Three pillars of public relations

Education, training and research is the pathway for PR professionals to leave behind the status of spin doctors and gain true respect

Published: 6th Aug 2019   12:07 am

If I were to my last dollar, I would spend it on public relations — said Bill Gates. In fact, public relations (PR) has emerged as a key component of any business in these days of instant communication.

After independence, Indian PR grew in two phases. In the first stage, factors like industrial policies, five-year plans, general elections, nationalisation of banks, growth of public sector and coalition governments NDA Vs UPA contributed to its expansion. Introduction of New Industrial Policy, 1991, marked the second phase.

Indian PR, which was earlier confined to national companies, developed a global perspective when India became a global economic player. A few international PR agencies came to India, which resulted in an upswing in professional PR activities. Industry body Assocham estimates the size of the PR industry at $6 billion (over Rs 35,000 crore) and predicts it would grow at an annual rate of 32%.

Biggest PR Network

One lakh PR professionals, over 30 lakh extension communicators. including nine lakh ASHAs on the one side, and one lakh newspapers; 1,000 TV channels; 500 radio stations; 50 crore internet users, about 130 crore cell phones and 1.6 lakh post offices on the other, constitute the world’s biggest public communication network.

When an institute invited nominations for training on ‘High Impact PR Strategies’, it was astonishing that of the 13 participants, there were management-sponsored 10 personnel managers and only three PR managers. This indicates that the Indian corporate world is growing in leaps and bounds but Indian PR is not adequately responding to its needs of supply of professional PROs. According to a survey by PR agency Ad Factors, 90% of PR personnel have not read any book on PR.

What is the state of PR in India? It is a mixed bag, comprising a few sophisticated and competent PR professionals on the positive side, while the majority without any professional education and skills reflects the negative aspect. The distinguishing trait is quantity rather than quality. The need of the hour is professional excellence. The panacea, therefore, lies in evolving a new PR education and skills matrix with Indian universities as a port of entry.

Specialised PR Course

In the UK, PR is offered as a major course both at UG and PG levels. The University of Stirling, Scotland, offers MSc (PR), both in regular and distance modes. Four majors are offered in the US at the UG level – Journalism, PR, Advertising and Mass Communication.

In contrast, PR education in Indian universities is still at a nascent stage. Notwithstanding the fact that PR is one of the growing professions, most of our conventional universities offer multi-cuisine — all-in-one communication and journalism courses, in which PR is one of the eight courses.

As Bachelor of Communication & Journalism is abolished, it is unfortunate that no journalism or PR course is offered at the UG level as in the case of the West. When Dr BR Ambedkar Open University submitted a proposal to the UGC for recognition of MA Mass Communication and Public Relations programme, it was rejected on the ground that this course was is not on its approved list. It shows that the UGC has not recognised PR as an academic discipline.

The Draft New Education Policy 2019 recommends the introduction of a four-year bachelor degree, especially in liberal arts. It tune with the National Education Policy, the UGC should launch a four-year bachelor’s degree with three majors as Journalism, Public Relations and Advertising. This will produce proficient PR personnel.

Training and Skills

A major lacuna in Indian PR is the absence of any induction or in-service PR training. As opposed to developed countries where the percentage of skilled workforce is between 60% and 90%, India has an abysmal 4.69% cent of workforce with formal vocational skills. It is worse in the PR field.

The Indian Institute of Mass Communication, New Delhi, was established for imparting training and research. Unfortunately, it has confined itself to the training of Indian Information Service officers and conducting diploma courses in Journalism, Advertising and PR, which are nothing but replication of universities courses. While dispensing such courses, the institute must impart training to PR personnel of all States.

Based on the directive of the AP Lokayukta, the State government directed the Telangana Media Academy to impart training to PR professionals. Though three years have lapsed, the academy has not conducted any training programme for want of release of funds by the State government. This is nothing but step-motherly treatment by the government towards PR. All the State governments should establish Mass Communication and PR Academies at the State-level for the training of communication and PR professionals of various government departments.

Priority for Research

Lack of research and innovation are the two major pitfalls of PR practice in India. The government as well as corporate houses spend crores of rupees both on image-building and PR campaigns but rarely their impact on the public mind is assessed. International PR firm BBDO in a survey pointed out that “public relations industry may never be fully respected, unless it can provide measurement of its value of different programmes.” Therefore, research is the rocky but sunlit pathway for PR professionals to climb once for all out of the quacks and spin doctors status, where their work is judged by instinct and intuition.

A National Research Foundation proposed by the draft NEP is a good step in the direction of research. Each PR department and PR agency must have a research division on a par with the All India Radio’s Audience Research Unit with adequate budget allocations.

Being a democratic and developing country, where free flow of public information is a pre-requisite for the success of democracy, India beckons a bright future for PR. Of course, the fulfilment of this challenge very much depends on the fulfilment of the three-point formula – PR Education, Professional Training and PR Research.

(The author is former Director State I&PR Department)