Why PR needs some PR soon

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By: Tinky Ningombam
 
Customer Executive: So Ma’am, please tell me your job-profile?

Me: Image Manager

Customer Executive: Which industry?

Me: Public Relations & Social Media

Customer Executive: err… is it Media ?

Me: ((Long sigh))… Yes, Media

In what I describe as an unfortunate state of miscommunication, in my long chat with a Customer Exec., who was filling out my registration, I was caught in the same predicament of trying to avoid the rather long and completely useless explanation on my part.

If there is one dilemma that all Public Relations professionals in India must have gone through in their lives, it is explaining “what they do” in a single line. Oh, how many PR professionals have toiled for years trying to come up with brief and lucid answers?

Many people do not know what PR people actually do besides journalists or Brand Managers or politicians (sic). There are times when we feel obliged to explain in detail how we work but most times, it is just plain annoying to try to make people understand, especially when you are just trying to cut the small social niceties short.

Older folks especially, people who were there before the dot.com era are harder to educate and harder to escape from, thereby landing ourselves in more and more agonizing questions. There are no convenient answers than lying blatantly or claiming to do what you don’t.

So when the oft-repeated yet ill-fated question comes up: “Tell me what is it that  you do?”

You pick from the most convenient answers and still end up perceived differently:

You say “Communications”, they think you are in the Call Centre, You say “Media”, they think you run around with a microphone and a camera-man, You say “its’ like Advertising”, they think ADVERTISING, of course, everyone knows what advertising is thanks to multi million dollars spends on the idiot box.

If you try to be true and say Public Relations, they go blank as paper. In my case, to make things worse, I work as a Digital PR Manager: which makes my job description more cryptic for the lay man. I work with Social Media for PR, coordinate with online journalists, run online campaigns, liase with online marketers for campaigns… and these are just few of my tasks. And it is not only the people who are not internet savvy that it is hard to explain (that’s out of the question in the first place), it is basically about 50% of the entire population in the country if you ask me, even some fellow PR practitioners.

Though more and more youngsters are getting a grip of what new media is about, there are still less enlightened and less eager group of people who fail to understand leave alone appreciate the work that we do. Every once in a while, some wise punk will come up and tell us “So, you work in Social Media? So you facebook?”  In situations like these, I follow better counsel and choose to ignore my inner urge to resort to acid sarcasm and most times just play along “Yes, I Facebook all day, it is definitely the easiest and coolest job ever, all you need to do is come up with posts and did I tell you that I get PAID A LOT?” That stops the couple more stupid questions. Kind reader, may I also add that I am not vitriolic towards genuinely ignorant people, however, plain cuckoo-ness is something that I do not encourage at any point of time.

On a serious note, I think the new media industry has to be the most flexible in terms of how people from marketing, sales, market research, media or PR can use it. Brand-building takes basically all these aspects to work in-sync. I have my own bias towards Social Media as more of a PR tool than anything else because in this more open and people-driven environment, it is not always advertising or marketing that works but rather it’s the power of one’s strong brand Image. And PR helps them to build that.

But coming back to what people’s perception about PR is… we know that even most brands managers or marketing folks see it more as a tool to get media coverage.  Of course that is a major aspect but PR is just not about “earned” media, it is also more about how we help brands to holistically mould its image. When PR professionals work on a brand, they try to project their most ideal image and then create the right environment for it either by the use of media or through various other corporate or creative programs. And it is high time as Forbes magazine says for the “PR industry to do their own PR in India” because most people associate it with spinning fake stories or trying to hide a company’s flaws and projecting only the good aspects. I believe the opposite is true because most people forget to project their good deeds and hire PR agencies when they land in an unfortunate crisis. And hence look at public relations as a short-term machinery to “handle” press and media stories.

Sadly a PR job profile is something that will still take a lot of advocating and defining for some years at-least.  I can only hope that we keep informing others about how we do wonderful work and the not-so wonderful work, that we encourage ample educating and pray that at-least I get better questions next time and not “An Image Manager you say? So you manage pictures?”

(“If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is – that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.” – S. H. Simmons )

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