Amith Prabhu: Universal Service Obligation in Public Relations

22 Feb,2016

By Amith Prabhu


We have all heard of the concept of USO or Universal Service Obligation where certain services are offered to all sections of society and at times by charging a higher fee in urban areas to offer the service to rural areas. Recently, we all witnessed one of the biggest crisis of 2016 when the government ruled in favour of Net Neutrality. Facebook which was trying to bulldoze Free Basics had to put it in the cold storage.


This column is about a Walled Garden we are creating in the world of Public Relations. First, by offering services to the elite. Second, by only letting people from more affluent backgrounds to enter the profession. Both, by having a high fee at centres of learning and by expecting a level of sophistication in aspirants that only urban areas can offer.


I went through to interesting events last week. On Thursday, I was in Ludhiana to address girls from Khalsa College on Careers in Communications and then on Friday I was on a panel to interview students aspiring to do their Masters in Communications. In both these cases, I came across students who came from Tier 3 cities like Jalandhar and Gorakhpur. They were smart, able to speak good English and were eager to make a career in the big cities. But coming from single income families had limited means to pursue higher studies. A student loan would be an option but having only one parent as a breadwinner would make it hard to have a guarantor for the bank.


We need to change the game and tap into very bright talent that is hiding in these cities because of lack of exposure and limited opportunity. There are two ways to do it. One, is for Public Relations leaders to make a structured plan to visit a certain number of Tier 3 cities that has potential to offer some really outstanding talent and talk about the profession to undergraduates in the final year. Two, is to create internship programmes targeting these cities where every year a few dozen boys and girls get a chance to work in large companies during the summer where both parties benefit.


If we do not start a Universal Service Obligation for Public Relations with baby steps, we are staring at an entry-level talent deficit in the foreseeable future. I would also appeal to the leading corporate communicators to join the bandwagon of evangelists who commit a day or two in a year to visit the hinterland and inspire a new generation of bright youngsters about embracing career choices that communications has to offer. If not now, when?


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