Updated on Nov 5, 2009 10:02 IST

The Americans did not exactly invent public relations, but President Thomas Jefferson did use the term for the first time in 1807. It was also an American, the Austrian-born Edward Bernays, nephew of the famous brain-picker Sigmund Freud, who is billed as the ‘father of modern PR’.


Towards the end of World War I, Bernays was part of a committee that worked on moulding public opinion in favour of America joining the war. As he got into the act, Bernays developed a favourite technique: to influence a group, first influence the few people who hold sway over that group. That strategy has proved to be an enduring one. Spin, the sly cousin of the more noble-sounding public relations, uses it to the hilt.


For the corporate world, Bernays’s definition is a perfect fit: “Public relations is the art and science of managing communication between an organisation and its key constituents to build, manage, and sustain its positive image.” This is what modern PR professionals do, and the ‘constituents’ are clients, media, focus groups etc.


As competition in business gets tougher, PR has had to become more creative. Now it is not just a question of how to shape opinion, but also how to stand out in a crowd where everyone tries to shape opinion. It can be stressful, but executives like Ananya Chakraborti rise to the occasion.


“Every day, I learn more — about wine, for example, for a wine promotion, about spas, about design software. Every day is a new challenge,” says Chakraborti, manager, PR and marketing communication, at Hilton New Delhi Janakpuri.


An inclination towards interacting with people is a very important trait. As is the ability to enjoy the constant brain-racking. “We have to keep coming out with new ideas on how we can create a buzz,” says Chakraborti.


She likes writing, and her job lets her explore that. “We have an in-house magazine, press releases, then you design something — a flyer, newsletter, invite. Once we did an invite in a wine glass,” she says, citing the creative satisfaction that PR can offer.


While Chakraborti, who was a sociology student, charted her own course, several institutes now promise to train you as a PR professional. Unfortunately, few deliver on that promise. “Most institutes give students a diploma, but not practical knowledge,” says OP Verma, a former PTI chief of bureau who now teaches PR in DU colleges as well as Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. “The course puts them in a job, but then they learn by trial and error after a lot of thrashing (from bosses).”


“Competence happens along the way,” agrees Sangeeta Kuriakos, CEO of Clea Public Relations, a top agency. Kuriakos, a veteran of 14 years, lists patience and perseverance among the most important qualities for PR execs. “Of course, your communication skills and confidence take you further up the ladder,” she adds.


PR students with the best odds of succeeding are those who know how to organise news meets, make different press releases and cultivate media relations. All these come under portfolio production and Verma suggests that is what a student should look for in a course.

 

Author: Sanchita Guha

Date: 4th Nov., 2009


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