The Promise of Better PR at Praxis

12 Sep,2014

 

By Pradyuman Maheshwari

 

Not many moons ago, MxMIndia requested Amith Prabhu, earlier head of communications at Vivaki (Publicis Groupe) and then working at the Edelman office in Chicago to write an article on how Indian PR agencies had fared miserably at the Cannes Lions advertising awards. He then mooted the idea of a Lions-like conference for the PR industry, and even as we spoke with him to co-organise it, he had taken the lead with his friends to take things forward.

 

We stepped back and offered him all the possible support in the effort, and are happy to report that the third edition of Praxis, as the PR conference is called, is being held starting today (September 12) in the historic city of Agra.

 

So while MxMIndia is media partner, that didn’t prevent us from posing some ticklish questions to Amith Prabhu, founder and chief mentor of the event. Amith was not too keen on being interviewed and said the co-chairs of the conference should be doing the talking, but we could finally prevail upon him with an understanding that his pic will not appear as the Big Story image. Pssst, we’ve still sneaked in this headshot. We’ll try and feign ignorance. Read on…

 

Pondicherry (or Puducherry), Lavasa and now Agra. How will the third edition of Praxis be different from the previous two?

Each summit is unique in different ways. Praxis 2014 caters primarily to the professionals in the NCR. We call it the super, smarter, slicker edition. The theme is Communicating for a Better World and the focus is CSR. We have nearly 30 speakers of which eight are are international.

 

In many ways it was for you a dream to build this forum for early and mid-career professionals. Do you think you’ve been able to achieve what you had set out to? Or is it still mission unaccomplished?

From 250 professionals in the first edition, 22 months ago to almost 350 this time around we have come a long way. A large chunk of participants from both consultancies and in-house are young and raring to go. We want this to be THE forum that professionals of all levels head to every year and we have managed to achieve that.

 

And would you say that the PR industry and professionals have gained from this?

I still like to believe we are not an industry but a growing community of very smart professionals. These forums help celebrate the profession. It is for those who attend to say if they have gained or not. The response this year has been overwhelming which makes us believe we are on the right track.

 

The format though is still very short, right. Like in this year’s edition, just as people would’ve warmed up, it’s time to say your goodbyes?

Time is at a premium. We have experimented with an additional night in the second edition but the feedback was that it should be optional because half the time we are dealing with client crises which allows for minimal time commitment outside work.

 

Why not have a longer format? Because it’s just an incremental extra hotel night that people have to pay for, na? You’ve already got them out of their office and spend on travel?

As I mentioned earlier, time is at a premium for PR professionals. We have had 15% drop-outs in the last 5 days, especially from clients who would have been over 100 at the summit but are now about 85 at the summit because work exigencies. We offered an option for those who wanted to learn from experts to stay back a second night and attend the workshop at an additional fee. So it is really not shorter in the true sense. Also, an additional night would cost Rs 10,000 more on an average which we felt younger professionals would find hard to bear.

 

Has this South-West-North rotation of venues worked? What will you have next year… East? How about a Praxis in Bangkok, Nepal or somewhere cheap and still away from it all?

We are open to having Praxis in the Eastern part of India or even in another country which does not require visas. We are exploring that option. Hopefully, when the third edition ends the team of volunteers may have a location for 2015. Someday, we will plan it overseas for sure.

 

There is a cross-section of top professionals who’ve been giving Praxis a miss? Dilip Cherian, for instance. Various veteran corporate communications professionals.  Comments?

Like several other leaders, Dilip Cherian has been invited every year and we are hoping to convince him hard enough to be there next year. This year, the CEO of his firm will be chairing a session. We have nine of the Top 10 firms and 18 of the Top 20 firms present in India that are represented. Unlike most events of this kind that are organised by associations we are just a bunch of volunteers with full-time jobs who put this together. Given that, there are six firms participating for the first time this year which is an achievement. One Founder is making his stage debut in a public forum, though his firm has been around for 20 years, which is amazing.

 

Also, I was just speaking to the CEO of a Mumbai-based PR firm Who was sadly just not aware of the forum. Would you say this is ignorance on the part of the CEO or still miles to go for Praxis (and the Promise Foundation) to promote the conference?

We would not say it is either. If you were speaking to the CEO, he or she has now heard of it ;-). Sur summit has been built on word of mouth and primarily on social networks. We have a long way to go as a community. The Summit was sold out a month ago and we decided to increase the number from 300 to 330 which is 10% of the 3000 professionals in the country.

 

So a little about this year: standout, must-attend sessions?

We have the mother of cause marketing, Carol Cone, who is Edelman’s global practice chair of the CSR practice who has flown all the way from New York to deliver the opening keynote. Paul Holmes will do the second keynote on the Consultancy of the Future.  These are not to be missed. The other stand-out sessions are a presentation on Measuring Metrics and four panels – one by millenials, one by CSR experts, one celebrating Founders of India’s iconic firms and one with regional chiefs of PR firms.

 

If you were given to chance to go back three years and re-curate Praxis, would you do it differently?

Each Summit has been planned with learning from the previous one and built with passion. We are proud of the fact that we do not have more than one speaker from an organisation and that we typically do not repeat speakers. We also follow a cooperative sponsorship model where partnering companies pay our vendors directly. What we can do better is to make more Indian professionals in the middle east and far east attend.

 

Is the organisation of Praxis really a collective, cooperative effort finally? Wouldn’t you want to give the job to an event organiser to do it on a professional basis?

Praxis began as a movement and continues to remain so. The commitment of some of us is for ten editions. An event manager still helps put together the final look of the conference. With or without an event manager, we are a professionally run social enterprise. But the personal touch can only be there when those who conceptualised it, remain at the forefront of driving it. We are a dozen professionals who ideate virtually and come together at the summit to bring the event to life. The uniqueness is that the 12 volunteers represent 12 different organisations – some PR firms and some corporations.
So what’s driving the organisers like yourself and others to spend a huge amount of time, effort and possibly monies to organise Praxis?

 

People and passion for the profession are the cornerstones of this initiative. We needed to bring back the reputation to the profession that had begun to get affected by two important events – the controversy of 2010 that led to one of the largest firm shutting shop and the fact that almost all of the Top 20 global firms making their presence felt in India by the beginning of this decade. One would have worked for a non-profit, but instead we decided that we will create a non-profit that builds reputation for the profession. So here we are!

 

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