Paradigm shift for Public Relations

Convergence of traditional public relations with the internet and social media is required for a stronger impact

By Dr CV Narasimha Reddi   |   Published: 21st Apr 2017   2:55 am

The 31st National Public Relations Day is being observed today. “India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech…,” said Mark Twain. Human speech is a prerequisite for any type of human communication. Against this backdrop, communication experts pronounced that India is also the birthplace of world’s public relations communication. 

Over 2,500 years ago when modern America was not existent, when the term communication was not coined, public relations was born in India to promote Buddhism as a religion of universal love, peace, non-violence and removal of misery. Gautama Buddha not only became the Light of Asia but also a public relations communications messiah and so was the forerunner of today’s global public relations.

Growth of PR
Born as propaganda in ancient India, it emerged as publicity in British India and graduated to public relations in independent India. Mahatma Gandhi, also regarded as the Father of Indian Public Relations, made full use of PR communication techniques in the freedom struggle to create public opinion against the British.

After independence, Pandit Nehru, who espoused the principle ‘Freedom from ignorance (information poverty) is as important as freedom from hunger (economic poverty)’, established a separate Ministry of Information and Broadcasting with a wide mandate to inform, educate and entertain people as active partners in our democratic polity and development process.

Among others, the key landmarks that led to the growth of public relations include media units of the Ministry of I&B, Public Relations departments in 29 States, Five-Year Plans, nationalisation of general insurance and banks, Industrial Policy resolutions of 1948, 1956 and the 1990 New Industrial Policy.

Public relations in India today is over Rs 10,000-crore industry, representing government, public sector, private initiatives and NGOs with about 100,000 PR professionals and about 30 lakh public communicators of various departments, including 9,00,000 accredited social health activists (ASHAs), involved in the dissemination of public information. Public relations with its media strategy has played a big role in transforming India as the world’s largest democracy and also a global economic player poised to become the third biggest economy in the world.

The Pitfalls
Lack of professional education and training, feedback mechanism and identity crisis are a few minuses of this job. If marketing, advertising and journalism are called by their respective nomenclatures, public relations is practised by different names such as corporate communications, public affairs and corporate affairs. These pitfalls have to be overcome in the new paradigm.

What is state-of-the-art public relations in India? It is a ‘mixed bag’ comprising highly qualified professionals, in-house and PR firms second to none in the world on one side and many non- professionals without any grounding in PR education and training on the other.
PR critics, therefore, call such non-professionals as spin doctors, manipulators and legitimisers. The distinguishing trait of Indian public relations is ‘the Quantity of PR Personnel rather than Quality of the Profession’. The need of the hour is professional excellence and a paradigm shift with PR 2.0 model.

The public relations of the 21st Century cannot continue to reach out to the stakeholders only through traditional influencer mass media. Even though these influencers are still being used, new technological and software developments, including the global internet platform, have created good conditions for a direct or person-to-person approach through social media.
The traditional PR tools – press releases and articles — have proved less effective because the audiences and their preferred channels of information have changed. Therefore, the need to rediscover and re-establish the traditional PR profession with PR 2.0 model.

PR 2.0
Brian Solis coined the phrase PR 2.0 way back in the 1990s, but its use is of recent origin. It is closely associated with the new internet phenomenon for it uses the tools to talk with its audiences in a new manner totally different from the traditional media.

In fact, PR 2.0 is mediated by software designed for easy, quick, large-scale and self-ruled communication. It allows people to establish connections and meet people who can become their customers, business partners, promoters or sellers. Social media does not need to become the main or only communication channel but it becomes one of the main channels of connecting others with the social network.

Deirdre Breakenridge defines PR 2.0 as the convergence of traditional public relations with the internet to change the approach of communication professionals to reach customers and online communities with social media strategies. It is otherwise called digital public relations.

According to a survey, there will be more than hundred crore internet users in India by 2020, which beckons a bright future for PR 2.0.

However, we should be clear that PR 2.0 is not a new profession. It is the same old PR profession with added values such as new skills, new media and professional competence to reach out to both internal and external publics with humanised and personalised messages for a better impact.

(The author is Editor, Public Relations Voice; and former director, I&PR Department)