Search This Blog

Monday, April 25, 2011

When Credibility is Put to Test - final part

This the 3rd and final part of the article on Public Relations published in The Eastern Chronicle.
A better resolution image is available here.

First part of the article.

Second part of the article.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The future of Public Relations education

(This article was published in The Assam Tribune today on the ocassion of National Public Relations Day. The newspaper edited and left out two very relevant paragraphs. So, I am posting the full article here.)

The present educational scenario in our country marks the decline of popularity of traditional knowledge-oriented social science subjects like economics, history and political science in one hand and the rise of industry-oriented so-called professional or job-oriented subjects like mass communication, journalism, public relations, advertising and tourism etc. While institutes imparting education in these increasingly popular courses have mushroomed, the quality of education these institutes impart needs closer examination and review.
The primary goal of any industry-oriented course is to develop and produce trained and skilled human resources for the industry. The success of such a course in this direction depends primarily on two factors – the curriculum adopted and the teaching imparted. For the success of any professional course of education, the curriculum should reflect the current development in the industry and the teaching should fulfill the actual need of the trained manpower in the industry. To whatever extent the course offered by any institute in these fields may be hyped up, the institute’s efficacy is certified by the product churned out by the institute. To be able to produce suitable manpower for industry, the industry-related academic courses should be designed and reviewed keeping in mind the need of the industry in real time. The question that exercises our minds however is - whether the available professional courses in the northeastern region have been able to fulfill these two prerequisites or not? So, before enrolling into any professional course in any institute, one should clearly understand the details of the curriculum offered and its relevance vis-à-vis the industry it serves as well as the capabilities of the faculty imparting such education.
The rapid growth of print and electronic media during the last two decades in our country has created a vast demand for trained manpower in the field of Mass Communication and Journalism. Considering the fact that the media industry is estimated to grow at about 15% in the next few years, the demand is likely to increase. The other profession that has attained much attention, during the same period is Public Relations. Though person like Niira Radia has unintentionally made it infamous, the profession has managed to stay in the headlines mainly due to the increasing realization of the power of public relations in emerging market-driven economy like India’s. The industry will require a large number of communicators – be it journalists or public relations professionals – in the coming days to avoid conflicts and to sustain the projected growth rate of 8% for the economy. In such a scenario, it becomes the combined responsibility of both academics and the industry to ensure that the professional trained in academic institutions are tailored to the actual need of the industry.
In most of the academic institutes and universities in India including the four universities in Assam that imparts training and teaching in Mass Communication has included public relations as a small part of the overall curriculum of Mass Communication and Journalism. As such, more detailed and less comprehensive issues like ethics in public relations and role of social media for public relations had been left out of the syllabus although these two are topics are poised to be major issues that are going to shape the future of public relations worldwide.
In fact, one of the major controversies exercising mind of academic administrators and policy makers, journalists, public relations practitioners and mass communication teachers around the world in the last decade is - whether Public Relations is to be retained as a part of journalism and therefore, should remain in academic curriculum of Mass Communication; or Public Relations has grown up as a strategic management tool and therefore be included in curriculum of Business Schools. Opinions on the topic are divided into two distinct camps – both keeping professional ethics at the centre of their arguments. While David Gordon argues that public relations and journalism will both benefit when they are taught in the same school or department, and ethics in both field have no relationship to this issue, John Michael Kitross argues that teaching public relations and journalism in the same department is detrimental to the ethics of both fields.
Another interesting metamorphosis going on the academic field of public relations education and training is the emphasis increasingly laid by hard-core management professionals trained by business schools on the use of public relations and social media solely as cost-effective marketing tools. These professionals argue that ethics of public relations, that of honest and total communication with intention of trust building, is nothing but a legacy of the days of Ivy Lee. Since, public relations is capable of influencing people’s decision and thereby increase sales, there are no qualms of ethics involved. They often advocate equating corporate communications, lobbying, publicity and propaganda with public relations.
New–age social media marketing experts like Gary Goldhammer, a former journalist and New York-based digital media marketing communications specialists, even goes to the extremity of proposing disbanding public relations professional associations like the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) terming it as legacy organization outliving its utility loosing relevance to present society. Gary says, people hardly care about the differences between marketing and public relations; for the masses they are the same, it is only the professionals who make a distinction between the two. The number of people like Gary who use social media like Facebook for marketing is increasing and their views are gaining ground. They argue that PRSA code of ethics regarding honesty and integrity in communication for building trust and understanding for an organization is outdated in today’s market-driven world. On the other hand, professional public relations bodies like PRSA do not support the overwhelming classification of public relations exclusively as a marketing or propaganda tool.
Goldhammer-kind professionals eager to establish their supremacy over social media as marketing tools are going to outnumber public relations professionals in our country soon. These marketing professionals in the industry and the business school mandarins claim that public relations is a specialized communication technique and like other aspects of business, communications management should also be left to managers; and therefore should be taught in a business school to the ‘would be’ managers. The Indian Institute of Management, Kolkata has recently announced a course in business communication which actually aims at imparting public relations knowledge and skills to the participants. Other business schools too include course in communication for business which provides the first insight into the field of public relations.
These developments, however, seems to have caught the academicians and professional bodies like the Public Relations Society of India (PRSI) unaware. Interestingly, PRSI announces in its website that it “was established in 1958 to promote the recognition of public relations as a profession and to formulate and interpret to the public the objectives and the potentialities of public relations as a strategic management function”. The PRSI has promotions of public relations education as one of its primary objectives, but nothing significant has come out of it so far (at least not in this part of the country). It is unfortunate that after more than 50 years of existence of PRSI, as people without any professional qualification dictates the role of public relations, the professionals in the field still has to fight for recognition for a meaningful role in any organization.
Public Relations professional world over believes that public relations has much more to it than mere marketing, publicity, propaganda or advertising. As mass communication gained its stature as medium of influence in democracies over the world, the public relations too grew as a very strong tool of public advocacy and opinion engineering. The added cost advantage of public relations as a marketing tool against advertising has made the profession a field vied for by professional from diverse fields. Thus, what once was a field for former journalists or mass communication specialists has now become equally available for marketing, brand-building, customer-service, sales and social media specialists.
Now everybody wants a piece of the pie. The situation has been further been aggravated by the absence of a universally accepted definition of public relations. The profession is defined by the practitioners as they practice it. The absence of a mandatory registration process like that of legal advocacy or medicine also has confounded the problem of lack of cohesive views among the professional in the field. It is high time that public relations professionals under the aegis of bodies like PRSI take note of these. Otherwise, the day would be near when views demanding disbanding of PRSI or propagating irrelevance of PRSI would be aired in our country too. And mass communicators will have to watch from the stands while professional managers will manage public relations like any other aspects of business.

When Credibility is Put to Test - II

(This is the second part of my article in The Eastern Chronicle published today on the occasion of National Public Relations Day. See page-10, i.e. Business Chronicle of the newspaper for a slightly better resolution image.)

You can read the 1st part of the article here.

The 3rd and final part of the article is available here.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

When Credibility is Put to Test - Part I

This is the first part of an article published in The Eastern Chronicle, published from Guwahati today.

For a better resolution picture go to Business Chronicle page in The Eastern Chronicle.

The 2nd part of the article is available here.

The 3rd and final part of the article is available here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Best wishes for Assamese New Year and Bihu

No, this is not about what you thought it would be. It has thematic relevance to the headlines though.

It is not about wishing you all a very best Bihu and a New Year en mass, but about how heartless that can be. It is about mindless adoption of economies of scale in large production of a ‘wish’ and the practice of wholesale mass distribution of it to a vague and faceless entity in our mobile phones and email accounts called “all”.

Today is Assamese New Year and Bohag Bihu. I have not replied to any of those hundreds of SMSes carrying the highly impersonal few words wishing me best of everything. I am sure I had received them because I, fortunately, happened to be one of the insignificant constituents of each of my acquaintances’ mobile phones called - all.

Today, I did not send any such SMS either. Nor any e-mail. I never ever did. When our son was borne, my brother-in-law suggested ‘broadcasting’ it with an SMS sent to all my contacts in the mobile phone book. I took three days to individually call and inform all the people whom I thought I should share the news with. I did not have to explain that to anyone then. But, this time I had to give an explanation to my wife. I can jolly well share that with you.

A wish is something that comes from our heart, not head. It is too personal a thing. You share it with only people whom you know, care for and keep close to your heart. I cannot make such a personal emotion so much impersonal by converting it into an SMS and sending it to all. If I have a wish I will take the rather more interpersonal mode of communication called speech.

Above all, I cannot be honest if I do so. How can I have the exactly same wish (and by extension feeling) for all? And if I do send such SMS wishes someday, I would know it is a fake. Please do not reply to such a fake SMS from me and waste your money.
How difficult is it to call and wish someone a happy New Year and Bihu if you really want to? And if you actually do not want to, then why pretend so by sending an SMS?

Moreover, SMS cost you more than talking over phone. The mobile companies are actually fleecing you by charging 50 paise to 3 rupees for each SMS while it costs them not even one paise. They are not happy if you communicate through short speech over phones; but are very happy if you communicate through short messaging service. I am not in a mood to make them happy by loosing my money. And, I hope I will receive less SMS next Puja.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

To Nilakshi without malice

Nilakshi Kalita was hurt, read her comment.
It was not intended from my side. I think she did not get me correct, so this is for her - a clarification; without any malice.
I am happy that India won World Cup title. I was happy when India did in 1983 and I will be happy whenever India do it again. I salute sucess. But, I am not happy that the Indian team is selected not by India, but by an association called BCCI.
I am not happy that BCCI is headed by a politician, not a sportsman. I am not happy that Alimuddin (hypothetical) do not get a chance to play for India even if he is more talented then the ones that play for BCCI (you can find hundreds of Alimuddin in our country). He can play for India if only BCCI decides so. And the money BCCI makes in the game is not India's money, its BCCI's. I am unhappy that the game is controlled by a club, and the club is controlled by politicians.(read the Asian Games controversy when BCCI refused to send a cricket team that we identify as Indian team to Asian Games)
I am happy for Dhoni, happy for the glory he has achieved, happy for the glory he has apparently bestowed on 111 crore Indians. But, I am unhappy for the politicians trying to rub off part of that glory to themselves. I am unhappy that the Indian Railway, which reportedly once rejected Dhoni and refused him a job in the Railways under sports quota, is now offering him passes that he does not possibly need. And it was given real quickly, lest the limelight fades away.
Money is nothing but a gesture through which the politicians try to bask in the reflected glory of the Sportstars.
The final match was reportedly watched by two billion eyes (give or take a few lakhs considering some people have one good eye). When Ravi Shastri announced rupees one crore each for the players and rupees 50 lakhs to others by BCCI, the club was poorer by around 30 crores. If today BCCI has to catch two billion eyes and goodwill of one billion people, it would have shell out more than 100 crores of rupees in advertisements. So, it was a cheap deal for BCCI. Nilakshi would probably know better.
I know people refused to pay money to Mahadeb Deka for his passage to California before he become World Champion in Musle Mania, because he told me that. He had traveled to Delhi by train (possibly would have without reservation if I had not known him)because he wanted to save whatever money he had. The same people had given him gamosa and flowers when he became champion. Can we not become sports lovers instead of champion lovers?
Nothing UNITED INDIA against Sri Lanka more than the day they were CHAMPIONS. Why do we always need someone against us to be united? The cricket world cup has possibly proved one point - we hate Pakistan more than South Africa or Sri Lanka. And I am against such unity where hatred is the foundation.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Basking in reflected glory

Do you remember Abhinav Bindra being awarded rupees ten lakhs by our Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi? Abhinav Bindra possesses a lavish indoor range in the backyard of home, which he uses for shooting practice. He has graduated from the University of Colorado in the United States, with a Bachelor's Degree in Business Administration. Apart from being a professional shooter, he holds the position of the CEO of Abhinav Futuristics - the sole distributor of Walther arms in India. He is also the Director of Abhinav Hotels & Inns Pvt. Ltd. He has sponsorship tie-ups with some of the renowned brands including Samsung and Sahara Group.
I really doubt if rupees ten lakh was worth anything for Bindra. I also do not know whether he actually got the money from Mr. Gogoi or not. But Mr. Gogoi got publicity worth more than ten lakh rupees. It is, of course, a different issue that Mr. Gogoi hesitated to provide even one lakh rupees to WWF Musle Mania Champion Mahadeb Deka for his passage to the competition.
More recently, the cricket World Cup winners of India have been showered with gifts and awards. Bord of Control for Cricket in Idia (BCCI), the club that employs these players, has announced rupees one crore each to the players, Himachal Government has offered a plot of land to both Dhoni and Tendulakar at Chandigarh, Kartantak Government has offered house in Bangalore to all the players from the state in the winning team and last but not the least, the Railway Ministry has given all the players in the winning team a life-time first class AC travel pass in Indian Railways. So what if the players actually never travel by train and prefer to travel by aeroplanes (preferably chartered)?
The Telegraph today went into elaborate description on how the Railway Minister got the congratulatory letter drafted and typed soon after Indian(?)team's historic win, signed the letter next day early morning and then made sure that the letter reaches Mahendra Singh Dhoni at his hotel in Mumbai by 11 A.M. If only she was equally anxious for passengers wishing to reach their destination on time!
These tamasha of rewarding and awarding the achievers indeed is a very cheap means to bask in reflected glory (pan intended). But, it seems nobody minds as long as it is glorious.