Q. As one of biggest communications industry bodies in India, how does the ABCI advance the role of communications in the country?
ABCI is a body of business communications professionals; we’re not confined to a body of PR professionals in India. There are several organizations such as PRSI, PRCI who are working for the cause of strictly PR professionals. Business communication has a wider terminology and a wider product horizon. It encompasses professions like business, media, website designing, caricatures, designers, and so forth. ACBCI was essentially found with a view to recognize and reward excellence in business communications. In the last couple of years, people have started benchmarking themselves against the people and organizations recognized by the ABCI. That has certainly developed a lot of skill and technology in the communication profession and that is how ABCI look to be a facilitator who can bring advancement in communication profession. So this is the advantage and this is essentially the road map as to how ABCI is functioning in India to highlight the best talent from the communication industry.
Q. How has the communications function evolved during your professional career? Is it now widely considered a board room function?
When I joined the communications industry, way back in 1989, we used to have a set of 3-4 office boys that we gave press releases to and told them that they had to cover these many number of newspapers each! Then came one small transformation called the fax machine, where in I would either personally fax or tell someone else to fax. Then came the entire technological revolution called the internet, computers and on one click, you can send the press release across the globe. So while at one end, the technological transformation took place, on the other hand, the entire PR and communication industry has come out of that wining and dining phase. At one point of time, if you were thoroughly useless, then you were transferred ultimately to a PR department. Or this was a department which was meant for cricketers and all other sportsmen and their basic duties were essentially protocol and not image management or image building for their companies. Post 1990, there has been a lot of change, and today, 20 years down the line, and I’ve witnessed an entire transformation.
I’d say this is the renaissance period for communication industry in India. On the one hand it is technologically driven, on the other hand, lot of new ideas has come up, and that has totally changed the industry. There used to be, at one point of time that the press reporter would say: ‘Are you buying me scotch? What will you gift to me?’
Today, they are not interested in scotch and gifts anymore, they want hardcore news, and they have a kind of fear that if I won’t break news and someone else will break it, and I will lose my credit. So that kind of professionalism is coming in the entire communication industry, and that, I think is the better way of progressing ahead.
Q. What is your view on the ethical standards within the PR industry? What needs to change?
How many companies in reality perceive PR as a management function? How many companies have given recognition to this noble profession at a board level?
To my knowledge, there are only two persons who could be on the board. One is K.S. Neelakandan at Pfizer, and the other is Jitender Bhargava who came on the behalf of Air India. I haven’t seen a third PR professional, or communication professional on the board of a corporate. The other side of the story is there are so many companies who talk of ethics and values but then they appoint an agency, and through them transfer of cash and so on and so forth take place. So the company projects themselves as on who is governing at the highest standards, and if the agency is compromised in any way, they can say that they didn’t have a hand in it. That shouldn’t be the case. If the company talks of governance, then that governance should also be made applicable to their external stakeholders like agencies or consultants, and so on and so forth. Somehow, this is lacking in India. I can give you a classic example. If you buy a Volkswagen car in Germany or anywhere in Europe and tomorrow if at all you want to discard your car, it is one of the duties which fall under their ethical guidelines to take back that car and dispose it off responsibly. This is not happening in India, so somewhere we are also lacking in actually imbibing these ethics and values in our core stream.
Q. What is the biggest challenge facing the Indian PR industry?