Public Relations in India: It’s okay to blur the lines

By Swaroop Sarkar

After learning the basic fundamentals ofPublic Relations in the United States, I headed over to my homeland to extend a career in the field of communications. I was overwhelmed when the biggest domestic PR agency (not to be named) sent me an offer letter.  One month down the line, I must say I am surprised at the way things work around here. Not to sound too much of a foreigner but work mandates are shockingly different.

Drafting a press release is nothing like drafting a press release. There is no regard for the tense in which the headline should be. The lead can be the biggest paragraph if required. Opinions may be included, and often are, as per convenience. Grammatical errors are no big deal. Why? Because “This is how it has been happening.” “This is what the journalist will like.”

It’s all about media relations here. It’s all about getting stories published and showing them off to the client. There is no apparent strategy involved. The brainless may succeed, too. Creativity can take a back seat because people are too comfortable to change anything.There’s a template for every document. My copy of the “Strategic Planning Model”is yet to be used..

What is the main influencer of these norms?Client expectations. The client, in most cases, doesn’t know the definition of PR. You can show him an op-ed piece and tell him it’s a press release, unless there’s a Corporate Communications person overseeing stuff from his end.

As far as I can identify another source of the problem, it’s that people don’t have theoretical knowledge of PR. Nobody has been taught how to draft a release; they have been shown that this is what is followed. Hence, the agency never challenges the client. He might as well disregard the obvious and we abide.

So it’s okay to blur the lines. It’s okay to disregard what “Public Relations” really means. It is okay to discount the very basics of it.  Again, not my place to suggest a change. But the truth is I wouldn’t do it even if I were a more senior person. One reason – the appetite for an entire organization to change their functioning is simply not there.

We’re not practicing Public Relations the way the West does. We’ve adopted the term and we’ve imposed our own prerogatives. It works, you know.

So until my finances allow me to set up a shop of my own, work shall continue the way it has in the past. I won’t have problems climbing the ladder because in terms of PR knowledge I am very well equipped. I have the grounds to have a say at the table.

I hope you found the contrast a tad bit interesting.

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