It Takes Just One Day. Go Ahead and Take the Plunge

For all those who followed the 2023 ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup, it was indeed prophetic that the campaign theme for the tournament was ‘It takes one day’. The finals proved it. I couldn’t help but relate to it with regard to my own profession where reputation management is the key. Any communications professional can cite innumerable examples of brands falling from grace in the span of a day.

With 20+ years behind me, there couldn’t be a more opportune time for reflection and introspection of my relationship with a profession that I chose even before joining college. The joke in college was that I was born to be a PR guy – 23 years ago that was rare. While graduating, it wasn’t really flattering that I was the only one in my batch who pursued a career in Public Relations & Communications.

Cut to the present day, saying that the profession has evolved and commands respect would be an understatement. The fact that Communications, as a subject, has dedicated faculty and teaching departments in many of India’s top B-schools indicates its growing significance at all levels.

Quoting from a HBR article – in an economy where 70% to 80% of market value comes from hard-to-assess intangible assets such as brand equity, intellectual capital, and goodwill, organisations are especially vulnerable to anything that damages their reputations. So has the profession reached its pinnacle? Not really, many miles to go before we sleep.

With Gen Zs now forming the bulk of talent entering the workforce, we have to understand that the dynamics are changing fast. The common point of debate among most industry professionals today is how to work with a generation that seems to have a very different belief system and tolerance level for being told practically anything. Job security seems to be a non-issue for many while anxiety seems to be their biggest problem.

Here are some misconceptions that seem to be floating about the communications profession in the minds of Gen Zs looking to enter. By no means is this an attempt to lecture anyone and definitely not Gen Zs, who I have been learning from in ways to customise brand messaging to suit their sensibilities. I can share my experience and would gladly stand corrected, if anyone presents a strong enough counterargument.

Misconception 1- Communications courses are primarily for a career in PR: No matter which profession one decides to pursue, communication skills are indispensable and indeed much sought after, especially if one aspires for senior roles. Communication is an aptitude that is imbued and honed by continuous interaction with people around. Of course, in-depth understanding of a language is the foundation but the ability to communicate effectively comes by constant engagement. Courses help hone the aptitude and open one’s mind to new ways of using the skill. I highly recommend communications to be a module for students pursuing any profession, be it in science or finance. And if any of them decide to pursue it full-time, it will help get multi-disciplinary talent into the profession, for which there is a dire need.

Misconception 2- Communicators should be extroverts: For a professional whose raison d’etre is to advise senior spokespersons on what to say where and how, one must be even more discerning with their own words. That often requires weighing one’s words carefully and deciding if one needs to speak at all. Staying silent on an issue is better when there are high chances of one’s words being taken out of context. It has nothing to do with being an extrovert. While hiring for a communications position, one of the people on the interview panel mentioned to me that a candidate cannot be the right fit because he is an introvert. My response was that I’m looking for a communicator, not a social butterfly.

Misconception 3- Communicators are masters of spin: Pardon my French but this is the biggest BS that gets on my nerves (some abbreviations are best left unexpanded). A communicator needs to identify stories that can pique the interest of the audience. But sound data must guide all storylines. Spin refers to misinterpreting facts to suit one’s desired narrative. No matter how prevalent it may seem in public discourse, for a corporate communicator it is blasphemous. In the past, spin doctors have done the profession a big disservice. And if a person loves spin, you are best suited for a career in bowling. We surely need better bowlers in the cricket leagues, and you stand to earn in millions (unlike in communications).

Misconception 4- Communicators are overscrupulous: A journalist once told me a golden rule about his profession – never assume, when in doubt, always ask. Your assumption may be a result of lack of context or worse, an inherent bias. Seasoned communicators often think like journalists. A communicator worth her/his salt will not shy away from asking in-depth questions. It is much better for the spokesperson to face them in advance, rather than during the interview especially, in front of the camera or a live audience, where there would be no getting away. There is no such thing as being over prepared for an interview.

Misconception 5- In Communications, relationships matter most: Of course, relationships matter but any relationship is only as strong as the substance behind it. Gone are the days when media stories were done based solely on relationships. If the brand does not have compelling content, no senior journalists/bloggers will care to cover it (unless it is paid media). In fact, a senior journalist once advised – relationships are best maintained when not stretched. The message was clear.

Misconception 6- Communications is a switch on, switch off job: Nope, it is an always-on job. Can reputation be turned on and off?

Misconception 7- Communications is free publicity so why budgets: For best outcomes, earned and paid modes of amplification must work side-by-side. Bear in mind, the phrase is ‘side-by-side’ not ‘hand-in-glove’. Paid content should not be masqueraded as earned since the audience is bound to see through the facade. It is also true for content that is blindly taken from ChatGPT. That’s why this industry needs creative tools as well as talent with a sharp eye for detail along with zero tolerance for plagiarism.

This is not meant to frighten anyone but as a reality check for the young talent looking to enter or grow in public relations and communications. Be clear about what you are signing up for. Do remember that while reputations are not built in a day, they can surely be ruined in one. There is a lot riding on your shoulders. If you’re up for it, go ahead and take the plunge, like many of us did before you.

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

Tarun Nagrani
Tarun Nagrani has extensive experience in providing communication counsel to brands in industrial, technology, financial services, telecom, travel & aviation sectors. In a career spanning over 20 years, his key achievements have been in three key areas of brand building, policy advocacy and team development.

With a razor sharp focus on outcomes, he has conceptualized and managed integrated campaigns for policy communications, employer branding, marketing communications, CSR and more.

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