Decoding the Nature of Public Affairs in India @ Prestival 2012

From L to R : Rohit Bansal, Sugato Hazra and Rajiv Ahuja

A discussion on Decoding the nature of Public Affairs in India was moderated by Rohit Bansal (CEO – India Strategy Group) with Sugato Hazra (Director, Adfactors PR) and Rajiv Ahuja (Group Director, Navayuga Group) as panelists, on Day 2, PRestival 2012. PRestival, a two-day Public Relations festival was organized at the Devi Ratn Resort, Jaipur.

Going into the nature of public affairs, Sugato Hazra spoke on the perception of government affairs as purely government relations.

“The public only doesn’t mean government. Merely knowing a secretary is not public affairs,” Mr. Hazra referenced the example of the case of A.D. Burney, who, to end the stigma attached to women smoking in public and increase overall cigarette consumption, had ten hand-picked ladies smoke in public on Easter Monday. The huge media furor generated ended the taboo on women’s cigarette consumption.

Hazra said, “I believe this qualifies as a public affairs exercise. He changed the fashion of the day, and created a market. I think public affairs in India should be viewed in that context.”

Rajiv Ahuja, who provided a client-side perspective, decoded the different interpretations of public affairs.

“I think the difference between academic definition and applied definitions is very important. Business always focuses on its key constituents, which are traditionally shareholders, employees, customers and business associates.  There is a whole set of touch points outside of these classical four constituencies, and that is the domain that public affairs addresses. It is actually the art and science of managing your business environment, in such a way that you compete without disadvantage. That when public affairs comes into play,” said Rajiv. Speaking on the “reactive” nature of image management, he added, “decoding public affairs is to be able to create a practice where practitioners understand the ongoing exercise of managing relations with all stakeholders.”

Speaking on the proportions of government affairs to public affairs, Sugato Hazra stated: “If you are a start up in a highly regulating or de-regulating environment, for example, the insurance industry a few years back, 80% of the work was public affairs.  Post deregulation and a stable policy environment, the role of public affairs is down to 30%.”

Citing his experiences in the field, Mr. Hazra raised the example of universal banking, which has turned financial institutions into financial institutions like ICICI Bank etc.

Rohit Bansal moderating the Public Affairs Session

When Rohit Bansal asked whether India Inc has a clear understanding of public affairs, Mr. Hazra responded, “By the sheer number of people who talk about the phrase public affairs loosely, they do not understand it. In value terms, the majority of India Inc understands public affairs, but not in volume terms.”

On whether India Inc is equipped to talk about its public affairs needs, Rajiv Ahuja responded “We are not. We are not, because the organisations that provide such services have done in addition to their core area of services. There is enough learning and capability building in this space – it is given importance in several global MNC markets, where it is perhaps the most important weapon in the corporate arsenal.  Out of the companies that performed successfully on the Dow Jones, 60% of the CEO’s time was spent on public affairs.”

Speaking on IM as a career choice, Mr. Hazra cited the collapse of Vaishnavi as a deterrent for people to venture into the business of public affairs. He said, “Public affairs everywhere, even in the US, have a revolving door. People involved in lawmaking process join lobbying firms. You cannot expect a youngster to suddenly develop talent – it needs experience.”

Speaking on working in public affairs, Rajiv Ahuja stated, “The issue really is organisations that are reliable, consistent, trust worthy, understand confidentiality, understand your corporate value system.”

Written by Kunal Anand for Image Management

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