Government: The new PR hive

An article published recently caught my eye. It spoke of how the government was considering taking on board a leading public relations firm from UK to grow tourist inflow into India. The firm, it was said, will also be entrusted with the task of conveying the correct information to sustain the perception of a safe India in the mind of Britishers who chose to travel.

It then struck me. The government indeed, has seen value in warming up to a Public Relations firm. The need to build a bridge in between, transmit targeted information to reflect the right spirit, have finally been felt by public functionaries. And the scope of PR in the government arena has unfolded as an important slot worth tapping for all of us involved.

After all, reputation building is exactly where public relations wields its professional trump card. The government departments have so far, dealt with it internally or occasionally. But changing dynamics in communications and the advent of social media and instant opinion sharing has probably turned the tide.

For us professionals, there is another side to the coin when you see it right. Tightened purse strings and slashed budgets in the private sector have left little for PR firms to ride on happily. The government is then the viable alternative.

On the other side, somewhere in the power corridors, someone must have realized that a dedicated focus laid on PR holds the key to a world of sorted sanity in all the mire.

A proficient PR team defines strategic visibility for the client. They build image for the government and its departments and assures filtered information only to those who deserve. Navigating through crisis is taken care of. After all, it is not about noise, but making the right noises.

The laurels are many. Mitigated risks and assured allegiance to governance and people are guaranteed. No need for borderline walking at all. Several successive elections in recent times have seen PR firms handling elections and dedicated people managing all digital platforms and social media visibility.

The ‘ifs and buts’

In the political rigmarole, the habitual criticisms from the opposition, media murmurs and negative and dismissive publicity shape public views. These translated, border on the brink of stimulating a clouded judgment from the people. In a slew of events, the positives may be relegated to the background. To bring the words in perspective, we know of a national party appointing Dilip Cherian’s Perfect Relations as its official PR firm to keep its tête-à-tête with the public intact. This isn’t a one-off incident. Gujarat has seen APCO Worldwide do strategic communications perfectly during the signature Vibrant Gujarat.

During my years spent in the PR business, I have seen the “naysayers” who steered clear of anything that had to do with government, now turning sprightly at the idea.

For a government, it is indeed tricky to decide if it is prudent to outsource the PR job to an external consultancy. This does off load a bit of the burden. The other choice is to treat it like all other day-to-day government functions. Weighing the options carefully is a crucial task because at the bottom of it is public money at stake. Expenditure has to be justified and the government is answerable.

The ice breaker

For PR in government to flourish, one does need a PR-able personality as much as a PR-able incident. There was a lull on that front for a while. But not anymore, if you track developments in the recent years wisely. Be it home or at top international forums, India is making news by the day.

Building efficient networks between the people and the government is what PR in government is all about. The job transcends information that benefits people, changes brought about laws, government schemes that may be availed and builds a brand in itself, if not a brand as one would relate to in the private corporate world. Negative vibes have to be erased.

Pitching it perfect

The government sphere has its own pace. Realigning work methods can help PR professionals. That is what private PR firms have to work their way through. The litmus test is the tendering process to win a project to begin with. Both sides have to agree the union is mutually profitable.

It is the character of news published in the media that matters. And PR, I feel, has to be grounded with no high assurances made. Network, communication and credibility are the buzzwords to play around. It must never be felt at any point that PR is just an added expenditure.

The new-age PR

Factoring in the new wave of technology is not remotely avoidable. There is need for cautious steps as frequent strong messages and opinions being traded on the social and digital world have to be monitored. It’s a make or break in a fraction of second. To track the high tide of opinions expressed on multiple social platforms is a steep task, not impossible. PR has opportunity in this. With expert hands on board handling social media management, let us treat it as another lucrative avenue. In the new age, tiny shoots are already visible.

Shailesh Goyal
Founder & Director at Simulations Public Affairs Management Services Pvt Ltd.
Shailesh started Simulations in 1997 after a decade-long stint with corporate houses like Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd. (The Times of India Group), Living Media India Ltd. (India Today Group), Torrent Pharmaceuticals and Vadilal Foods.
A science graduate, Shailesh holds PGDM in Enterprises Management from Bangalore and MBA from B K School of Business Management, Ahmedabad. He brings to the institution more than two decades of invaluable experience in the field of Corporate and Brand Reputation Management.

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