Amith Prabhu: To understand PR better, learn the definition of a religion

18 May,2015

By Amith Prabhu


People would call me a fundamentalist or would call my writing blasphemous after reading my second paragraph. I have been hesitating to write about this for a while and pushing this thought for later. But two incidents last week have prompted me to share a thought I have been nursing for a while.


A religion is an organised collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to an order of existence. If I were to compare the concept of Public Relations to a religion it would be no different. Public Relations is a collection of beliefs, it has inherent cultural systems and certainly a world view that relates humanity to an order of existence.


Well, the point I’m trying to make is that several journalists over the years, who are largely influencers, have equated Public relations with Media Relations. Those who got into Public Relations or Corporate Communications after a stint in journalism have carried forward that belief. This has caused irreparable damage to the profession and to the term – Public relations though all is not lost.


Last week at two different forums, I heard two very senior professionals refer to Public Relations as Media Relations and I began to cringe. I thought it was time for this column. First, Public Relations cannot be measured in the same way Religion cannot be measured. It is a way of life. Second, we have to appreciate that specific activities that fall under Public Relations can be measured if there are three conditions in place. This does not mean some activities that do not fulfill some or all of the three conditions cannot be measured.


The three conditions are: a written brief that includes goals of an activity and ways to measure the achievements of those goals; the occurrence of the activity largely as per plan within the specific place and time; and lastly an activity completion report which lists out output and outcomes specific to the goal. This sounds very academic but our problem is that we do not document activities the way other disciplines do. The problem starts there. Moreover, we only end up measuring media output without linking it to business outcomes.


Public Relations is the umbrella under which different outreach to stakeholders takes place. This can be both external affairs or communications and internal affairs or communications. Companies where the remit falls under the watch of the CEO call it Corporate Communications which largely involves media outreach and when it includes government relations it is called Government or Public or Corporate Affairs. In cases where the requirement for communications management is high within product or brand marketing the reference point is Brand or Marketing communications. The bottomline is that they are all part of the same family.


Broadly, professionals undertake activities in four spheres: Content Creation, Connecting Stakeholders, Crisis Management and Counselling Leadership. While quality and quantity of content and connections can be measured, a crisis can never be measured because there are always risks, some turn into issues and some issues turn into crises – crisis preparedness needs to be in place and a crisis ends up as a disaster or ends up as a problem solved. Counselling the leadership also can never be measured easily or correctly as it is subjective because it is an ongoing task.


So all in all, certain activities and sub activities can be measured. But most often the sub-activity under Connecting with Stakeholders which is Media Outreach that takes place in the form of organic and inorganic media output is measured in incorrect ways and the entire exercise is referred to as Public Relations. This is not necessarily an ongoing debate. If we start looking at Public Relations more holistically lie we look at the definition of religion this will be easier to fathom.




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