Futureproofing Public Relations

Public Relations (PR) and Communications (Comms) are microcosms of the Corporate World and by extension ‘our lives’. However, when talking of future readiness, PR not just needs to work extra-hard but on multitude of aspects.  For instance, why does PR continue to strive for a foot in the boardroom doors, despite it having a status of Management Function? We therefore need to dwell on all round attributes like impact, leadership, adaptability, scalability, cause advocacy and tremendous accountability. With this perspective, here’s a peek into how PR in India has evolved and where it needs to be headed.

In 1990s, soon after the globalization of economy, the profession gained clear ground with Media-Relations as its core. With arrival of numerous MNCs and professionals with specialisation in Comms, the PR industry started booming at the beginning of 21st century. PR’s scope now extended to well defined messages, big ticket launch events, campaign-led outcomes, competition-tracking and measurement of PR results. 

Between 2010 and 2020 is when Indian PR saw merging of two worlds; i.e. Traditional and Digital. The PR and Media communication turned interactive with Social Media platforms like Facebook, Twitter and online news stories. Subsequently big Corporate-houses started picking up stakes in Media and considerably limited the scope for earned coverage. 

After 2020; the post pandemic world saw the recognition of PR as a strategic function, paving way for its seat at the top table. From articulating organisational messages to employees, stakeholders and Media to following International best practices, PR has stood the test of time.

In order for PR to thrive in the long run, it is imperative that every single PR professional appreciates this path-breaking journey and extrapolates a unique form factor. A stellar Comms Professional must fall in the footsteps of the Organisation’s top-most executive; CEO, MD or a President. Without this, PR will dilute its scope vis-a-vis disciplines like Marketing, Social Media, Corporate Affairs and HR. 

Ruth Davison, CEO of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (London) has a telling quote in support. He opines,  “Comms people should believe in the worth of our own profession. The accountants and lawyers aren’t sitting there thinking ‘do you think it’s alright if I am a CEO?’ It never crosses their mind.”

Here are some thoughts that further complement this much needed and well deserved transition:-

An inside-out view  A compelling corporate story blends everything that is essential for the Corporate and its business environment. Future PRs must take a macro-view of an organization and include all internal and external issues for communication.

Strategic outlook–PR folks closely understand messaging and their external environment. They will need to go on realigning their Organisations’ strategic goals, vision and purpose constantly by staying attuned to changes in this environment.

Planning- The best PR outcomes are the ones that are best-planned. Comms professionals will need to have clear goals, activities and success measures for effective communications campaigns linked to their corporate agenda. 

Collaborations – People in Communications naturally network and work with internal and external stakeholders to get things done. Relationship and Collaborations are effective and everlasting attributes that PRs needs to practice and demonstrate in the long haul.

Agility and Emergency Response– While agility here automatically implies to aspects like tech adoption, change management and diversification; it also points towards the agility in thinking and behaviour. During sensitive situations, PRs will need to ace situation-assessment and make decisive calls, whilst keeping a firm eye on long term goals. 

Engagement with Policy Makers PR is part of a bigger narrative and the professionals must keep their ears firmly on the ground. They will need to do an in-depth study and demonstrate a high degree of confidence while dealing with policy makers. Surely, it would take time, resources and serious efforts but guarantee trust with policy makers, a must for PR in the long term. 

Cause Championship– Organisations are increasingly reporting on Sustainability, CSR and ESG  aspects of their performance and PR is already playing a crucial role here. Going forward, PR needs to extend the scope to causes that are global; Climate Change, Inclusivity, Health, Poverty eradiation, Gender diversity, Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), etc.

In conclusion, the future  of Public Relations is directly linked to the scope it finally evolves itself to. It must go far beyond the Comms discipline, the organizations or even countries. Sir David Attenborough the author of ‘A Life on Our Planet’ succinctly expands this when he says, “Saving our planet is now a communications challenge”.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Kapil Sabharwal
Kapil Sabharwal is a professional with 20 years of experience in PR Consultancies and Corporate Communication roles. His key strengths are his professional network, Stakeholder-Engagement, Strategic Content and niche Trainings. In the past, he has worked with organizations like Genesis-BCW, GMR Group, Comma Consulting, LML, Image Public Relations and Genesis-BM India.

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