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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Do PR Agencies encourage professionals from Other Fields

Recently I saw the website of a leading PR agency in India and saw the profile of one of their heads, whom I knew and had worked with professionally. This person was shown as the head of Investor relations, which set me wondering, since this person though being a good PR professional certainly did not have any Finance background.

It made me ponder as to how we recruit and train our manpower, and how we allocate them job responsibilities. Are the various functions of a PR exercise treated similarly e.g. is Financial PR the same as Normal PR. The problem is that we continue to view any and all PR as media intensive and train and pick up people accordingly.

But PR is not just media relations. Financial PR requires a great deal of interaction with the non media, Financial community such as Analysts, Research Houses, Brokerages, Mutual Funds, Private Equity and Venture Capitalists. This community is looking at things from the financial angle like what are the capex plans, what is the Earning Per share, what are the profitability ratios for different streams of businesses, what is the ROI, EBDITA, PE ratios, how soon will a new project achieve breakeven etc.

Is it reasonable for us to expect that a non - finance professional will be able to cope adequately on his/her own when faced with a barrage of such questions. I would assume that he/she will come up with "I will get back to you with the figures after talking to the Management" or in all likelihoods give the number of the CFO of the organisation. A finance professional in this role would be the most suited.

Similarly in most of the large corporates which are catering to the B2B segment, the trade media is very important. Most of the trade media comprises of people who have loads of experience and are professionally trained or qualified for that trade. How reasonable is it to expect a PR professional to do justice of dealing with such a media. At the max we end up just pushing Press Releases or requesting for interviews and most of this is also a barter against advertising. We also end up complaining that the Trade publications do not do justice to our clients because they are only after advertising.

I believe this is wrong, in nearly a decade of our existence, we have never had to broker editorial content in lieu of advertising. Some of the Editors of the leading trade publications in the auto component sector have relied heavily on us for providing them good content. But how can you generate good content unless you understand the trade.

Do our clients have non-finance professionals in finance roles, non-science people manning engineering sections? No. So why should we not try to hire people on the same lines.

Ultimately what is PR? It is trying to further the business objectives of entities through communication. For this to happen we have to have a thorough understanding of our Clients business. How reasonable is it to expect a person who has done a course in Mass Communication or Journalism to understand the nuances of Finance or Engineering? Imagine trying to teach a mass communication professional, engineering or Finance? On the other hand it is easier to train a person from science background, the requisite communication skills.

We as an organisation have consciously refrained from picking up people with PR background and have always picked up people with backgrounds of Finance, Science, Art etc. It has been our experience that some of the best PR practitioners in our consultancy have had nothing to do with PR before they joined us.

One of them Milton Singh ( who has taken a sabbatical due to family reasons ) is a case study in himself. An MBA in IT systems, he began his career with Airtel and went on to work in the BPO sector before joining us.He was one person who could sell anything to anybody. But was it just his selling skills? No it was his ability to understand the subject on hand and create the need in the buyer to acquire that subject. This all came from his having undertaken the rigors of doing MBA in such a specialised field as IT systems. He is an outstanding PR professional today.

For PR to evolve as an Industry, it is very important that we encourage people from diverse background to enter the profession. It is high time that we dispelled the notion that to get a job in the PR sector, one needs to have mass communication background.

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