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Unleashing The Power of Public Relations

By Nandita Lakshmanan, Founder and CEO, The PRactice Porter Novelli

Nandita Lakshmanan believes the public relations industry in India is at a turning point. In order to truly thrive it will have to concentrate more on building stakeholder relationships, developing talent and sharing best practice.

A recent participation in an event organised by PRCAI (The Public Relations Consultants Association of India) was revelatory – in a most satisfying way.

The theme, From Mass Markets to Markets of One – The Changing Role of Public Relations, indicated that there was a growing need amongst both participants and the audience to go beyond media relations, which had over the last decade successfully, but unfortunately, shrunk the definition of public relations.

Has the Public Relations industry in India grown over the last decade? If we go by the classical definition of growth – in terms of increased volume of business, PR firms and professionals, so-called public relations firms mushrooming in the non-metro cities of India, public relations being taught in more management and mass communication institutes, upward trend in revenues; the answer is undeniably in the affirmative.

The last decade has seen the emergence of an ecosystem for the Public Relations Industry in India. Limited it may be and the quality yet to be determined, but it is a positive sign nonetheless. The industry, which has so far survived they DIY route, must work towards strengthening the ecosystem by enhancing its interdependability. This calls for trust, confidence building, focus on quality and delivery, and the need to address pain points of the industry.

Transparency and sharing of best practices is an imperative. The larger, more established players must take a lead at this stage and provide the fillip to an industry that is clearly at an inflection point.

Outsourcing Puts India On The Map
The economic liberalisation program launched almost 15 years ago also marked the rise of public relations firms in India. The country has moved consistently in this direction, albeit a little slowly, leading to an integration into the world economy. Global trends such as outsourcing has put India on the global map. A rising middle class, the world’s largest democracy with over 50% of its population in the age group of 25 – 35 years, consistent economic growth rate at 7-8% per annum are indicators of India emerging as an economic force to reckon with.

There is another big story that India will unveil to the world in the coming decades – that of economic and social development in rural India. Corporate India will be a key protagonist in bridging the rural-urban divide and in the process will face a host of challenges and opportunities.

In this scenario, it would be myopic for communication professionals to follow or practice just a limited definition of public relations. Here is an opportunity for the true meaning of public relations to be brought out and its power unleashed. With everyone waxing eloquent about measurement of PR campaigns, engaging in media relations alone will spell doom for our industry and the best of intentions will be brushed away as failure by the industry.

Stakeholder Relationships
In a complex scenario where the socio-political-economic state of a nation is at an inflection point, any industry that does not respond to these changes will go downhill. In India, there is a slow but sure recognition that where communication is concerned, public relations is best poised to address the challenges that are offered by the existing and future landscape. This is because Public Relations is about analysing, understanding, addressing and strengthening stakeholder relationships. The sooner we start believing that and acting on this unique opportunity, the better it would be for us as practitioners and as an industry.

This takes us to the next challenge – that of having the right talent to leverage the opportunities, where mediocrity will have little place. India, with its seemingly huge employable population, may appear to have the answer to this. This is where a mature ecosystem will play a critical role.

The key is, however, a transparent industry making advancements in a focused manner with high standards of ethics and credibility as its foundation. Organisations like PRCAI will play a key role in defining the way forward and exposing the industry to global best practices and standards with the introduction of CMS (Consultancy Management Standards) etc.

As we integrate with the world economy, there must be a parallel move for PR practitioners to integrate into the global communication landscape. The concept of a “shrinking world” may be a cliché to many, but to the visionaries, it is the ticket to creating history!

Author’s Details
Nandita Lakshmanan is the Founder and CEO of The PRactice Porter Novelli. She is also the Vice President of PRCAI.