Here we discuss the basic ingredients of Public Relations: Topical Issues, The backdrop - economic and social, What makes PR tick, the pain points, the problems, the positives, the negatives... almost anything under the sun related to the communication industry!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Narendra Modi's PR issues!!!

During his Chief Ministership,  Narendra DamodarDas Modi, the face of the development in Gujarat and an enigma for rest of the world, including people living outside Gujarat in India, went on a public relation spree when he hired a global public affairs and communication firm to improve his image and to showcase Gujarat as the dream destination for investment to the world community. His Vibrant Gujarat campaign became his calling card and suddenly Narendra Modi had arrived on the national scene on the development plank!

Come National elections and BJPs choice of the PM candidate,  disclosed in 2013 itself, Narendra Modi had firmly been estblished as a messiah for the downtrodden who would change the face of India with a magic wand just like Harry Potter.

In the run up to 2014 election, BJP and Mr. Modi hired another firm, an Indian firm this time, for image and reputation management. There is no denying that the agency did a tremendous job as it was successful in creating a Modi wave across the country and BJP came to power with a resounding win.

He is one of the very few politicians who understand that news makes opinion and that this is a job best handled by professionals. His PR machinery works wonders for him and, despite one or two hiccups, the entire campaign was successful in creating the brand "NaMo".

After he became the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi got the attention that he deserved and the national as well as international media was quick to share how a tea vendor with no resources at all  became the Prime Minister of the largest democracy of the world. His invitations to the leaders of the APAC region, especially Pakistan, to the swearing in won him laurels from across the world and this was only through effective media management.

After one year of Modi Government, the social media which was instrumental in his phenomenal rise, has suddenly been filled with sarcastic remarks pointing out mistakes in his working style. The news of his meeting with the Chinese premier, Obama's visit to India as a Chief Guest for 26th january, India’s Nuclear Pact with Australia, decline in communal clashes, Rising hopes of the world in Indian economy, has all been overshadowed by his travelling across the world, his suit on republic day and the Lalitgate episode.

The sudden change in the PR tactics where he chose not to respond to these accusations, neither in any interview, nor on the social media, is quite surprising as he was the one who used social media successfully to shape his public image. The role of his PR machinery and the external PR agency that I believe he is still working with, therefore becomes very very important. They have to ensure that they are proactively disseminating information on his ideology and his leadership that will lead to a strong and prosperous India. 

It is high time that the people of India start witnessing the changes that have been brought about in the country which was why they had bestowed faith on this man and given him a majority in the Parliament. It is the responsibility of the PR team of NaMo to start working in full gear again. Today the dent in his credibility is more due to his sudden silence on several controversial issues rather than any real change in his situations. Things are getting better on ground and people's perception of the same is getting worse.

It is important that his PR machinery understands that the Indian population, which voted him into power on the basis of the trust that he commanded from each one of them, is very very finicky and can easily overturn the situation at the next elections. Backed by strong actions, the PR team needs to come up with a long term strategy to undo the damage caused, and move on to rebuild the trust amongst the citizens of the country.

The PR team also needs to proactively look at what and when to comment and  when to shut up and share their thoughts on topical issues. People in the country are suddenly very sceptical of the status quo and Team NaMo needs to realize that it takes time to build an image. The team was successful in building the image and reputation once but it needs constant work. The NaMo machinery needs to start reinforcing the brand MODI again, before it is too late.  

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam: A People's President or a visionary???

Ever since Dr. Kalam, India’s 11th President passed away on the 27th of July 2015, there have been reams written on him. Both in the Virtual World that is the Social media and Twitter and the actual world i.e. the media, paeans in his praise are being sung by the minute.

Rather than being carried away in the heat of the moment and going on and on about the virtues of a person who undoubtedly excelled in whatever he did, one must analyze the legacy that he is leaving behind and understand the importance of it.

What is it that made people like Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji, Annie Besant, etc. become immortal?? If we find answer to this we can safely address the importance of Dr. Kalam and the potential of his becoming immortal rather than just occupying space in the history books as the “People’s President”.

If you look at the common thread between Swami Vivekananda, Gandhiji and Annie Besant, they all have been harbingers of Social Change. They all stand for Ideas and Values which, when propagated, were before their times and were considered Radical but slowly they found acceptance and today form the core of the values that make our society.

Dr. Kalam was indeed a Great scientist, a Good President who opened up his Presidency to the People like none before him had done, a Great motivator of the youth particularly the Students. What else??? 

Has Dr. Kalam consciously or unconsciously talked or bought about any Social Change?? Is there a larger message that Dr. Kalam has given to the society?? Work is Worship, an age old saying has been eloquently promoted by Dr. Kalam, "Dream is not that which you see while sleeping, it is something that does not let you sleep".

Has Dr. Kalam's philosophy reached the hinterlands of India, amongst the poorest of poor?? Do or Can people at the Base of Pyramid really relate to Dr. Kalam??? I am not trying to run down the accomplishments of Dr. Kalam, I am just trying to understand if  will Dr. Kalam become immortal??

Dr. Kalam is an inspiration to this generation. Be it the odds against which he rose to occupy the supreme chair in India, be it his unflinching Nationalism, Be it the devotion to the Student Community and be it the Value System that he followed, Be it the religious divide that he conquered, all are unparalleled in Modern Indian History.

So the importance of Dr. Kalam at the present moment cannot be denied. But whether he will serve as an inspiration to the generations to come, is a big question mark. I daresay unless his legacy is carried forward, there is a real danger that he will just be another name in the History books eventually.

Has he impacted the Society so much so as to bring societal changes?? I am sorry to say that the answer is an unequivocal No. Will he become immortal?? I would say the jury is still out on this and will remain so for sometime despite UN deciding to christen his birthday as the “International Students Day”.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Liberalisation @25

There is nothing magical about 25 as a number. When you say 25, it does not have a ring of being a milestone. Strictly speaking, there is nothing magical about the number 25.

When India’s most accomplished cricketer Sachin Tendulkar announced his retirement as he entered into the 25th year of his international cricket career, the pundits were quick to look at the statistics – 25 years. Nearly 35,000 runs in first class cricket. 100 international centuries. 200 test matches. He had reached the zenith during his playing days, a feat unmatched in the history of the game. That also sounded nearly perfect statistic for the little master, for who it meant a lifetime of cricket.

25 years is hardly a long period in the life of a nation though. When you consider the lost opportunities that India has seen during the last 24 years since the announcement of the liberalisation programme on July 24, 1991, it does seem long.

It was a crisis, a balance of payment crisis, that had pushed Finance Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Narasimha Rao to craft together the economic liberalisation programme. Interestingly, the Naramsimha Rao government did not have the full majority. Yet, in less than two months after being voted to power, it had managed to do the job.

2014, if the BJP were to be believed, was another crisis. Over the last 14 months, as the NDA government has gone ahead with some big bang cosmetic changes, the big bang reforms are missing. Reforms that can push states to act within a stipulated time, is not quite on the agenda.

Any economy is driven by sentiment, capital and fundamentals, in that order. If the sentiment can be turned around, capital follows which improves the cycle, leading to higher investments and growth.

The attempt by the Prime Minister to make India among the top 50 countries for ease of doing business is a self-admission of the problem that has persisted for years. For one of the top five economies in the world, the ranking of 142 is hardly anything to write home about. Sentiment has clearly not changed much in the last 12-14 months.

There is little to suggest that the capital investment is happening. Banks are not yet ready to lend for fear of the bad loans, an acute problem with state run banks, which appears to have been brushed under the carpet. Infrastructure is crying for investment but when was the last you heard a big bang announcement by a company that said that it was going to invest for roads, ports, airports or other infrastructure? If you think capital is seeking India’s growth story, show me the money!

The fundamentals of the economy paint a dismal picture. There is little capital investment that could indicate that jobs will be created 12-18 months later. India’s goods exports, hovering around the $300 billion mark, have failed to capitalise on the recovery seen in the western world in the last 12-24 months. Growth in industrial output for May 2015 at 2.7 per cent against May 2014 was an apology after 4.1 per cent growth in April 2015 against a year earlier. If the trend continues, core sector growth could soon make the saffron brigade see red!

Over last two decades, something as basic as the power sector has not been addressed. India had opened the power generation sector in 1992. But power generation has still not been rid of its ills and challenges. Only 17 states have their own power sector regulators. If states don’t move in sync with the national policy 25 years after reforms, pray, how can the reforms percolate to the common man?

After over two decades of liberalisation, the government continues to be in the business of hotels, airlines, telecom, jute, construction, cement, warehousing, shipping, dredging, port, insurance, machine tools and several more.

India was a $250 billon economy when the economic liberalisation was announced. India is now a $2 trillion economy, with the growing clout of a rising consumer class that will be the engine of growth for many years to come. Never mind how big the middle class it. But the rapidly growing consuming class is expected to double the size of the economy in the next five years.

As we enter the 25th year of liberalisation, the nation has grown. The politicians who drive the agenda, often their narrow agenda, seem to have been dwarfed by the nation.

Prime Minister Modi had promised to do a ‘Sachin Tendulkar’ for the economy and for India. It is a pity for the nation of 1.27 billion that he, too, is faltering.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Billion telecom subscribers feeding into Digital India

Last week, a release by India’s telecom regulator TRAI said that India’s telephone subscriber based had hit one billion phone lines. This includes a paltry 26 million landline phones too, which have been anything but growing during these years.

The historic milestone comes just days ahead of the country ready to get into the 25th year of economic reforms.

The three big telecom companies – Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Reliance Communications – whose stocks are listed on the stock exchange clocked nearly Rs. 100,000 crore or nearly $16 billion in revenue during the last financial year. The industry’s revenues, including those of the unlisted companies is in excess of Rs. 200,000 crore or nearly $32 billion.

Despite the scams in the 1990s and the last decade, there is little reason to doubt the success of the telecom sector. If cricket and Bollywood are the religion of the country, the familiar ring of a mobile phone can be described as the soul of every Indian. From about 18 million landline phones and less than half a million mobile phones in 1997, that is a stupendous journey.

No other infrastructure has enjoyed the success that the telecom sector has in the quarter of a century of stuttering reforms. If there are any self congratulatory messages that are floating around, it is time to stop that. A little bit of perspective will help temper the enthusiasm of those who are touting this as an achievement.

India continues to be a power deficit country with a peak power shortage of nearly 15 per cent and shortage of power will stunt growth for the industry. That is woeful for a country that is looking to alleviate poverty and accelerate growth to near double digits. With nearly two-third of the energy needs met by coal, the green brigade continues to point out that it is a cause for worry for the nation. The power sector was opened up for reforms in 1992 with eight fast track power projects, including the infamous Enron. Nearly 25 years later, reforms in distribution of power have been the slowest and the proverbial last mile connectivity continues to be a challenge.

UPA2 had promised to build 20 kilometres of roads everyday and when the government ended its term last year, the figure was no better than 8 kilometres. The NDA government has promised to take it to 30 kilometres a day beginning 2016. During the current financial year the government is hoping to build 8500 kilometres. But the worry is April-May has seen an average of 4 kilometres a day. Road Minister Nitin Gadkari has said that PPP model for the roads sector is not viable so the contracts for the next two years are being awarded through the engineering, procurement and construction or EPC route.

There has been some momentum in the last 12 months in the ports sector and over 30 projects have been awarded which will add over 250 million tons per annum capacity to India’s ports. India’s $300 billion plus goods exports could do with more efficient ports that could ship and ship in products faster, freeing up locked capital for companies.

As we enter the 25th year of reforms, it is time to reform the reformers. The half baked reform measures, evidently, have not helped. It is time for a full Monty so that it could serve as a showcase for the world. The focus now should be on identifying what India has missed out on because of tardy implementation and the half measures in the name of reforms.

For telecom, though, there is one reason for the Republic to celebrate. The man who was the telecom minister in the 1990s when the sector was being deregulated, Sukh Ram, has been cooling his heels in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, convicted on corruption charges in 2011. Now, when a former Defence Minister allegedly threatens a senior police officer on the phone, the recorded conversation has found its way to YouTube. Without the proliferation of mobile phones, could this ever have been possible?

Look at it in another way: Riding on the foundations of the telecom revolution, the recorded conversation is going viral. Are we testing the waters of the Digital India plan?