For PR, with love… in Jaipur & Pondicherry

26 Sep,2012


By Johnson Napier


For all the publicity and attention that follows a product launch or an event or any image-enhancing exercise, experts would tell you that behind all the glam and glory is the hard work and toil put in by a team whose only aim is a good result.


But those that run the show also know that it is not just about satisfying the client or ensuring profitable ROI. In fact there is a larger agenda that confronts agencies like being prepared to face unforeseen challenges or being ready with a vision to convert unrealistic dreams into reality… more importantly, it is about the team being ready to be able to put up with everything and anything that gets thrown across at them. Public Relations (PR) agencies realize the need to fulfill this aspect of the business and that’s why the enhanced emphasis on providing adequate training and exposure on a constant basis.


This November, the “training”, “exposure” and “upcoming trends” facets concerning the PR and Communications space may well be fulfilled what with a plethora of initiatives being planned.


First up is the all-encompassing PRestival 2012 that’s being planned on a grand scale at Jaipur. Being put together by the team at PR website Image Management, the festival emphasizes the need for a common platform to bring Asia’s communications community together for a constructive and productive purpose. Touted to be the biggest such initiative in Asia, the event will witness PR and communications professionals from across 12 countries in South and South East Asia, including India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Philippines etc troop down to be a part of the conclave. What makes it appealing is that the event has partnered with a number of key industry bodies, including the Asia Business Communication Association (ABCA) – one of China’s biggest PR associations, the Public Relations Consultants Associations of India (PRCAI), the Association of Business Consultants of India (ABCI), the Public Relations Global Network (PRGN) and the Public Relations Organisation International (PROI).


Following PRestival 2012 would be PRAXIS 2012 that’s being put together by The PRomise Foundation for Public Relations. Being promoted as ‘India’s first weekend summit for Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals’, the event will be held at Le Pondy in Pondicherry on November 23 and 24. The summit aims to bring together students, professionals: young & mid-level and veterans of the PR business under one roof to discuss various aspects that impact the profession. (Disclosure: MxMIndia is a media partner of PRAXIS 2012)


Elaborating on the need for hosting PRestival 2012 at Jaipur, Kunal Pal of Image Management & Project Manager of PRestival 2012 said: “In my many interactions with PR industry leaders, something that has repeatedly come up is the need for an industry event which can balance learning and fun. Backed by this encouragement, PRestival was conceptualized and the idea is to celebrate the PR/Communications industry while bringing together professionals and students from across Asia in a collaborative, festive environment. Like most conferences, PRestival will showcase industry leaders in interactive panel discussions and speeches, but the core emphasis remains promoting learning, networking, and fun for all our delegates – from CEOs to students.”


A somewhat similar effort is being put in by founders of PRAXIS 2012. Amith Prabhu, a public relations professional and part of a group of young Indian professionals who  have created The PRomise Foundation elaborated agreeing that “there is definite need to have a forum where individual practitioners working in PR firms or corporate communications departments can become members and come together to exchange ideas and share experiences. The Indian PR community has grown rapidly and with almost every Top 10 global PR consultancy having an India presence the need for events that bring professionals together is a much needed one. A start needs to be made and we have made a small start.”


Amith Prabhu

On the differentiation being taken in terms of PRAXIS being a weekend event, Amith Prabhu had the following rationale to share: “I worked in India for eight years and have never seen a single weekend event where PR professionals come together as a community to celebrate the profession, break bread together and learn from each other. There have been attempts by some organisations to offer such events but not in the form of an offsite where busy people can leave their work behind for a day or two, which is what we are offering. We need at least 2-3 such events annually as the PR consultancy business is growing.”


And it’s not just the organizers who are excited about partaking in these events. The industry too is excited to be throwing its weight behind such initiatives. Highlighting the role that such events play in pushing forward the cause of the industry, Nikhil Dey, President – Public Relations, Genesis Burson-Marsteller said: “We can all benefit from forums that integrate thoughts and ideas from all ages and experience levels. While there may have been a void in past years, that is changing as we speak with the launch of two fantastic events dedicated to bringing students and youth together with industry experts for an exchange of ideas, knowledge and experiences. Both promise to be extraordinary events that can serve as a launch for the continued exchange of ideas and best practices between the leaders of today and tomorrow.”


Sharif Rangnekar

Sharif Rangnekar, CEO and Director of Integral PR & President of PRCAI said: “There are far more platforms, conferences, workshops happening focused on our industry than ever before. The last quarter of this year will in fact see a PR Festival in Jaipur and a youth-focused event in Pondicherry being staged. In both cases, the PRCAI is extending as much support as it can as an industry body and is working closely with the organizers in the area of content.”


Nitin Mantri, CEO of Avian Media shared that it was important for PR professionals to engage with and participate in forums held by industry bodies. “I strongly feel PRCAI is one such body that can become a unifying force for the industry if everyone contributes to it. In fact, the PRCAI was formed as an initiative by a group of individuals and is currently the leading industry association. However, any initiative by individuals is also welcome and should be encouraged by all.”


Nikhil Dey

Addressing shortcomings

While hobnobbing and exchanging ideas and mantras would be the order of the day, these events would also focus on getting the youth acclimatized and set to face the challenges of tomorrow. This would be achieved by way of lending out training exercises and modules for all, especially the youth, to emulate. Emphasizing on the need for more training programmes, Mr Mantri said that “there was a need for training modules to be undertaken by professional bodies on a periodic basis that will enhance and upgrade the skills of available talent and make them more consistent in quality.” Adding further, Mantri opined that some of the institutes were still focused on providing theory-based curriculum. “While fundamentals are important, the emphasis on real time and on-ground learning should be equal or greater. This will help us hone better PR professionals and get them more excited about their careers,” he reasoned.


Adding his POV, Mr Dey highlighted how talent at both at the entry level and middle management was bright, young and energetic, and how they were able to multi-task and take on additional responsibilities with pride. “But they still need proper knowledge and experience to grow and improve, and this is why regular training is so important,” he added. Lending the formula practised at his own agency, Mr Dey shared, “At Genesis Burson-Marsteller, we have always fostered a robust learning and development (L&D) environment and recognize that today’s youth are tomorrow’s leaders. We created an L&D programme over ten years ago designed to address performance gaps and improvement opportunities at different levels. Also, one of our most successful programmes, aimed at entry-level team members, is called the Associate Learning Programme (ALP). After an intensive selection process, the chosen associates are put into a one-year programme which combines all three forms of learning: classroom sessions on professional and behavioral skills; coaching by the mentor while on-the-job; and self-development through reading, sharing and counseling. Associates graduate from this programme as well-rounded professionals who are ready to deliver in a knowledge-based environment.”


Sharing his thoughts, Mr Rangnekar said that while training and a re-alignment of courses held by various institutions with market requirements, is a necessity, “PR does call for individuals to have that spirit and instinct to enjoy people not just to get along with but also their behaviour, characteristics, consumption patterns and the variety of emotions that everyone goes through.”


For Mr Prabhu, the three key areas essential for training the youth of today include a) Writing and storytelling skills which comes from practice b) Social media skills that come from embracing the medium fully c) And the last one is a combination of discipline and honesty which boils down to ethics which one needs to imbibe at an individual level. However, according to him, organizations need to instill that culture at all levels with ethics focused training and through leading by example.


Kunal Pal expressed, “As the role of a PR practitioner evolves, it is essential that the industry place a greater emphasis on training and supporting talent. Gone are the days when all it took to be a successful PR person were strong verbal and written communication skills. Today’s professionals need a wide range of skills and that is why, in part, talent scouting has become a much more evolved process in the industry and even universities are relooking at the kind of talent they produce. While we are making progress in this regard, there is still some way to go.”


So while the industry seems gung-ho about playing an integral part and supporting such conclaves, what it also needs is for all to show unity in the cause. Rather than have an individualistic or divided approach it would be great if the entire fraternity worked together in achieving a common goal: that of uplifting its own survival for the future. Going by the response that these two conclaves have managed to elicit so far it’s not hard to imagine why the above would not be a reality.


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