Amith Prabhu: Do you know who your biggest ambassador is?

17 Jun,2013

By Amith Prabhu


Over the last two weeks one witnessed two interesting happenings that would make for good Public Relations case studies. One took place in Mumbai and the other in Goa. While the former had low intensity coverage and most of it on Twitter and a handful of portals, the latter was making waves both as a trending topic and headline news for days together with national ramifications and reactions of great proportions. The two cases I’m referring to are what I would like to call the Forbes India Fiasco and the Modi Advani Drama. While I don’t want to take a position on both these events in this column I think there is lot to learn for students of reputation management.


For those who are unaware and can learn more here, the Forbes India parent company unceremoniously ousted its Founder Editor and along with him three other senior editorial leadership members. While who was right and who was wrong can be debated, on the face of it based on the facts publicly available it seemed another instance of management high handedness. But let’s move to the Public Relations handling of the episode. A reputed media organization like Network 18 could have handled the episode better by having an amicable settlement with transparent communications. There are several stakeholders involved. But key among these are viewers and readers of the various outlets that the group owns, fans of Forbes India and most importantly the employees at the magazine. One way of managing the situation would have been to use social media and the owned media to put out a statement that shared the facts of the case. The media outlets of the group have in the past commented on other conflicts especially among rival media houses. So this would have been a step in that direction. What is happening currently is stories trickling with periodic gaps that will certainly hamper the reputation of the Group brand in the short term. Though insiders may deny any brand damage since there may not be any metrics to prove that, the conversations on Twitter and Facebook as well as the three reports that have been doing the rounds puts the spotlight on unhealthy HR practices as well as corporate high handedness that are rarely spoken of. While both sides of the story will float someday some damage has been done.


The second incident I mentioned is about how the elevation of a regional leader to a national role (based on the mood of the party members) was managed without prior internal buy-in leading to a messy situation in the principal opposition party’s management, less than year away from elections. The UPA government has literally thrown away its chance to win a third consecutive term but the current situation in the NDA and especially its main constituent make it seem like the race is wide open. The bottom-line is that internal communication is key to any change.


It is time for organizations to realize that their biggest ambassadors are the employees or members and with them feeling negatively about the functioning there is no way the trickle-down effect of positivity will move to external stakeholders.


We, as PR professionals are part of organizations (in-house and as consultants to clients) that go through similar situations. Public Relations is not only about what is written in newspapers but a great deal about what goes on at the water cooler. If there is one thing we can learn from these two happenings it is as basic as communicate well internally to build strong external reputation.


Amith Prabhu is the founder of The PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS – the annual summit for PR & Corp Comm professionals in India. During the day he is a full time employee at a leading Public Relations firm in their Chicago office. He spent the first eight years of his post graduation career in India and is in the US for two years of which he has completed 18 months. Views expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent those of his past, present, future employer or of MxMIndia. You can connect with him on Twitter @amithpr


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