what their followers are interested in reading about. Commenting on someone else’s blog is also a good way of engaging interested readers in a conversation. It would also be a great idea to include the blog in ones email signature, visiting card and Facebook profile to ensure that nobody forgets what you have to say.

This groundwork in place is essential for each blogger to remember that there is always some new phenomenon waiting to happen. Keeping ones readership intact has to be a combination of a choice of good keywords which will show up easily on search engines, coupled with catchy posts, good links (especially to other blogs which have been inspiring and newsworthy articles) and tags. URL trackbacks is also a great feature that helps readers to revert to all those blogposts that have been quoted and hyperlinked in a particular blog.

A well-written blog can also act as the face of an organisation that otherwise seems impregnable. It shows that the company has a point to make and that it is liberal enough to give the employees a certain amount of creative space. Also, it brings about a certain assured transparency in the system making it easy for stakeholders to put faith in that company. Everybody wants to know about the guy behind the scene and blogs are a great way to showcase the thought process that makes the company run.

In India, however, corporate blogging still has a long way to go. Even tough companies like Tata, Infosys and Accenture are doing a good job out of it, most mid sized companies still look at blogging as an unnecessary addition to workload. For the full benefits of blogging to be realised more and more mid sized companies need to change their outlook and adapt to blogging as the new age way to communicate. At least then communication will be looked at as recession proof in India.

Posted in Articles, June 2009 | Leave a Comment »

Why you shouldn’t do your own Editing

Posted by prnext on June 16, 2009

By Richa Seth

The last time you wrote a press release; didn’t it make you mad when – after checks and double-checks – someone pointed out the error you should’ve spotted before you printed 50 of the bleeding thing?

This happens most of the time to me, after drafting the release and re-checking it more than twice I send it to my senior colleague for approval. This is when I feel disgusted about myself, when my boss points our silly mistakes that could have been easily avoided. Sometimes I feel he suffers from some kind of reverse dyslexia, where mistakes come out of the document and dance in front of him.

By this time if you have started agreeing with me, then let me take this opportunity to introduce you to the world of ‘Neuro Autocorrect’, where your brain fixes your mistakes so you don’t see them. Here’s how it happens, why it happens, but more important, what you can do about it.

Poor reflections

First off, you probably agree that publishing poorly edited copy (or copy that hasn’t been edited at all) reflects extremely badly on the organization which is responsible for it. How many times have you seen a mistake in the newspaper, an ad, an annual report, a sales letter or on the back of a bus?

Your expertise

Secondly, you might or will also agree that your clients and customers should feel a) that they’re getting value for money and b) that you know exactly what you’re doing – otherwise you wouldn’t be writing stuff and you certainly wouldn’t be taking the time to check it. You’d be having a cappuccino instead.

Neuro Autocorrect

But the unfortunate reality is that your closeness to your writing tends to blind you to its flaws – and sometimes, to autocorrect it. The UK-based Society for Editors and Proofreaders explains the phenomenon: “You hold the whole text in your mind, and you’ve developed its ideas in sequence right to its conclusion. You can’t now put yourself in the reader’s place by somehow ‘unknowing’ any of this.”

The cold, fresh eye

In short, you know what you meant to write, so your eyes just fill in the gaps, miss the typos, etc. No matter how many times you check it, your brain interprets what it wants or expects to read, not what is actually there. So while you may have all of the skills to deal with the editorial functions, you lack the cold, fresh eye that a copy editor can bring to your work, and this is what leads to mistakes creeping in.

You’re too close

A copy editor is also sufficiently detached from the writing process to spot the mistakes and inconsistencies that distract the reader. After all, when we’re too close to things, we don’t see them clearly – which can be interesting in our personal lives but is hazardous for the editing process.

The solution?

You may not have the relevant editorial skills. This isn’t a failure on your part  no doubt it is your job to be able to clarify meaning; eliminate unnecessary jargon; polish language by editing which should be done for grammar, usage, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style; or check for consistency of internal structure. But there are wonderful nerds sitting free in your office, go to them and request them to check the copy for you, ofcourse in the meantime you can make coffee for them. Believe me they will do it willingly and do it well. That’s the first step, once you have got an external help, please read the copy aloud to yourself and see if that makes sense to you finally. If yes, press the send button.

Posted in Articles, June 2009 | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Articles, News Bytes | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Who can be a PR Pro?

Posted by prnext on June 16, 2009

… Vikram Kharvi

A year ago a communications professional decided to do a short survey on the importance of PR professionals in the eyes of top corporate bosses. He did it by asking one simple question to over 500 professionals via a professional networking portal, the question was “Does the PR executives in your organization have valuable knowledge that you don’t have?”

51per cent said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement. Of those polled, 19 per cent represented corporate owners, upper level executives and management, and of that number, between 25-38 per cent “strongly disagreed” with the notion that their PR people knew something they didn’t.

What may be the reason for this? We in PR have been hearing for years that the days of PR people being considered glorified corporate doorstops were over. PR had finally earned its value in the communications industry. Wealthiest-geek-in-the-world, Bill Gates, said if he had only one dollar to spend, he’d spend it on public relations. Corporate presidents are welcoming PR people into the boardroom, their input is now greatly valued as more and more corporates have become aware of the incredible power of media and how it can make or break an institution. Even the recently conducted survey by a leading PR agency claimed that over 58 per cent of the global corporate communication officers now report to CEOs.

It is true that PR has made some big strides. In my own experience, I’ve been lucky to work for companies that have insightful, forward-thinking leadership that appreciate and recognize public relations as an important tool of communication.

But still the fact remains that many CEOs do not give much impetus to their PR people. With the global meltdown encompassing the entire economy, businesses decided to cut costs and the first ones to come under hammer were advertising, marketing and along with them even Public Relations. Only few corporates realize the importance of public relations in the times of financial crisis.

And why is that? If Edward Bernays, the “Father of Modern Public Relations,” was alive today, he might say it is because there is no required certification for public relations practitioners, unlike lawyers, doctors and other well respected professionals. Technically, anyone can practice PR and do, from call center executives to anyone who thinks for himself that he is a good communicator, people are “committing PR without a license.”

Part of the problem is, so many people don’t know what public relations truly is. If you go by how PR people are portrayed in TV and movies, you’d think PR is the practice of putting “positive spin” over negative doings, is without ethics and typically the province of marginal human beings who leave a slime trail behind them when they walk. Our very own Bollywood movies depict the similar picture, the recent one being ‘Laga Chunari Mein Daag’ in which Rani Mukherjee calls herself a PR professional, while playing a character of an escort. On the other hand a Hollywood movie HANCOCK, which at least offered a somewhat more sensitive and realistic depiction with Jason Bateman playing a PR man who takes bad guy superhero Hancock under his wing to improve his image, inside and out.

In the days of bloom, you’d see job openings in the newspapers for “public relations executives” that were nothing more than tele-marketing. PR seems to be one of those professions where people with ZERO experience in the field think they can just “wing,” right off the street. I recall few months back I had met a PR executive who was earlier, a telephone operator in one of the accountancy firm. I mean, does anyone walk into a hospital and say, “I think I’ll be a doctor today! Yeah, wanna give this whole surgery thing a whirl!”

So, are we fighting ignorance and stereotypes? Still, nothing sells like experience. It really doesn’t matter what profession you are in, corporate management isn’t going to put much faith in you until you prove you can pull your weight. You get the CEO on the cover of a widely circulated business magazine, you make a suggestion that helps keep your company out of a major media mess, your stock will rise, and sharp execs and VPs WILL listen.

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