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Does PR Education create better professionals??

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Came across this discussion on Linkedin (http://linkd.in/1qrOCKz) on Are PR degrees worth it?? After reading comments, I felt like sharing my comments as well – having spent last 20 years in the communication industry in India. My two cents on subject:

PR courses & degrees help understand theory – but practice gives it grounding. Research in PR pans across so many verticals now including the latest fad of social media & its ubiquitous effects on organizations & marketing campaigns.

In my limited experience of 20 years in India having worked in News Reporting, PR Agency & Corporate Sector and currently as an independent consultant – lack of professional programs in PR education in India is not helping create talent pool. Students get enamoured with TV, Radio & Film shooting in communication programs at Indian universities – few pursue PR as a full time program. It’s a chicken-and-egg kind of situation – lack of students don’t permit colleges & universities to offer it as a full-time course and lack of courses don’t attract students. The approach of regulatory body – University Grant Commission (UGC) which needs to approve the same is also not helping either.

Am given to understand that UGC doesn’t recognize Public Relations as a Bachelors or Masters’ INDEPENDENT program – it has to be clubbed with Arts courses, for e.g. you can pursue – Bachelors of Arts (Public Relations) or Masters of Arts (PR) though a lot of private colleges are offering them. For those who are inclined to pursue PR as a professional program, there is no recognized college|univ offering the same – its an elective in Masters – Mass Communication where focus is on Journalism – Print | TV | Radio | Advertising & PR is an elective.

Another dimension for PR education not being very encouraged in India & Asia has been the rather low academic insights into this nascent industry and its recognition with the academia and industry. I am a member of Asian Media Information & Communication Center, Singapore for last 5 years and have been pushing them to include Public Relations as a theme in their conference, research, publications etc.

Have presented a paper at 2012 AMIC conference in Kuala Lumpur on “Social Media, PR & Journalists – Issues of Trust: case study of India & Malaysia”; “Ethical Dimension of Media Industry – case study of India” in 2013 at Indonesia and presently working on a paper for 2014 in Bangkok. Very grudgingly & reluctantly AMIC approached the subject and accepted but there is hardly any representation from the Indian PR professionals and my attempts to get them to partner with Mudra Institute of Communication or engage with corporate communication team in large companies like Reliance, Tata, L&T, GMR, Jindals, Birla, ICICI Bank etc got limited attention.

As a PR professional running my own consulting firm in Hyderabad – my attempts to study PR has been really uphill task since no Indian university offers any mid-career program for experienced professionals in PR. US universities offering these programs come at a very steep price and one needs to quit jobs & family and pursue the same there. In Europe, MSCom offered by USi, Lugano was the program I was very keen to pursue but couldn’t due to lack of financial support. Again, except one Indian student who pursued this program, nobody else even knows about the same. Singapore Management University offers the same program but they don’t offer visa to pursue the program for Indian students – had applied, paid application fees and then had to abandon the same.

Public Relations in India is still long way from being accepted professionally as a profession & career despite having over 10000 people working & lot of PR association & events taking place. I am handling companies in start-up stage to $1billion stage in IT, Healthcare, Energy, Realty – the understanding at Media|Client end of PR is abysmally low & for some companies & their managements, it’s all about “Managing Media” and a stand-alone function. The integration of PR with Marketing, IT, HR & Administration, Finance, Technical & Project departments is still at a nascent stage and lacks maturity. I hope this changes for the better & quickly!!


Master’s of Spin: PR Belongs in B-School Studies

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Brilliant piece on reputation management & B Schools – copied from Linkedin. The author has written in Bloomberg

Master’s of Spin: PR Belongs in B-School Studies
An executive’s actions in a crisis can make or break a company, yet few MBA programs bother to teach reputation management. That needs to change

By Anthony D’Angelo

Not a week passes without headlines that excoriate some corporate executive for mishandling an operational crisis that has mushroomed into a public relations disaster. Despite impeccable credentials and accomplished careers, many chief executives find themselves looking foolish after responding obtusely to common and inevitable threats to their companies’ reputations.

From Warren Buffet attempting to explain away insider trading at Berkshire Hathaway (BRK/A) to Tony Hayward, formerly of BP (BP), complaining about getting his life back, the litany of gaffes certainly changes public perceptions and corporate reputation—along with company valuations and career trajectories. Why then, aren’t even the highest-ranked MBA programs doing better at preparing graduates for eventual responsibilities in reputation management?

An analysis of highly ranked MBA programs by the Public Relations Society of America showed that only 16 percent offer a single course in crisis and conflict management, strategic communications, public relations, or whatever label one chooses to describe management of a precious organizational asset: reputation. Even that course is likely to be an elective. So glaring is this omission that it’s typical for MBA-holding executives to assume “reputation management” or “public relations” is the black art of spinning an alternative version of reality, as though that works in today’s wide-open, relentlessly scrutinized, electron-speed information environment.

One can’t blame organizational leaders for not understanding that the way they operate the business is inseparable from the way they communicate about the business, inside and outside the organization. They’re not educated sufficiently to know these are inextricably linked leadership requirements: You can’t have effective leadership without an effective communications strategy. The latter is based on authenticity and transparency because nothing else works.

The delusional separation that exists between what companies do and what they say is not examined in most MBA programs. Yet we wonder why so many company stakeholders—customers, shareowners, government officials, activist groups, community residents, employees, the news media, and so forth—don’t trust businesses.

Trust in companies and their leaders has never been lower. Peter Peterson, co-founder of the Blackstone Group (BX), noted: “What matters is what the public thinks and the public trust is what’s really crashed.” Yet the course content that would directly address building trust, including ethics and communications strategies, is commonly absent or marginalized in MBA programs.

Ignoring the worth of reputation management is an entrenched academic tradition at most business schools, despite compelling reasons for change. Why? “Reputation” and “communication” are the soft stuff, referred to derisively in an environment where spreadsheets rule and financial measures take precedence over less immediate, nonfinancial indicators such as trust, despite the obvious connection between the latter and sustainable financial performance.

Higher education’s rigid organizational silos separate the variety of academic disciplines needed to deliver even a primer on the related topics of ethics, social responsibility, reputation management, public affairs, interpersonal dynamics and organizational behavior. Therefore, typical MBA graduates have paid scant or no attention to their future responsibilities in forging and defending organizational reputation.

They barely know enough to listen to advisors who have seen disasters play out in the media, literally destroying companies and careers. Naïve executives are much more likely to heed the corporate attorney who tells them, “don’t say anything,” because they fear legal consequences. They took business law at some point and understand the valid implications of that advice. They discount the corporate communications officer’s counsel to “get the truth out fast and say what we’re doing to fix the problem” because they’re unschooled in the business consequences of disregarding this time-tested formula for long-term success.

There is a substantial academic body of knowledge—including planning models and frighteningly compelling case studies (think BP, Toyota (TM), or Enron, to name a few examples)—that would provide business students with at least an orientation on what works in reputation management and what doesn’t. Every MBA student deserves this briefing. Were business schools to deliver it, there would ultimately be more business leaders who could knowledgably weigh the values of legal protection and public trust and then decide more reliably on actions that produce lasting value.

The reason to add this to the curriculum is not that transparency and accountability are admirable values. It’s because knowing how to manage reputation creates value. Research by Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business (Tuck Full-Time MBA Profile)—one of the rare institutions that exposes MBA students to communications beyond “how to do a PowerPoint presentation”—has shown that reputation is favorably influenced by strategic communications that are rooted in behavior, not hype. Consequently, well-regarded companies realize favorable returns along several metrics, including product pricing, stock price, revenue stability, and customer loyalty.

Increasingly, today’s executives realize they’re not communicating effectively. They may start to demand more accountability for reputation management from their direct reports and MBA programs. “Wall Street executives have awakened over the past few years of the financial crisis,” said Jennifer Prosek, CEO of CJP Communications, a New York-based consultancy. “When they saw the way that Goldman Sachs (GS), AIG (AIG), and so many others hurt themselves by mismanaging their own reputations, it was an ah-ha moment. Five years ago, investment banks, venture capital firms, and hedge funds didn’t devote strategy, resources, and positions to a strategic communications function; now they do.”

It remains to be seen if MBA programs will follow suit, notwithstanding the answers that will one day be angrily demanded of their graduates.

Anthony D’Angelo is an accredited member of the Public Relations Society of America, the world’s largest organization of public relations professionals and students. He is co-chair of the group’s effort to influence MBA programs to add strategic communications content to their curricula.

Written by schelluri

June 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Hiring Communications Professionals

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Hiring Communications Professionals

If one browses advertisements (job portals and corporate websites) seeking Senior Communication Professionals in India & overseas, there is a marked difference in the approach itself compared to other sectors and professional hiring processes. This could be brushed aside as developed vs. developing economies viewpoint, but this is where the journey of communication professionals starts to change.

In India, companies & PR agencies seek communication professionals to handle the communication needs of organizations. They could be handling media relations, internal communication, events & sponsorship, CSR, designing, website, marketing communications, and stakeholder engagement etc within the framework of Corporate Communications in a typical corporate setup. This role also has touch of Branding and Advertising depending on the industry type and size of the team but at times falls into realm of Marketing.

PR agencies in India range from mom-and-pop shops run by individuals handing out simple press releases to large firms with pan-India reach offering strategic communication consulting mandates. The large PR agencies in India include Adfactors PR, Genesis Burtson Marseiller, Vaishnavi Corporate Communications, Perfect Relations, Text 100, 20:20 among others not necessarily in that order. They handle the communication mandates of large business conglomerates like Reliance Industries, Tata Group, SBI, Exide Batteries, Rajasthan Royals, L&T, CII, Apeejay group, DLF, Unitech, Jindal Steel, ICICI Bank from the corporate sector to image management of even political parties like the Congress besides celebrities & sport stars.

The Corporate Communication & PR industry is still in its nascent stage in India, but is growing fast with the onset of competition of established PR agencies from the west knocking doors of the Indian firms. The globalization of commerce – Indian firms becoming aggressive in tapping foreign shores for establishing business or acquiring firms in different geographies has led to a greater emphasis on the need for proper communications models to succeed. The spread of Internet only added more pressure to communicate as consumers across the globe seek more information on Indian corporate affairs and www.xxx.com started becoming the ideal gateway to understand the firm, prospective employer or next business target.

Against this backdrop, the explosion of Social Media into the Indian Inc storyline was expected. While the advertising world is still grappling how to tame this animal with its diverse forms spreading its tentacles at frenetic pace – the PR & Corporate Communication fraternity is still not ready to accept challenges it poses to traditional forms. While most would like to wish it away as just a passing phenomenon – the pace of growth of Face book, LinkedIn, Twitter, and You Tube among other SM tools in India is staggering and threatening to change the face of communications. However, the Indian corporate is also waking up to this phenomenon of Social Media & its implication on communication – the question most of them are wanting to ask their PR Agency & Corporate Communication team – should we start engaging with this audience or wait??

Being a small & highly networked industry – professionals are difficult to find with right skill set to deal with the above mandates. Movement within the PR agency industry is pretty rampant at the entry to mid-segment and driven more by clients and compensation. Once the professional crosses the 10-year experience mark in his career – life starts to get slightly complicated in terms of placement. Indian corporate sector would like to be with the Joneses and have a communication department but not very sure what they expect them to deliver. Professionally run firms are faced with the issue of the need for a cost-center when marketing & sales are handling business & marketing function. The promoter-led family run business that are fast gaining recognition in all industry verticals have also taken fancy to this need of having communication departments. All business now Pretend to understand that it’s very critical & important to communicate with stakeholders – whether they are business partners, vendors & suppliers, employees, polity, bureaucracy and Media besides others.

The HR fraternity spread within the firm or recruiters & consultants are now increasingly trying to connect with this community to get them placed at all levels. The senior level gets difficult to crack and hence networking plays a critical role in this relationship building attempt by them. The use of SM tools is playing an important role to bridge the gap. A LinkedIn or Face book profile user would understand me better as any communication professional on these networks gets large number of requests/invitation to connect from recruiters.

The hiring conundrum gets murkier as the seniority in the industry increases as the corporate is still unable to figure out whether he needs this department or not. This makes the task of HR managers more difficult to write/define Job Description/Desired Role of this communication professional. The advertisement speaks volumes of the clarity of role description between India and the west. However, what adds to the confusion are the poorly informed consultants & hiring managers of the communication industry and also what they would probably do in the agency or firm once joined.

Indian PR agencies are slightly better lot in terms of time taken for decision-making. If they find the candidate to be suitable (whatever that means) – decision is taken reasonably quick more often than not. The Indian Corporate recruitment story for role in Indian Corporate or MNC is completely different with lots of pregnant pauses. There are too many levels this senior communication person needs to pass to get that COVETED (r u sure??) assignment. It starts with probably a recruiter first scrutinizing the candidate and then sending his profile to the company for HR to take next call. This is then followed by the meeting different people from Marketing, Sales and CEO if it’s professionally run but with the promoters if it’s a family-run business. After going through this routine checks about his FIT to company and/or culture – there is the famous PREGNANT PAUSE. Neither the HR recruiter/consultant nor the company HR team gives any status update on his candidature. The PREGNANT Pause could lead to being still-born or premature but is left there with the candidate fuming in frustration and/or anticipation whether he/she is the chosen one. Hiring in India gets highly unprofessional at this juncture after all the meetings, discussions with so many people – LOOP IS NOT CLOSED.

I am not sure whether one should feel happy to become a senior communication professional in India or not in this confused and yet-to-grow & evolve Indian Inc. Is it a case of not wanting to take a decision or is to have consensus decision making process that companies need to interview one person for this role 5-7 times and still not know what to do. This is what beats me as a senior communication professional working in India – will the India Inc leadership wake up and understand need for communication and hence hire the right person. The entire process of hiring needs to undergo paradigm shift if we want to be seen as a strong growing economic superpower in a globally networked business and ready to meet the challenges of the Web 2.0, Social Media or any other communication tool that is likely to emerge in coming days….