Brightlite : Shaping Effective Communication

Archive for February 2011

The bright red and pink cover with the embossed title, ‘The Professional’, drew me in. For a minute I wondered if it was one of those books about assassins in the Sidney Sheldon mould; also easily recognised as an action genre that Hollywood is so fond of producing with perhaps Harrison Ford/Bruce Willis/Tom Cruise.

But this book by Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of MindTree Ltd, is about being a good professional. He spells out three major parts in his book to consider: integrity, self awareness and qualities that define a professional. These qualities include learning to say no, taking a long view of time and connecting with mavens, connectors and professional evangelists. Quite rightly, Bagchi places integrity at the top of the matrix that makes up the true professional. Never has this quality been more relevant as in the post Radia tapes-2 G scam era .The Prime Minister himself has had to answer charges of corruption in his government in a rare press conference and senior ministers in UPA II have talked about an ethical and governance deficit. Having been both a television news reporter and now a media advocacy professional, I have hesitated to comment on the events splashed in the media over the last few months, wondering if I could ever be objective on this issue. There is no doubt that we are at a moral crossroads like never before, this affects not only the PR industry but the country at large.

Corruption at a large scale has a starting point with personal corruption. Media advocacy is about shaping public opinion, a situation tailor made for crossing lines of integrity. When you are the router of information between an organisation and the media, the pressure on personal integrity rises. The starting point of this lack of integrity in public relations, whether it’s for the corporate sector or for the social sector is a lack of clarity on the processes that a PR Professional needs to follow and perceptions about what constitutes good results. In my opinion, there are three root factors that contribute to bad practices in media advocacy: the insistence of clients on a minimum guarantee of hits per event /release, lack of understanding among PR professionals about the editorial pegs of their stories: a lack of ‘news sense’ and finally the presence of an all consuming news industry which is not investing enough in training, both on the job and in pre-job education, of their reporters .Adding to the challenges is the presence of freelance stringers who operate both as reporters and PR professionals.

As long as the approach to media advocacy remains quantitative, everybody down the line comes under pressure. Rare is the client who says I am interested in quality coverage; quite naturally every client wants his bang for the buck. It’s up to the PR professional to explain that opinion shaping is a qualitative process and reliance on number crunching is not the best way to measure results. It’s a call that every PR professional must take for himself/herself. I do not guarantee any minimum hits and make it clear that we will get coverage on the strength of our editorial, our story . This sometimes means not approaching the press when the story is not strong enough, a difficult call to take for both clients and media professionals. In the last ten years of being an independent media professional only once has a potential client walked away because of the non-guarantee of hits.

Sudha Sarin currently Senior Partner and COO, Sampark Public Relations( one of India’s top 5 PR agencies) says, “It may be fair to ascertain that our role as Public Relations practitioners is fraught with ethical dilemmas. While there exists wide spread awareness of PR ethics being a key issue not much provides a reference point by way of standard best practises or guidelines for practitioners. Clearly a key question is how we move from a spectrum of easily avoidable or ignored ethics to making ethics unavoidable in the public relations process. It is important for us to consider this shift from the realm of mere good intent to verifiable practise. There is no ‘cure all’ ethical policy which we can turn to or refer to; a variety of ethical approaches may be more likely the advisable way. For starters an internal barometer which makes us ask a few questions as we proceed to create and work through a campaign may be key…a strong moral compass which stimulates the moral imagination and considered ethical implications at every point and asks the fundamental question “ how ought a practitioner of integrity behave, act, think in this situation ?” . Further highlighting potential ethical issues in an upcoming campaign and stimulating debate on appropriate approaches may be another starting point for many of us. Simplistic may be, however in the lack of an established recognisable best practise our best bet may be to ask ourselves “ what do we need to do of which we can be or are proud” as a starting point. Having said that we must debate whether the “pride” question may suffice and absolute trust in intrinsic personal virtue seem somewhat optimistic. “

The Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) advocates that PR firms get the Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) – the gold standard for good practices. There is also an elaborate code of conduct that includes integrity .This is a great industry initiative to begin with, I did however find some of the annual membership fees on the steep side for small PR organisations. And it is very essential that the smaller PR organisations are brought into the organised ambit and adhere to industry norms of ethical practices.

Gurcharan Das author of, “The Difficulty of being Good: The Subtle Art of Dharma”, says that we all have an inner moral intuition that tells us very clearly that we have crossed a line. This intuition is not grey but crystal clear. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to listen in.

PS: Would love to hear from readers, on how they have navigated situations where personal values clash with professional demands.

Next week: Solutions to planning an ethical and result oriented PR campaign for the social sector.

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  • brightlitecommunications: Thank you for your feedbacck laura. YOu are right, discussions from the point of view of the editorial/news context of new developments on issues the
  • Laura: I'm new to India, but I get the impression that it's pretty rare for NGOs to hold editorial board meetings to discuss developments or new evidence rel
  • Sohini: So great to see this blog! I'm a communications professional in the US where the industry changes at blinding speed, as I imagine it does pretty much