Praveen Rikhy, MD Melcole: Industry Awards Can Help Counter Claims About Measuring Effectiveness of PR

Praveen Rikhy, Managing Director of MelCole Public Relations

Q. Many industry experts consider high attrition rates as one of the biggest challenges facing the industry. What do you see as a solution for this problem?

Attrition is definitely high because for any growing industry, there are lots of people coming in because the barriers to entry are so low. Having said that, what we’re seeing is people from different professions are coming into the PR field because it is getting the attention that the industry deserves.

So, yes and no. Attrition is an issue, because I think the impatience level in the youngsters has a lot to do with it. They tend to want to go a lot faster so that makes them do hop jobs. To counter that, with the PRCAI for example, all of us are insisting that you spend at least one year in another agency before moving on. Another way we combat this is via our training programs. We take freshers and put them through an 18 month training program to bring them up to speed. Having said that, MelCole is the greatest hunting ground. I don’t think there’s an agency that doesn’t have ex-Melcolians!

The other factor that happens in PR is that you find a lot of good PR professionals, because this a female dominated profession, tend to take a break, once they get married, once they have children. In fact, I’ve started to work with a lot of our ex-MelColeans from out of home because that is one way to address that.

Q. During your professional career, has communications evolved from a support function to a core business function? What is driving this change?

Right in the beginning, I would say, 28 years ago when I started this profession, we used to spend 50-60% of our time telling clients what we don’t do. But today, people understand the role that communication is now playing and there is much greater appreciation. At MelCole, we have chosen to remain predominately with MNC Clients, so they’ve always been PR savvy. The change is more with the Indian companies. I think there is definitely a better awareness today. Marketing professionals are getting really savvy and are better understanding the power of PR to deliver a lot more than just advertising.

So you see PR now being made a part of marketing programs right from the inception, earlier it was more of a top management function, you know, your role was to interact with the CEO office and make sure his image was looked after, and then you did some amount of product and brand support. Now that’s no longer there. So you have very distinct functions. MARCOM is very well understood, and the role of PR to actually develop the public perception is very appreciated.

Q. How important are industry awards?

I would think, more than awards, what we need, is a better emphasis on standards. At PRCAI you must be aware, we have been trying to enforce certain standards with the membership. And I think that it’s very important that the clients ensure that the agencies they are working with are adhering to that. You keep coming across instances where agencies have resorted to gift coupons and things like that. So, yes, I think awards are a nice way to showcase the work that the industry is doing. We definitely need to showcase more of what has been done in our geo-region, because you still have doubters, still have people who’re saying “can you really quantify, can you really prove, this was due to PR?”

And while I think those challenges continue to be there, one of the best ways to address this is awards. But having said that, there are certain things you cannot seek an award for. Crisis Communication is one, perhaps public affairs is another. Additionally, how do we reward long engagements rather than a six month campaign that you start with a set of objectives and measure the results? So those are the challenges.

Q. What are some tips you would give to freshers just entering the industry?

I get a lot of CVs and meet a lot of freshers who make tall claims, but they’ve done nothing but press releases. There is s a lot more to PR than just simple coverage. A lot of people, having spent a lot of time in the profession still don’t know why they’re doing what they’re doing. I think it’s very important that they spend time investing in themselves.

First, to read about the profession, and then understand and experience its various functions. There is increasing tendency these days to become specialized. So, someone excels in client relationship, another one claims to excel in media relationships etc. I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive; you cannot excel in one without knowing the other. You cannot excel in strategy without knowing implementation. So, a true PR professional is a well-rounded person

A lot of people also still think that it’s a very glamorous profession. While sometimes it can be, it’s all about reading and writing, it’s all about research, its all about knowing which way the economy is going, which way customer preferences are molding. So you are the bridge. You are interpreting the public to your client and your client to the public. So people have to be more willing to invest in themselves.

Q. How does MelCole strive to set themselves apart from the other PR firms in the country?

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