MxM Monday: Has the role of PR diminished?

24 Sep,2012


By Ananya Saha

It’s a trend that’s not going unnoticed. Increasingly, companies prefer to be socially more active than depend on good PR. Journalists prefer to reach out directly to the spokesperson, bypassing the PR altogether. And given that every company, well almost, has a corporate communication department, the PR agency role appears to have  diminished. But has it really? Has the PR role limited itself to preparing documents and slot meetings? Or is it that the PR role has now evolved and moved beyond just that of a ‘postman’, thanks to the way media itself is changing? The issue that we are discussing on MxM Mondays today is:  has the role of PR diminished?

We spoke to a cross-section of industrypersons for their (in alphabetical order of their last names) and added our own:


Hemant Kenkre

Hemant Kenkre, VP, LinOpinion

PR has evolved tremendously social media. Both the sectors are increasingly cross-pollinating, which has grown beyond the traditional media relationship. The brand uses both the mediums: PR and media, to amplify the message. Media is the biggest tool that PR uses since the messaging has to go out. And hence, PR and media share a symbiotic relationship. PR needs to work with the media, and media need to work with PR to get across to the information they need.


The most well-known brands rely solely on PR to get their message across. PR played the biggest role if you look at the brands that have been built over time. PR is not only the biggest tool, it is the most critical tool too.


Prema Sagar

Prema Sagar, Principal and Founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller

Society, Government, Corporations, Consultants, Media – all, need and depend on each other. So therefore, in this case too, Media, Corporations and other Stakeholders have to necessarily work together.


Companies have small teams to manage external communications as a function. They need national reach – including new markets that go beyond metros. The mediascape is complex with different languages, sensitivities and expectations. Therefore the Public Relations industry is thriving.


Genesis Burson-Marsteller and some other firms are known for developing the Message and the Campaign Plans that they create for the client. This is critical to building the Reputation of a client. The experience of working with several organisations, gives the public relations professionals the width and depth to develop a strategy that has insights and expertise. Public Relations firms today have domain expertise and multiple services that go beyond public relations – public affairs, advocacy, corporate responsibility, financial communication, digital and content creation – while others are a pure play media relations.


Journalists reach out to us and a great relationship develops while managing communications during issues and crisis for our clients. In fact, most often, one develops a great working relationship between the journalist and ourselves during such a time.


We have no issues about relevant journalists and CXOs from client organisations engaging directly. For us, the larger role of discussing and developing Thought Leadership platforms with publications, co-creating story ideas and participating in significant events – is the value we bring to clients. Innumerable journalists reach out to us for interviews, story ideas and industry issue-led discussions with clients. This is our role.


If your question was the reverse – ‘Can PR function without Media?’ – No! Even though online and social media is taking over. So we have to stay focused on providing value to our clients and the media.


Deeptie Sethi

Deeptie Sethi, Head of Corporate Communications at Ford India

No. Media cannot function without well informed PR. To build brands more and more companies are relaying increasingly on public relations and the function is critical to contribute and be part of the success of the business. The PR industry has significantly evolved and people who are serious about the business of PR understand the value this can bring to a brand. PR companies are no longer considered a ‘post-office’ service to disseminate company information. They have to be engaged deeply with the brand and its philosophy to define how, when and where to communicate with consumers with the power of relationships, understanding of media platform that are measurable. In today’s evolved environment, PR has a more conclusive role to perform.


At Ford India, the Communications plans are integrated with the marketing plans to create a holistic approach to deliver a more compelling and consistent story telling. We truly understand the power of one plan and a good example of that is Ford Figo’s exemplary launch in India. Much before the car was launched, our PR strategies kicked in to create brand awareness and essentially single-handedly drove the buzz for close to two years in the pre launch phase and marketing complemented when the product was available for retail – our booking were in tune of 10,000 units in the first month of launch itself.


When it comes to social media, it’s a platform for engagement and listening – and more importantly to get feedback real time! The conversations are already happening and it’s up to a company if they want to participate in them or not. Both social and PR mediums have their own identities and have a role to play in shaping communication strategies. One has to define what each of them will achieve for the company and tread carefully to keep the distinction.



Jaideep Shergill

Jaideep Shergill, CEO, Hanmer MSL

The media and public relations (PR) enjoy a strange relationship – deeply symbiotic, yet edgy. Depending on which side you stand, you would think that PR is an invaluable source of information and access or that it’s little more than a mouthpiece for brands.


The digital age is changing the way consumers interact with the media and brands. Round-the-clock news, the internet and social media have created an aware and empowered consumer. This has, in turn, changed the relationship between the media and PR professionals.


When you analyse the relationship, it’s important to remember that media relations is only a subset, not PR as a whole. Hence, while connecting with the media is important, establishing a solid relationship with the consumer is vital. In so many cases, traditional media do not figure in a PR plan at all.


PR is about understanding and shaping your stakeholders’ perception of the brand. These stakeholders include consumers, employees, vendors, government and the community, not just the media.


In the past, a well-thought-out media relations campaign was considered the best way to achieve the PR objective. However, the internet has changed the rules. We can now reach out across borders to spark the connections a brand needs, bypassing traditional media altogether. Now, when we think of media, we include social media influencers, bloggers, YouTube, podcasters, etc.


All this means that PR is getting less dependent on the media, but it also means that the media doesn’t always need PR to get information or for access to the relevant people for their stories.


However, it would be a mistake to think that the relationship is dying or is being scaled down. PR firms are managing the information flow from businesses to the outside world, which in turn is being tapped by the media. Also, strong big-picture PR campaigns are often the first level of engagement for the media. Websites, blogs, electronic newsletters, etc, are becoming important media touchpoints, and they’re being managed by PR professionals. All this is vital to the media looking for news, resources and data.


So, can the media do without PR? In my opinion, no!



Pradyuman Maheshwari

Pradyuman Maheshwari, Editor-in-Chief, MxMIndia

Can PR function without the media? And can the media function without PR? The answer to this question could’ve been in the negative, but for the various things technology has facilitated in the last decade, and especially in the last 18-odd months.


By PR, my reference is to an organized public relations activity in an organization or outside of it, via a specialized consulting firm. There are several individuals and organizations continuing to reach out to the media without a designated PR manager or agency. Some of these have been doing fantastically well, but my sense is that it’s the scale of operations which eventually decides whether there is a need of a specialized resource, or if it can be managed without one.


Mind you ,there are enough on people on both sides of the fence who would rather not do with each other. For, the fact is that there is enough disdain for the PR-persons from journalists and vice versa. So while the relationship ought to be that of an ally, it’s often of an adversary. Sad.


I must confess that there are enough rotten apples out there. Journalists who just don’t take calls or play too hard to get.  And PR honchos and executives who don’t really do their homework well (on the journalist or the client/industry s/he is dealing with) or, like journalists, are just not available when they are needed the most. Adding to these issues are assorted forms of corruption, dishonesty and inefficiency.


Thankfully, technology has been an equalizer. PR newswires aren’t as ‘hot’ in India as they are elsewhere in the world, but it’s possible to bypass a PR official to get information. And, yes, journalists are not necessarily the only people who are sought after PR professionals. Bloggers, regular tweeters and even regular Facebookers are aggressively sought after by corporates, celebrities and PR agencies.


In fact, there are many organizations – especially in the technology and lifestyle space – who reach out to bloggers (and now even ‘tweeters’) ahead of traditional media in the PR exercise. So while the process has gotten more complex in the sense there are more people to reach out to in multiple media, the mainstream print, electronic and digital media entities aren’t the only vehicles available for publicity. In fact I have often heard murmurs of discontent amongst some journalists on how the social media and blogs were being given preferential treatment by tech biggies for sneak peeks to products and access to top management.


However, even though there is simmering between the two sides of the fence, I don’t see either side doing without the other.  Not in the near future in India at least. The human interface of a specialist will not fade away in a hurry.


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One response to “MxM Monday: Has the role of PR diminished?”

  1. Dale Bhagwagar says:

    We are living in a world where perception is reality. And this article too is all about perception:p Lol. Btw, If PRs are being bypassed and spokespersons are contacted directly, then the PR could double up as the spokesperson for their clients. Simple. I have done that from the last few years.