Endearingly called PR, its acronym for two social paradigms – Public and Relations. Once considered a mere side show by the high and mighty of ‘Advertising’, PR now stands on its own, with hi- tech props and matching accessories, to be warmly embraced by individuals, organisations, corporates and Nations alike.
PR as a phenomenon is not new to the world; it existed in various forms and manifestations all through the ages, though not in its present shape. In fact, one can even trace it back to the Garden of Eden, when God warned Adam not to tarnish his image by eating the forbidden fruit at any cost.
When ‘Homo Sapiens’ emerged from their caves, and began to spread across the vastness of the planet, in search of food and other necessities, they first lived in small groups coalescing into societies. Communication became imperative; PR was born in its crudest form – ‘word by mouth’. Nomadic tribes at the beginning of civilization attained prominence or demise by the way they communicated or positioned themselves; the ‘might is right’ philosophy of the olden days was maintained through how effectively they communicated outdoing the other and establish themselves.
From nomads to settlements and from settlements to states, as civilisations advanced ,‘survival of the fittest’ was the mantra; here again communication and carving out an image – mild, arrogant, savage, fierce etc became the basis for survival, each state was to be known by the image it created for themselves. In ancient Greece, the two Nation states –Athens and Sparta -were in a positioning game, Athens positioned itself as the pioneer and home of democracy while Sparta was known as the warrior kingdom, both survived on their respective USP for a long time until Sparta created ‘fear psychosis’ in the minds of Athens and overran their country and decimated their democracy.
History is replete with instances of fighting and winning wars on psychological factors by spreading fear within ranks and forces and creating disarray and mayhem amongst them, however numerically strong they happened to be. When Alexander the great, the young ruler of a hardly known Macedonia set out to conquer the world, more than the strength of his army, it was the image created by his close confidantes to be ruthless and invincible, that worked in his favour The fortress of impregnability erected around him was nothing but a creation of fertile minds with traces of PR ingrained in them.
However, Alexander met his match in the irrepressible Chanakya who was biding his time, having mentored a rustic lad Chandragupta to be the future king of a unified Indian empire which he had envisioned and nearly succeeded barring the threat from Alexander. Chanakya an eminent Vedic scholar, held firmly the view that whatever be your moves, your actions, you have to look at your ‘permanent interests’, whether your actions be positive or negative, as long as it serves your ‘permanent interests’ pursue it. Simply looking at the end is not a means to achieving it. He also believed that there are only two types of people in this world, either, they are wise or they are fools, there is no in between. Armed with these, he unleashed a massive communication blitzkrieg in history aimed at demoralising Alexander, his close advisers and his legions. First the ‘wrath of Indian Gods would decimate you and your army’ message was disseminated through one of Alexander’s own advisors. It was then followed up with planting, trusted Chandra Gupta himself, among the Greek army columns, particularly among the Indian contingent, rousing nationalistic feelings and creating internal dissension to such an extent that the world conqueror had to retreat abandoning his global ambitions.
Looking at the last few examples, one can clearly see how, ‘word by mouth’ the only available mode of communication at that time, was effectively used to project an image in a certain way to achieve ones goals.
Modern PR is also all about ‘image building’ –images of products and services- in segments; images of individuals hailing from various spheres – social, economic ,political; images of corporates, both private and public; images of organisations, institutions and nations in animated segments. Image building is effective on the basic premise that ‘man is a social animal’.
In today’s fast paced world, innovation is the key to the success, and this holds true for PR as well. Innovation in strategies, innovation in execution and innovation in outcome. No PR strategies remain constant, and are as such continuously being revamped, refurbished and overhauled to keep pace with the fast changing times and trends.
The latest phenomenon in PR is personality centric, contrary to the organisation/brand centric of earlier times, by which the image is built around the CEO or the head of the organisation. Here the profile of the person concerned is constantly being idolized , through media exposure and indirectly, so is the organisation and product line an effective strategy, several ‘once upon a time’ low profile figures like Aditya Birla and Anand Mahindra, have reached great heights taking their organisation and products with them.
Another popular area for PR today, is crisis control. When a business falls into disrepute, the company has to retrieve lost ground. PR goes deep into the matter, pinpointing grey areas and establishing a track for healthy recovery and customer communication.
PR has definitely, come a long way from the age old days of ‘word by mouth’ communication.
A fitting finale would be an attempt to caricaturize the typical present day PR professional -a happy go lucky soul, endowed with boundless energy, tastefully attired, pleasant in disposition, with a subtle smile on the lips. Confident to the core, a solution on his finger tips, patient, calm and composed. A salute to you Mr. PR professional. You have arrived in style and here to stay forever.