India is still a very young and developing PR market as compared to the other developed economies in the world, brimming with a talent pool of fairly young professionals. About 40-50 thousand professionals work in this sector either in PR agencies or form a part of the internal communications team. The demand for PR professionals is increasing with every passing day as many foreign companies are looking at India as an important profit center and even domestic companies are now waking up to the importance of reputation and positive brand communications. Many international PR firms have made beeline into the country and domestic PR firms are expanding & growing or merging with international PR brand.
On the other hand, while there is demand for PR services in India, the reputation of the reputation management profession is heavily tarnished. It is not in the list of top 10 choicest professions for youngsters. Media do not respect PR pros and the feeling is mutual in most cases though both are vital to each other. Strategies do come out from the caps of top notch agency leads but die out before delivering any significant media visibility. Proactive PR is an ugly looking animal who we don’t even want to touch and are happy doing glorified post man’s job of conveying client initiatives to the media.
Have we ever wondered that, are we ready to take on the humongous growth that will soon enter India benefiting the Indian PR sector, will the clients trust us to manage their reputation or there will be a birth of new set of businesses who will walk away with opportunities meant for us, like it happened with Social Media business? The problem probably lies at the bottom of the pyramid – our own young trainees or junior executives who frontend the client and even the media.
I would like to know from the senior members of the team what training they actually offer to the new joinees.
- Do we do anything beyond an induction process, which can last from 1-2 days?
- How are they trained on gaining the understanding on the client and the sector the client operates in? Are there any internal checks on gaging their knowledge on the sector and the client?
- Do we teach them how to research or simply leave them to the God Google and assume that they will learn to work around with keywords
- Before pitching to the journalist are they trained enough to know the media; the journalist they are pitching to on what kind of stories they cover (not the beat but the journo’s focus of writing stories?)
- Do we invest enough time in helping them identify a story and train them how they create a theme out of the idea and pitch it appropriately to the appropriate journalists?
- Do we train them on identifying accurate target audience; understand the demographics of the diversified Indian market, and different consumer behavior across states?
I can safely say that only handful of agencies must be having some processes to address some or only few points mentioned above. The moment the trainee joins in, probably the first task given to them is to disseminate a press release and follow-up on the same. Three drastic damages can result from this
1) Before even starting the relationship with the media, the trainee in most cases spoils it and the perception stays in the particular journalist’s mind for the rest of his career as a joke.
2) The brand of the agency is miss represented and
3) Finally the spillover happens on the entire sector’s perception i.e. all PR guys are idiots.
Please don’t think that I am putting the entire blame on our youngsters, not at all, they are rarely at fault. It is the fault of the way we operate and do business, the way we choose talent and nurture them.
Let’s analyze why this happens:
- Agencies in most cases are under paid and hence the concept of dedicated resource, who will invest time in researching and ideation, is very rare.
- Every Account Manager (the most important link between the client and the agency) is over stressed, managing on average 3-4 accounts, which obviously leaves hardly any time for them to train their juniors. Also they themselves have been promoted to the position of an Account Manager after spending 3-4 years in the business without actually being trained on the fundamentals.
- People above Account Managers, most of the time are busy running behind new business and better opportunities.
- Everyone is only interested in one thing – COVERAGE, how you manage to get it is nobody’s problem
The problem may be even more deep rooted, lets mull over the following points
How are PR professionals recruited or brought into the system?
- Ex- Journalists – Why – because they seem to have nose for the news, can understand story opportunities and may have already some connections with the media. They typically join at a level of Sr. Account Executive or Manager. Majority of today’s senior PR pros have come from this route, most have been successful barring few, who could not manage the pressure of client servicing.
- The second group is of graduates, with some PR qualification – Diploma or the most recent Degree in Mass Communications. 40% of trainee to Sr. Executive level comprises of people coming through this route. It is here that the sector need to work together in enhancing the quality of talent
a. We all know what is taught at the PR institutes or mass communications courses is far different from what happens practically
b. Mass Communications Degree courses are not specifically designed for PR professionals, most join to enter Advertising or Journalism and very few are really interested in choosing PR as a profession.
c. Advertising is the most preferred option even if it offers lesser starting pay than the PR firms
d. Students who opt for PR have a very superficial understanding of the profession, which soon gets shattered immediately after they join work
e. The sector is not attractive enough for marketing management graduates, for the perceptions that exists in the outside world or probably because the sector cannot meet their expectations in terms of pay packets.
The point I am trying to bring forward is that we don’t get the cream of the talent for our sector and whatever we get, we let them rot and leave them to learn and earn on their own.
All this above in turn impacts the credibility of the sector. We are supposed to be the consultants for the clients and advise them on how he can improve and safeguard their reputation, but do we have professionals to meet the client’s expectations. We are consciously trapped in the vicious circle i.e. we cannot establish our importance and credibility and hence we cannot demand higher retainer fees, so we cannot afford better talent with aptitude and knowledge to understand consumers & market and hence lower level of client satisfaction.
And why are we not doing much to change the situation?
Because, we are comfortable with our typical “Chalta Hai” attitude. The business is running and is also growing thanks to the current economy. If few clients are unhappy, there are many who are living with it and few are not even concerned to know where their money is going. If few of them leave, new ones will come. Who really cares or should care other than the agency owners as each individual employee’s average tenure at the agency is maximum 3 years. So let it continue the way it is.
I know I have angered many and few may even agree but what happens with that? Will we change?
Share your views….
Reputation Management Consultant
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(An authoritative source on PR & social media scenario in India)