Public Relations is 90% about Behaviour and 10% about Communications

This week is special for me. It is about meeting a young woman whose fan I became along with a billion other Indians only about 15 days ago and then got to see her in flesh and blood and listen to her at an event. It is also about a woman who I had seen in flesh and blood twice during her lifetime when I was barely a teenager who became a darling of the world in the 80s for her humanitarian work.

This column is about what students of reputation can learn from Pusarla Sindhu and Saint Teresa of Calcutta and the way they carry / carried themselves in public life. Public Relations is 90% about behaviour and 10% about communications. If you watched the Badminton Women’s Singles finals of the Rio Olympics you would have seen various facets of Sindhu’s behaviour during and after the match.

  • First, she presented a calm composure despite screeches from the opponent.
  • Second, she never made a big deal about the constant request from her rival to change shuttlecock.
  • Third, she picked up the winner milliseconds after losing and hugged her on her victory.
  • Fourth, she stopped to pick up the racquet of the gold medallist and kept it on the side.
  • Fifth, she had become a superstar overnight by sheer hard work and a darling of the nation by her exemplary behaviour.

Cut to the previous century, PV Sindhu was barely two years and two months when Mother Teresa passed away. There are several similarities between the two women who lived a century apart.

  • First, she travelled to India when she was barely 19, way back during the Great Depression. This decision must have been highly courageous at that time.
  • Second, she decided to take the road less travelled and start out on her own a year before India attained independence.
  • Third, she chose Calcutta to be her base from where she spread her healing touch across the length and breadth of the world.
  • Fourth, she was recognised with the Nobel Prize and the Bharat Ratna much before the age of social media, colour television and other Public Relations tools had gained currency.
  • Fifth, she had created a brand name through embracing simplicity and reaching out to the poor and down trodden.

I had the privilege of meeting both these women who are the heroines of my column today.

I met Mother Teresa for couple of minutes where she blessed me, said her trademark line, posed for a photograph and signed an autograph for me (in August 1995).

I met PV Sindhu for a couple of minutes, when she was being interviewed for a TV show, she posed for a selfie and signed an autograph for me (in August 2016).

Both of them are different, yet so similar. Their belief and passion translated into hard work and commitment took them to great heights in social service and sports respectively. Most importantly their behaviour in public life has been what has stood them in good stead.

In Sindhu’s case she speaks extraordinarily well, better than many trained spokespersons. Saint Teresa of Calcutta too had a knack of touching lives with her quotes and one-liners.

I’m glad I could meet them and learn so much from them in the short interaction; most of all that Public Relations is about how you behave.

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Amith Prabhu
Amith Prabhu is the Founder of the PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS, India’s annual summit of reputation management professionals.

He is also the Founding Dean of the School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe).

He can be reached at @amithpr on twitter.

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