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...)