A weekend of PR & Conversations

28 Nov,2012

The core organising committee and volunteers of PRAXIS 2012


By Vrinda Jhawar, Richa Gaikwad, Barkha Kaul and Priyanka Agarwal

Students of Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication


PRAXIS 2012, the inaugural public relations and corporate communications summit organised by the Promise Foundation, took place last week (November 23-24) in Pondicherry. The summit saw senior, mid-level and junior members from the public relations and corporate communications community in attendance.*


The summit began with an address by Robert Holdheim, Managing Director, Edelman India who asked the audience to, “Lead a change, take risks and push the boundaries”. He said that the PR industry lacked quantity and training of professionals rather than the quality of talent of the professionals. He concluded by saying, “Stop thinking about just a piece of a pie, but look at the large picture as a whole.”


Following his speech was a special address by J.V.Vil’anilam, former vice-chancellor of the University of Kerala and author of Public Relations in India, who asked, “Why is our activity not getting the importance that it deserves?” He said that in India corporate leaders do not consider PR as a management function and in order to put public relations on a big pedestal, higher attention on social responsibility has to be given.


He also highlighted that PR had the power to raise the spirit of living by making people aware of what is happening around them. It is important for nation-building and development of a company. The only way that PR can be given its due importance is by reorienting it with a social purpose. Later, Sukanti Ghosh, Managing Director- India at APCO Worldwide


The next session was addressed by Deirdre Breakenridge, author of ‘PR 2.0’, ‘Putting the Public back into Public Relations’ etc. She enlightened the audiences with eight useful new social media tools for the PR professionals. “PR has expanded”, she said, adding, “the PR professional has to become a hybrid professional who embraces social and traditional media.” She talked about tools and techniques like Snapshot, Ripples amongst others that are increasingly being used in the digital space. “A PR Professional has to be a Master of metrics, both quantitative and qualitative,” she said as she interacted with the audiences, revealing interesting insights of how one has to be a pre-crisis doctor and be ready with a communication response charts at any given time. The session concluded with a Q&A session moderated by journalist and author Anant Rangaswami


The third session was a Special Session on ‘Storytelling’ by bestselling novelists Anita Nair and Ashwin Sanghi which was moderated by Amrita Ganguly-Salian. The session discussed the link between storytelling and Public Relations.


Anita Nair is best known for her books like The Better Man and Ladies Coupe. Ashwin Sanghi has written novels like The Rozabal Line, the award winning Chanakya’s Chant and TheKrishnaKey. Anita Nair’s style of writing is fictional and descriptive in nature whereas Ashwin Sanghi’s writing is thriller fiction. Hence, the two styles of storytelling portrayed different insights for the discussion.


This discussion started with how to keep the momentum of writing going. Ms Nair said: “While writing there is no brief, there is always an idea that stays there, germinates, takes shape and then demands to be the written.” Said Mr Sanghi: “If your story is strong enough, it propels you to finish the story. Keeping a ‘Black Book’ of good ideas helps you to structure your story in the desired direction.”


To keep the creative flow while writing, Mr Nair said that one must possess an inbuilt discipline. “Reading another piece of good writing can be used as inspiration and as a trigger for your thought process,” she suggested, adding, “You must know your story and character well enough and then your story will flow. Try to create a plot within a plotting your piece” to structure a press release for its optimum and effective impact


According to Mr Sanghi, a good piece of writing “must contain a great opening, a great middle and a great end.” He continued to say that you must use your words wisely, keep taking feedback at different stages and that it’s important to think how the reader thinks. While Ms Nair said that the character is what stays with the reader, Mr Sanghi said that the plot sticks with the reader. In terms of media, while writing you must think about your client and media houses as your audience, trying to position yourself as the end user will help you in delivering the piece right.


The last session of the day was, on creativity in PR and why “The whole business of creation… cannot be explained by science”, with experts such as Prema Sagar from Genesis Burson-Marsteller, Robert Holdheim from Edelman Public Relations, Shwetha Shukla from P&G, Deepa Dey from Airtel with Arun Sudhaman from The Holmes Report as the moderator of the discussion.


Mr Sudhaman started off the discussion by providing statistics stating that creativity in Public Relations in India is average and lower than ordinary. “It lacks creative objectives, knowledge of creative tools and creative direction,” he said. Mr Holdheim opined, “There is a high potential, possibility to create creative strategies but it lacks opportunities.” He said that communication is separate from marketing but integrating marketing and corporate communication can help creativity.


Ms Sagar said that “conviction is important for creativity”.  Said Ms Dey, “There are ideas but it lacks execution and hence the creativity in PR is blamed.”  Ms Shukla of P&G stated, “It is important to ground the ideas in the customer expectations and from there growing that idea.” She also spoke about the DISS model followed in P&G used in evaluating ideas that measures if the idea is Insightful, Disruptive, Sharable and whether it is Sustainable. She believes that taking risks in creativity generates fantastic results.


The first day culminated on a musical note with a live performance by Swarathma.


The second day of the Conference began with a panel discussion on, “The Barcelona Principles and their impact on evaluating campaigns” with Meenu Handa, Microsoft; Sunayna Malik, Text 100; Jaideep Shergill, MSL India; Paresh Chaudhry, Madison Public Relations with Aseem Sood of Impact Research & Measurement as moderator.


The discussion revolved around what is the best way to measure a PR Campaign. The panelists debated about the validity of Barcelona Principles in the Indian context. One of the panelists believed that all PR firms should have people from proper research background to deal with the measurement problem. The third panel discussion was about the scope for ethics in a cut-throat world. The panel members who shared their insights on the topic included: Sabiana Anandaraj, Aircel; Yusuf Hatia, Fleishman Hillard; Senjam Rajsekhar,Vedanta; Dhrubajyoti Gayan, Candour and Garima Varma, GE. Nitin Mantri of Avian Media was moderator.


Ms Anandaraj spoke about how PR professionals should define their work territory. She said, “There is a need that PR professionals educate their clients about what is possible for them and what is not.” She also emphasized on the fact that the management and leadership goals should be well-defined in an organization. Talking on the same lines, Ms Varma said, “Ethics make things simpler; there should always be a match between personal value system and the value system followed by a company.” When questioned, “With so many anti-corruption movements coming up and government trying to over-regulate things, is over-regulation a solution or self-regulation would help?” She replied, “Beyond a point government cannot help and therefore, first comes the self code of conduct and then the rest follows,” as co-panelists concurred.


The next session was in the form of an Emerging Leaders Roundtable led by PRAXIS 2012 co-chair Shane Jacob wherein the panel of young leaders on the power of Youth in enhancing the profession included Vikram Kharvi; Swetank Jain; Future Group; Tarunjeet Ratan, Amrita Pai and Tarun Nagrani from Edelman. Mr Kharvi showed his concern about the recognition being one of the main problems in the PR industry. He said that it is very important to have role models in any profession because they act as brand ambassadors. He added, “Not having role models is also a reason for low recognition of the industry as a whole.” He also spoke about the need of grooming the new entrants in the field and opined that PR professionals should help colleges in designing a curriculum, which is industry-relevant.


Speaking on the topic Age v/s Ability, Mr Jain said, “Youngsters should be empowered to take decisions”. He then narrated his personal experience on how he lost on an opportunity because of being too young to be chosen for a profile in a company where everybody was way older to him.


The next speaker was Ms Ratan, who said: “PR professionals have to respect their profession first, youth will follow.” Talking about professionalism in PR, she said that there is a need to create, maintain and sustain a PR program for the PR industry.


Ms Pai had a view that both agency and corporate have to work with clients, agency works with different companies as clients and corporate work with different departments who are like clients. Answering some of the questions during the discussion she also brought in light the changing needs of youth who are entering this field. She said that youth is performance- driven; things should be made more interesting and relevant for them.


Lastly, Mr Nagrani said, “Professionals should give youth different challenges to handle and to think differently.”He agreed with Mr Kharvi on certain points and spoke about the need of superstars in PR and how can that be done. He cited the example of facemash and facebook to explain how PR has to come up with socially relevant campaigns or else it will be side- tracked. He showed his concern about the controversy term which has stuck to PR.


Post Lunch, it started off with a presentation on content creation by Aruna, The Content Company. She highlighted the fact that people have a limited mindset about the meaning of content. She believes that you should always challenge your thinking, content gives voice to the brand and makes it talk.


The last panel discussion for the day and the conference was on the topic, “Our Time Is Now: Evolution of Public Relations inIndiato carve a niche of its own”. The eminent participants were- Madan Bahal, Adfactors; Chandan Chatterjee, SIMC; Madhuri Sen, Waggener Edstrom and Radhika Shapoorjee, IPAN H&K Strategies with Pradyuman Maheshwari, MxMIndia as moderator.


Mr Bahal started off the discussion with his points supporting the topic that our time is now. He said that so many PR professionals participating in PRAXIS 2012 is a proof of the changing times in itself. He added saying that the changing educational scenario is again a positive sign for the industry. The Demand for accountability, which can be seen in the form of campaigns run by Anna Hazare and Kejriwal are surely going to bring about a revolution. Also, he emphasized on the fact that demand was never a problem; the main problem is supply so it is up to us. Lastly, Mr Bahl said that the problems internal to the PR industry should be solved.


Quoting some of the great visionaries like Edward De Bono and Rabindranath Tagore, Ms Shapoorjee said, “In the 21st century, leaders are the people who are going to construct.”


She brought out great insights based on Rabindranath Tagore’s poem, where in belief; knowledge; vision and purpose, thought and action; are the main pillars of growth. According to her, corporate governance, managing risks and CSR are the three main drivers for tomorrow’s reputation. She also talked about the importance of co-creation and collaboration.


Sharing her industry experience, Ms Sen said that PR is about earned influence Vs buying control. Lastly, Professor Chatterjee who was representing the academician’s fraternity emphasized on the need of partnering with the PR professionals which would benefit both the parties. He said that on one hand , this would help in nurturing the growing talent in the industry and on the other PR industry will get better skilled people.


*Disclosure: MxMIndia was media partner of PRAXIS 2012


Photographs courtesy PRAXIS 2012 organisers


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