Public Relations Council of India (PRCI), a premier industry body of PR, advertising, HR and media professionals and academicians, has appointed Concept PR Executive Director B N Kumar (BNK for friends) as its next national president. Earlier, BNK led Mumbai chapter of PRCI and was the national vice president. He has close to four decades of experience in mass communications as a journalist and PR professional. In the words of PRCI Chairman Emeritus and Chief Mentor M B Jayaram, “BNK has been taking active interest in furthering the cause of our oganisation and he led two successful Global Communication Conclaves at Mumbai.” “As the programme committee chairman of the just concluded 9th Conclave, he played an exemplary role in ensuring its success.”
In this free and frank exclusive interview with Richa Seth, BNK, who has close to four decades of Media and PR experience, talks about his vision for PRCI and the industry. Excerpts:
1. In your new role, what are the initiatives that you would like to undertake? Please elaborate?
I firmly believe in inclusive communication. I would like to involve all of PRCI chapters. We have quite a few initiatives on hand. In Mumbai, we floated a Guest Faculty pool for mass communication colleges which, as we all know, have teacher shortage. Experienced professionals from our pool will be sent to colleges on request to give practical training to PR and journalism students. We are glad to have some fine journalists in our pool. We would now like to spread this across major centres.
During the 9th Global Communication Conclave, we received a suggestion to help private and public sector companies train their new PR professionals. We are ready to take this up. As they say in Sanskrit, ‘Spardhaya Vardhanti Vidya’ (Knowledge improves by discussion). At PRCI we have initiated Knowledge Forums. We would like to further this by holding seminars and discussions on current issues that confront the media and communication industry. Along with the Press Club-Mumbai and BARC, we did couple of media seminars on Radiation and Urban Garbage Management.
Yes, I must tell you about our unique e-mag. It’s neither weekly, nor monthly or quarterly. It’s online and gets updated on a 24×7 basis. PRapport or prrapport.blogspot.in has quickly caught the imagination of communication professionals in India and abroad. Here, we report not only on PRCI activities, but discuss issues related to our profession.
We have a youth wing called YCC or Young Communicators Club which provides a platform for journalism and PR students to strengthen their knowledge. Our target is to spread YCC activities to all BMM and other mass communication colleges.
2. As the adage goes, ‘PR has a PR problem’, how do you think PRCI can help to build the reputation and value of PR among C level executives?
Rapport is the solution. As you said, we also suffer from communication problems. Most of us do not communicate. We cannot afford to function in isolation. This is where the top management participation in our programmes significance. We will continue to communicate with the C level executives through Corporate Communications and HR professionals who are our members. Simultaneously, we will focus on corporate memberships and their participation. We have couple of other initiatives. You will soon see action. Please keep a watch on http://prrapport.blogspot.in/
3. What are the initiatives that PRCI will take to connect with the youth community and get them more involved?
We already discussed the YCC initiative. We would like partner other forums like Mediaforum. We also have advanced skill training programmes for the upcoming professionals. This generation is blessed with technology. We would like to use it to the hilt. We also have awards for young professionals to encourage their talent. In a first of its kind initiative, we would like to support the BMM and other PR and journalism colleges with internships at our member companies.
4. Largely PR industry bodies are often seen as populated with members of PSUs, what will be your strategy to get members from across the board?
We firmly believe in going with both public and private sector companies. You can see from the response that we get for the various programmes and awards – both PSUs and private companies respond well. If you look at PRCI’s signature Chanakya Award winners in various categories, you will realize that PRCI is for all sectors – PSU, private, SME and even startups.
5. Could you share details about the advanced skill development modules that PRCI is planning to launch for private and public sector companies?
Good question. We will draw resources from across and help companies make their new and young PR professionals industry ready. Everyone knows about media and nobody knows media enough. With this in mind, we can run media familiarization programmes on what makes news and what doesn’t, what to expect from media, how to write press releases, the importance of online media and so on. We are developing PRraport into a web site which will also serve as a knowledge forum.
6. What do you think are the challenges faced by the PR industry today and how can it be overcome?
Challenges are quite a few. There is no fun in working without any challenge. On a serious note, I think the biggest challenge is the credibility. We are at cross roads of credibility in view of the recent developments which I need not name. Corporate governance, transparency and ethical practices are among the issues that confront us as communication practitioners. Designing media acceptable communication is another challenge.
Every company wants its news in Times of India and The Economic Times. Even I would like this interview to appear in top papers. Is it possible? Everybody wants to be a Thought Leader. They need to realize that it doesn’t happen overnight. Many companies and their Corporate Communications departments lay so much of stress on English media that the overkill proves counterproductive. Many often neglect the regional media. We do business in rural India but when it comes to media, all of us want the news only on English media. Also, we need to impress upon the corporates that PR should be used as an interface and not as an interference tool.
In these days when scams are the flavour of the season, getting a negative story stopped from getting into print or breaking news is just impossible. As we say in our media training sessions, ‘Asking a journalist to kill a story is like asking him not to do his job’. Managements need to be educated on this. Close rapport between Corporate Communication professionals and journalists is a must. To give you an example, we had Prasar Bharati Chairman, General Secretary of the Editors’ Guild of India and Director General of Cellular Operators’ Association of India addressing the PRCI’s 9th Global Communication Conclave at Delhi. Our rapport with the media can be exemplified from the fact that late Vinod Mehta inaugurated PRCI ten years ago at Bengaluru. And, year on year, we have been having senior journalists like Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Chandan Mitra, later M V Kamath, Kumar Ketkar, Barkha Dutt, Prakash Akolkar and Ayaz Memon participating in our programmes.
7. Your advice for the youngsters in the industry?
Many of our young professionals do not read. Though they are blessed with Google, they try short cuts. Many even do not know how to write mails and whom to address their communication. For instance, what is the point in sending the press release about an obscure award to the Managing Editor of Business India? And the, these young kids call him up and ask: “Sir which beat do you cover?” As late Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh told us during the inauguration of the Press Club building, young media persons, particularly from TV channels do not how to ask questions. Don’t we remember the infamous case of a TV journalist asking the Union Home Minister, after taking his byte: Sir what is your name and designation?! The same is applicable to PR professionals too. How many of our young PR professionals know that Eenadu is published from Mumbai and Delhi as well? How many of us realize that even the less circulated newspapers are read by the editors of large papers? I may be sounding harsh but the hard reality is we don’t like to do any hard work and we always try for shortcuts.
8. Finally, as a veteran of close to four decades of experience, what do you think is the future of PR industry?
Man is a social animal. We cannot live without communicating. PR industry is evolving by the day and I firmly believe that this industry has a great scope. And we at PRCI would like to play the role of a catalyst in making the industry play a meaningful role in the country’s socio-economic change. If India has to emerge as the Numero Uno nation by 2025, PR has to play its role across the board – industry, governments, urban areas and villages.