‘Spin doctors’ is what many think a public relations consultant is. I was quite flummoxed when I realised that that is how many perceived public relations or PR consultants to be! “So you are in the business of creating news, huh?”; “You create news when there is none?” …”You make sinking organisations look nice?” Of course, the most common understanding of PR is getting covered in print and judging the efficiency of the agency in terms of per column centimetre coverage in print!
So, is that all that a public relations consultant does? Surely not. Public relations has been slow in evolution and needs some definitions beyond creating corporate images. I define PR as the art of communicating with the masses and formulating a scientific approach to reach out to the target audience, to enable the public to have a better understanding of an organisation’s objectives and intentions, thereby building a favourable image.
Public relations is not just about media relations; it is not just about getting coverage in print, electronic media, etc. It is about ‘communications’, and any professional who wishes to be a part of the PR industry should be able to understand the nuances of communicating with various groups of people catering to heterogeneous mass-scapes. It has to be more than media relations, a smooth blend of various ways of communicating with your target audience.
One has to understand the fabric of heterogeneity in our country. At a time when media is at its pluralist best, it’s easy to get entrapped in the battle for ink and bytes and summarise PR as getting every bit of both. It is imperative for clients and those aspiring to engage public relations as a viable tool to realise that one should not get limited to target audiences, which is what defines the route of PR to be taken most time.
As a student of ‘Communication Studies’, one is exposed to many alternate ways of communicating with the masses, such as street plays, posters, handouts, lectures and photography. The objective is to make a wholesome communication package. At the end of the day, all that matters is to get across to that one consumer, listener, reader, customer, stakeholder, etc. Target audiences can never be homogenous, but the way we communicate needs to be customised to each and everyone in the audience.
PR has evolved to a level where agencies today offer much more than column centimetre coverage. There is a whole gamut on the platter that is dished out to the client: issues management, crisis communications, investor relations, corporate social responsibility, brand communications, corporate communication, healthcare relations, etc. The PR consultant has to know how to synergise, how to create that perfect message. Public relations has evolved as an industry, but the perception of PR hasn’t undergone much change. There is a bigger need today to make the obvious known, that PR is beyond press conferences and press releases – it is about bringing together the basics of effective communication and merging media and non-media activities to be heard and get noticed. It is always a pleasure to work with clients who have understood the benefits of communicating with their audiences at the right time and in the right manner; clients who give PR consultants the upper hand to judge what is best suited to reach out to their consumer and take decisions on the channel of communication to be adopted, be it media or non-media.
It is heartening when the client says, “I am not looking at print, electronic or online media to make my presence known; I want to reach out to him directly…can you help me do that? Can you help me get a sustained communication blanket where I do not have to over sell myself? Give me an integrated communication plan.”
That is good news for the industry, but there is still a long way to go for this perception to gain maturity. Just as a healthy corporate image matures over time, so also PR is brewing slowly. But that can be heightened with some orientation. May be the industry needs to think collectively about presenting public relations as an integrated communications module with an understanding of socio-economic cultures, importance of messages in various cultures, a deeper understanding of exploiting various forms of media, and formulating a scientific approach to reach out to the masses rather than just a flash in the pan publicity.
No, we are not spin doctors, we do not create news out of nothing. We understand the five Ws and one H of a communication model and know how to tune audiences into the same stream of thoughts to perceive our clients better. PR, like I said, is the art of communication with a scientific approach.
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