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How to prove PR is beyond Press Relations


Yesterday I read an interview piece in one of the advertising news sites in India in which a senior professional of a PR agency sadly admitted perhaps PR is still just press relations in India. Another old report from PATA, which I happened to read yesterday, said almost the same thing. Reading these made me a bit sad and an inner voice told me to prove somehow it was wrong. PR is more than keeping our journalists friends happy and getting bit fat coverage for our clients. Sure our clients see more value in PR agencies than just that.

Maybe I was just trying to humor myself.

In a recent meeting with a tech major, the corp comm. asked when we presented some non media activities – where is the PR mileage? That question came many times over and however hard we tried to explain, he wasn’t convinced. Slowly it dawned to me that PR to him means media coverage. His question was actually – how do we get media coverage out of that activity?

Are we this bad?

Here are some examples (and more here) I gathered based on my own experiences and observations PR agencies don’t do just press relations anymore in India. Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

1. Strategy: I know this is an overused word. But there are clients, and big names there, that depends majorly on PR agencies to come with the entire launch programmes for its products. Not just that there is a marketing agency working for it and a PR agency has to supplement those marketing initiatives with media activities.

There are big agencies in the market known for their ‘strategy development’. For example a particular company comes with a request saying they are not going anywhere. ‘Please help us what we are doing wrong, what we should do, where are the opportunities, etc’. (Although not said in those many words often). Our agency specially conducts strategy workshops for new clients wherein the key messages and positioning are worked out before the start of any campaign, which are appreciated by majority of the clients.

2. Advocacy: Ok I don’t want to brag about my own agency but last year we did an award winning social campaign wherein our people successfully managed to get many TV stars and important government personalities to speak on public fora supporting the cause. None of the celebrities charged a dime, and even agreed to do a series of road shows. I guess this is an area where PR agencies have an edge over other agencies. For instance, approach these celebrities with your ad agency and the cost factor might just be put up front.

3. Investor relations/government relations: There are PR agencies known for their investor relations/IPO based services, analyst meets, or government relations services. These are not necessarily media activities.

4. Social media: The social media provides a new opportunity for PR agencies to connect with or clients’ customers bypassing the traditional media. I have written about this before mentioning that PR agencies with established social media practice will have an edge on blogger relations and on popularising/marketing a property online and among the various social media influencers and users than say a standalone social media agency that will primarily focus on the development part. I might be wrong but that seems to be my understanding from what I notice. The social media today provides a huge learning opportunity for PR agencies and leverage their expertise of planning a campaign and reaching out to a client’s stakeholders.

5. Editorial services: I am not talking about press releases, fact sheets, Q&As, or spokesperson briefing documents but about white papers, case studies, speeches, website content, etc. that might not have anything to do with any journalist ever but serve other important purposes to a client. Some of the agencies excel in providing these services with dedicated editorial and copywriting teams.


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September 12th, 2008 at 12:01 am

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29 Responses to 'How to prove PR is beyond Press Relations'

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  1. Hi Palin,

    I read this article yesterday (link below) on exchange4media which set me thinking about the actual functioning of PR industry in India. Are we just deluding ourselves by saying that PR is not just press relations when most of the clients (those with a finance related mandate as well) demand coverage and consider it to be a barometer of a successful communications effort?

    Which extends to whether we as PR practitioners are somehow not able to ‘convince’ our clients to think beyond the press (MSM or alternate)

    At the risk o reiterating an often repeated line ‘may be the PR industry in India needs to do a bit of PR for itself!’

    Hemant Morajkar


    Hemant Morajkar

    12 Sep 08 at 8:56 am

  2. Hemant, I think we should never have press coverage as the barometer of a communications campaign. Those press coverage are important to achieve a bigger objective – change in perception, relationship building, awareness, etc. Press coverage means nothing, excepting ego boosting, if they don’t serve any other goals of the company. There are methods being discussed globally on measuring PR and we should try bring some of those in India. Like you mentioned, client education should be one focus area.

  3. Bang On!! Way to go!!


    12 Sep 08 at 1:54 pm

  4. some other service which i thought had nothing to do with media relations and is important is internal communications.But yes somewhere over the years i too have been a party to the other side where more media coverage means higher fees

    himanshu kapadia

    14 Sep 08 at 9:10 pm

  5. Hi Palin
    I think PR in India is still stuck to the old model of “press agentry” and it would take us quite some time to achieve the “two-way symmetrical model of communication”. Be it IR/ Consumer or Corporate PR, clients still judge us with the help of volumnious press dockets. When we talk of ‘strategy’ do we really even bother to know whether the client is using a’resource based view’ or an ‘industrial organization’ perspective?

    Vijay Kapur

    15 Sep 08 at 1:08 am

  6. Hi,

    I’m on my first stint “on the other side” or the client’s side! Been in the PR Industry for nearly 6 years now.

    From a client’s perspective (speaking for myself & the organization i represent) I would say that the “strategy” clients look for is a manner of marketing – how do we maximise on brand/company/product visibility without spending much needed monies on advertising & the like.

    Media coverage is a given! God forbid any agency/PR person dares cross our path saying coverage is not possible! As always, what we look for is “Quality over Quantity”.

    Let me reiterate that I’m about 3 months old in the client side & it can be quite frustrating! I empathise with both, the agency & the client!

    There needs to be some place where the twain can meet!


    Soul Searching

    15 Sep 08 at 2:34 pm

  7. Hi Vijay, Agreed we are stuck on the same model, but it’s changing slowly, isn’t it? That was the point I was trying to make. We are doing many non media activities today that we didn’t use to do earlier.

    Palin Ningthoujam

    15 Sep 08 at 2:38 pm

  8. @ Soul Searcing Do you ask for only media activities or more from your agency?

    Palin Ningthoujam

    15 Sep 08 at 2:39 pm

  9. Hi Palin,

    We ask for both. However, I’ve realized that the plan sent is more often than not only media related!

    As the client, our end result is as always, to get maximum coverage (positive always!)

    Soul Searching

    15 Sep 08 at 2:43 pm

  10. Hi Soul Searching. Glad you are sharing this conversation. One request. Next time, when you meet the agency, can you ask them to come up with non-media activities as well that will help maximise your product visibility? That can set the ball rolling. You need not implement those activities but the possibilities can be explored.

    Palin Ningthoujam

    15 Sep 08 at 2:48 pm

  11. Thanks a lot! Will definitely try using that angle. Let’s hope that this bears some fruit!!

    Soul Searching

    15 Sep 08 at 2:51 pm

  12. The internet has provided easy access both to media and to clients to interact directly. So the old role of PR agencies as facilitators is no longer valid, and as you rightly say, they must redefine themselves. Some can, some can’t and will go the way of the encyclopaedia salesfolks. check out my August post on PR in the Flat World at http://www.jessiepaul.com/

    Jessie Paul

    15 Sep 08 at 4:33 pm

  13. Hi Palin
    sure, i do agree with you that many non-media related activities are being conducted by PR consultancies. But i think lots more needs to be done by the PR industry. A conscious effort needs to be made by all PR consultancies in creating an awareness that PR is just not press relations, but stakeholder engagement and more strategic in nature.One way of doing this would be to induct qualified people into the industry and sorry to say ‘not just pretty faces’. It is nice to see that your blog is trying to create such awareness. My kudos to you.

    Vijay Kapur

    15 Sep 08 at 9:46 pm

  14. Hi,

    I agree to the whole idea that PR is not just press relations. But the question I have here is, ‘Do the press actually believe in PR consultants?’

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m just being the Devil’s Advocate here….but I’ve noticed that a number of times either the journalists contact the clients directly or vice versa. In such situations, what role does the PR consultant play?

    Soul Searching

    16 Sep 08 at 9:43 am

  15. It’s a pity that public relations is associated with only media coverage infact these two are used as synonyms. It is sad that many agencies have not been able to educate clients, and thus suffer from such reputation. How many times we have heard stories about BD people telling prospective clients that their agency will get front page coverage on TOI and all that crap. I think the first step should be to educate our own people.

    Fortunately our group, our boss, believes in providing two value adds to a client each week, media or non media. He cross question us, our clients about why do we think media coverage is more important than non media activity. At the end of the day isn’t our objective is to reach right person with right message?


    16 Sep 08 at 5:05 pm

  16. agree with palin as he rightly said about the strategy as during my small stint in PR i’ve seen the expectations of the clients builds up only when we as a agency don’t educate them about the deleverable’s.

    Strategy–Hrdly PR agencies understands the client and their positioning in the market before signing them and i guess none of them meets the plans they prepare for the clients.

    Advocacy– again rightly said, what PR agencies can get for free other agencies shell’s out the money for the same, congratulations for your sucessful campaign.

    Though i would like to discuss, yy PR CAMPAIGNS by indian govt fails. One after another.

    Investor Relations- Yes they are media activities . Any random investor in this global village has more information in comparison of any of the most sucessful investor ten years back investor.
    Business in the money market worldwide based on the investor’s sentiments and hence media play’s a vital role in educating the investor and the analyst’s as well.

    Social Media–Absolutely!but watt about the target audience? Let me put it this way–I want to market a super luxuary flat worth 17 cr?

    Sanghpriya Gautam

    17 Sep 08 at 4:45 pm

  17. @ Bhawna, Good example. We need more of such. The end objective should be the focus.

    @ Vijay, which PR agency actually select people based on their ‘pretty faces’?

  18. On another note, I agree PR professionals need to be outgoing, smart communicators, though that’s not what we are discussing now.

  19. Hi Palin
    I happen to be in this industry for over a decade and a half. Seen how PR has evolved. The unstructured recruitment process doesn’t really bother about qualification in either PR or Management. As a part of the socialization process of the new comers they conduct etiquette, grooming classes where new joinees are taught to wear sarees , paint their faces and tuck their hair neatly in a bun. I can understand the need of ‘such grooming’ in the hospitality industry, but where does it take the PR executive to? It has even come to my knowledge that senior managers have instructed their colleagues “not to bother about work, but to just look good”. The ‘agencies’ I am talking about are large and national. Is this PR? Shocking isn’t it?

    Vijay Kapur

    19 Sep 08 at 9:17 pm

  20. It is, Vijay, if it actually happens. I agree that most in the advertising industry dress casually, but considering that PR is a little different, we need to be seen a little different. I am particularly aghast at senior execs telling their team members to maintain good client relationships at whatever cost. This works great in an ideal world, but we don’t live in it.

    Palin Ningthoujam

    20 Sep 08 at 1:57 pm

  21. @ Sanghpriya Gautam. Thanks for the comment. There have been some good PR campaigns by the Indian government. For example, the Atithi Devo Bhavah by the Tourism Ministry some years back was a great success. Also consider how Laloo has been able to communicate his railways turnaround so successfully. In fact, we can have another post on PR by governments and the political parties.

    Palin Ningthoujam

    20 Sep 08 at 2:06 pm

  22. Hi Palin,

    At a party recently, when I introduced myself and mentioned that I’m a PR consultant, a friend’s friend exclaimed that he thinks my job’s fun bacause he thinks I have to do is take journalists out for lunch, attend parties and say “Aayiye sir, bhathiye…kuch lenge?” So much for a job description!

    I agree with you on ‘advocacy’ and that our jobs now include reaching out to advocates across, beyond just media. Great post. Cheers

    Bina Emanvel

    27 Sep 08 at 11:10 pm

  23. Hi Palin

    While I agree to a large extent that for a Client PR is nothing but garnering maximum media coverage for their brand, it is also true that most of the PR Agencies are heavily indulged in giving credence to the Client’s hypothesis. For every plan and strategy that we prepare boils down to the quantity of coverage.

    I have seen PR plans claiming and promising to give the Client, X quantity of coverages within a week or month. And all this tall promises that we make during presentations and plans fall flat while trying to implement.

    Lets face it, media relations is an integral part of PR. But why cant PR Agencies have a pragmatic approach and give Client a realistic view of the media. And who is at fault if PR by definition has remained a mere press release or media relations till date?

    Sudhakar Rao

    5 Oct 08 at 7:08 pm

  24. It is amazing to see that people are still debating the standards of PR in India and what it should actually be – press relations or public relations. If I may ask how old is this industry in India? To
    my estimate it should be 15-20 years old, right? What are the stalwarts doing? They represent Indian PR in countries abroad, they are the founders, thought leaders, industry experts, etc. Why is it that they have not been able to come up with a standard code of practice, or have they spoilt the industry beyond repair?

    I guess this happened at that time when pretty housewives felt, that instead of kitty parties running a PR consultancy would be a better option to put them in the 3rd page. They managed a certificate course, or sometimes didn’t even bother about that.

    Why is it that a chartered accountant or a doctor doesn’t need to debate about the services that they offer. Is the damage in the PR industry beyond repair???

    As I had mentioned previously that unless we have qualified pr practitioners the debate will still continue.

    Vijay Kapur

    11 Oct 08 at 12:21 am

  25. I am fed up praising you!

    Ashok K Sharma

    12 Nov 08 at 1:48 am

  26. Hi,

    As times evolved, and the needs in communication have changed, we have to apply those changes within, to evolve as a comprehensive communication company offering services across all band -widths, and across all media.

    We have to build good relationships with all our clients and should have the privilege of servicing them for long periods of time.


    8 Jun 09 at 5:59 pm

  27. Hi Palin,

    I almost agree with what you had written… But yes some where round the corner i personally feel that PR in India is still Media Relations. But, the transformation is yet to happen with New Media taking its toll for sure. But do you think from a client’s perspective would the transition be accepted now, when the new medis is still at a nascent stage?


    1 Jul 09 at 5:30 pm

  28. Hi Palin,

    Read your post. It is very true that we need to change the perception of the client that PR is not just about Media coverage. In fact in my opinion, non media activities are far more quantifiable as we are defining and directly connecting to the TG.

    I strongly believe if the industry as a whole gets together and advocates this proposition to clients across we could change their attitude towards non media engage programs.



    23 Aug 09 at 1:16 pm

  29. [...] 1 represents a typical PR plan restricted to media relations. First, we identify the key messages to be delivered and the media to [...]

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