Yuvraj Mehta, Reliance Infrastructure: Public affairs in India is What PR Was in the Early 90s

 

Yuvraj Mehta (Vice President & Group Head - Corporate Communications at Reliance Infrastructure Ltd)

As Head of the Corporate Communications at Reliance Infrastructure Ltd, Yuvraj Mehta has a challenging role heading a corporate involved in media sensitive landscapes of power, energy, and transportation. Yet, despite not having any formal training in PR, this is a role he has embraced entirely. So much so, that he heads communications for several distinct verticals without even engaging a PR agency!

In an exclusive interview with Image Management, Yuvraj Mehta (Vice President & Group Head – Corporate Communications at Reliance Infrastructure Ltd), discusses the challenges facing the communications industry and how different non PR tools are slowly entering the PR arena.

 

Q.  What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the communications industry in India?

The biggest challenge is shortage of manpower. The reason is that the industry is growing at a very fast rate. Basically people come to this industry from two streams, marketing and journalism. When I say lack of manpower, I mean, a lack of training, a lack of information about the industry in detail, or how to enter into this industry and what all skills you need in this industry.

Q.  What are a few things you would like to change in terms of how PR agencies operate?

For the last 15 years, I have seen the evolution process of the agencies and, although I have never worked with them, I have engaged with them significantly as a corporate communication professional.  There are few things that have moved in a good direction, like proper measurement of the PR work that you do, though a lot still needs to be done. The depth of the knowledge of the industry and scope of work has expanded. There are a lot more advertorials, other BTL activities slowly entering the PR arena, that go beyond the normal coverage we talk about. The thing that hurts as a corporate communication professional is that because of availability of information on the web, often incomplete, people have stopped doing media rounds which is very important. The generation that is coming doesn’t want to do media rounds, doesn’t do strong follow ups. All this looks very basic but these are the key pillars of the industry.

While engaging with an agency, several times they say “I have issued the press release”, and when I call the journalist, they tell me “ I receive 500 press releases every day, and your guy doesn’t even have the courtesy to call me, brief me, do the follow ups!”

I feel, certain old things which I believe should still be followed strictly by the agencies and the face to face interaction, day to day movement like a sales man is fabulous work. I have one year experience in sales, and I still believe that is the best part of life because sales gives you the real feel of the ground and if you are on the field with a journalist, interacting with him face to face, you know what is going to come out tomorrow, instead of calling them.

Q.  What is your take on the state of communications education in India? What kind of talent do you see entering the job market?

The state of communication education in India needs to evolve. Either you get journalism or MBA marketing students as corporate communication guys. When I say communication, it has to have a blend of all these things, along with decency.

Another problem we face is that MBA student have marketing skills but know very little about communication or journalism. Alternatively, when you hire a journalist, they know about journalism but not about marketing. So, there is a dearth of manpower in terms of a person with basic human values and the combined knowledge of journalism, marketing and command over language – be it English or Hindi. They should try to understand what the journalist wants from them and how to get them interested because they are under tremendous pressure to meet their deadlines. Manpower still needs to evolve, both in the industry as well as when it comes to the teaching.

Q. How do you see the role of public affairs evolving in India?

Public affairs per se have not evolved at all. It is going through a phase that corporate communication or PR was undergoing in the early or mid 90s. Back then, no one understood what PR is and they used to say PR equaled “bribe the journalist, buy him a drink and they will do your story.”  Every one used to say what is the big deal about getting a story done? The industry has moved and matured. I think we are going to see a similar kind of transformation in the corporate affairs or public affairs. It will move from a disorganized format of lots of rumors about it to a proper organized format.

When you do corporate affairs, there are a lot of scientific approach to follow, but those things have either not started or are at the initial stage. Corp comm. or PR per se has started getting into niche values, so you have specializations such as crisis communications, celebrity management, etc. The branch has completely started to diversify, and got more professional people who can understand that. I see a similar thing in public affairs in times to come.

Q.    Three commercial films have been shot on the Delhi Airport Express Line and at least 5 Bollywood films have used the location for film promotions. What has the role of the Communications team been in driving this?

It is one of the many marketing activities that falls into place. So just getting associated with a film, featuring in a film or post film is part of the overall marketing campaign that the company does to promote its product. They try to ensure that people experience this, know about this because it is the airport express line. The majority of the travelers are the people that are travelling nationally and internationally. Film is a medium that cuts across to people global as well as local. This is part of the marketing campaign to reach to the people and tell them how it is different from other metros in the country.

 

Interviewed by Kunal Pal for Image Management

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