Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Public Relations we see today...

The Public Relations scenario we see today is a result of many changes in the economic conditions in the country in the 1970s and later in the 1990's.In 1970s the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi endorsed public relations as a vital function in management.This gave a major boost to this profession and changed it's status to a better one than before.As we all know the 1990s brought about some important changes in the economic policies in India.Our closed socialist thinking was forced to come in contact with the forces of liberalisation and globalisation.India was soon to become a mecca for multinationals coming and doing business here as never before and soon Indian businesses also moving abroad for greener pastures.

Public Relations as a profession became very crucial to companies as they started regarding it as a key managment function.The negative image of a PRO being 'fixers' reduced but still had its traces, especially in the public sector.The public relations manager became part of strategic decision makings of a company.The job of public relations officers moved to becoming image makers than mere guest relations officers.Though ofcourse there was not much formal education in public relations in the 1990s still the importance of a PR professional having command on his/her communication skills and writing skills became a top priority.Many PR agencies sprung up which were keen on offering public relations services to companies.

The change in the economic scenario and acceptance of this profession in the social and political and business scenario helped this profession grow as we see today.The media too started taking the public relations practitioners a little more seriously.When it comes to communicating crisis or any other important company announcement, the media knows they can approach a PR professional attached to the company.

Though ofcourse even today we see that advertising is given a little more importance than public relations when it comes to making budgets avaliable for each of these functions by companies, but slowly this scenario will change as more and more public relations professionals enter this profession with adequate training and formal education, which is now avaliable. They will make their clients realise the importance of this profession and its slow yet promising positive effect on images of not only companies but governments, politicians and celebrities.The last 10 years have seen reform in the education sector with respect to this profession and there is growth in diplomas, undergraduate degrees and post-graduate degree programs in India which offers formal education to candidates keen on pursuing this profession.

We are at a very nascent stage when it comes to doing public relations in India.We have to go a long way combining professional expertise and a sound academic background which will help us offer public relations services better.

What do you think?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Growth of Public Relations in India

The growth of public relations in India can actually be seen at different stages.During the first World War (1914-1918), British government in India set up a Central Publicity Board. This was the first organised PR/Information set-up of the Government of India. It was later called the Central Bureau of Information, which later changed to the Bureau of Public Information, and functioned as a link between the Government and the Press.The government had started realising that a set up was needed to know what the media thought and wrote about them. Soon after Independence (1947), the government of India set up a full-fledged Ministry of Information and Broadcasting.

A systematic and organised practise of public relations began with the Indian railways much before we attained independance.The Great Indian Peninsular (GIP) Railways as it was known then, for example, carried on a campaign in England in the 20s to attract tourists to India.The importance of public relations was known to the British and they made well use of it.

It was not only the government but slowly the private sector in India also woke up to the need of public relations. Tata’s set up their Public Relations Department in Mumbai in 1943.There were other companies too such as Dunlop,Unilever and others which did many public outreach activities.Infact the Tatas also came with a course on public relations in 1958.All this explaining the rising value of this profession.

But majorly the profession has seen traces of the public sector on it as it grew.There is a strong reason behind this.When India gained her independance in 1947, the pro-socialist leaders then had a vision of a economically and socially strong India. One of the means was setting up of Public Sector Undertakings(PSUs) in various sectors, among many other things.Most of the early Public Relations practitioners started off their careers in these companies belonging to sectors such as oil, gas, steel, transportation, banking and insurance.

You may want to know why public relations in a PSU was considered important to begin with.The reason is that a PSU is accountable to the people as they are funded by tax payers. The goverment holds majority shares in the undertaking and its profits are used for various development projects for the nation.As these units were accountable to the people, a public relations department in the company was a must who could communicate on behalf of the company with the media and its audiences.

It was a total different picture when it came to the private sector.They were under no pressure to be accountable to the publics as no competition troubled them and the protectionist era in which India post independance, kept them much to themselves.Profit was considered a dirty word and thus revealing it was out of question.As also they faced no competition there was no need to build any rapport with publics. This was India post independance and much the same in the 60's to almost the 70's.

If you were a public relations officer in that time these were your job responsibilties (without any professional training). You were mainly a 'fixer' who could achieve any objectives beneficial for the company through wining and dining.You were moslty a retired bureaucrat or an old family retainer managing company communications. You would be in charge of guest relations and of course publicity through press releases.Many ex-journalists were also the public relations officers of that time. A trend seen even today.Hospitality relations (which is how the personal influence model of public relations is used and will be discussed later) and producing house journals was also part of your other responsibilities.Public relations activities were not based on research or were part of any strategic decision.

In the 1980s, there were small time firms offereing PR services to companies.Advertising agnecies started offering public relations activities free as part of their advertising services to their clients.Some of the well-known pioneering PR agencies of that time were those who had independent operations or had entered into affiliations with international public relations agencies such as Hill & Knowlton (Indian Public Affairs Network, New Delhi) and Burson-Marstellar Roger Pereira Communications Private Limited (Mumbai).

Initially in the 1970s and much later in the 1990s a much awaited change took place ,which gave a major boost to the profession of PR. (to be continued...)