Tokenism and gimmicks – banes of PR?

The advertising community is known for breaking stereotypes. There are several ads, particularly in the recent past like the ‘Mama’s Boy’ by Star Plus, Tanishq’s ‘Best at Work’, Biba’s ‘Change’ that have attempted to address gender stereotypes. Needless to say, these ads have also received a good share of PR.

On the other hand, PR seems to have got caught in the stereotyping trap. These days, both media and PR fraternity are pushing their stories/clients during ‘special days’ like the Mother’s Day. Father’s Day. Children’s Day. Valentine’s Day, and of course, Women’s Day. When tokenism pervades top-down, it is considered normal to do it. Several companies and consultancies have hopped onto this bandwagon. It has become cliched prompting a senior journalist comment that, “annual pattern of PR gimmicks aligning with woman’s day is so obnoxious. Why bury heads in the sand all the year?”

Difficult to draw a fault line

Be it tokenism or gimmicks, such campaigns and activities have a need or a demand. There may be an imbalance between supply and demand and also the quality of supply. That is subjective. Fact is that we are living in an era of tokenism. Marketeers may have started the tokenism trend, but the bug has caught up with all. The kind of attention one receives from media during these occasions for ‘relevant’ stories is higher than normal days or business as usual days. It is the timing factor PR attempts to capitalise on. It is difficult to draw a fault line. 

Recently a global company has announced it has reached gender balance in its leadership. With Women’s Day around the corner, the timing was perfect. Whether the announcement would have garnered this level of attention during the normal time, is questionable. It is this momentum that PR attempts to catch. 

Conventional vs Unconventional

Also, usually, stakeholders may be more willing to adopt unconventional strategies in advertising strategies than in PR. Add an unconventional flavour to your brand’s messaging in PR, and you may face stiff resistance. Lack of strong research and measurability advertising uses to convince may not be good enough to do a similar job in PR. This prompts PR and Communication professionals to lean towards conventional PR practices. 

Marketers who for decades used conventional stereotypes in their advertising are now beginning to use unconventional strategies to break the clutter and create the, ‘I am a responsible brand’ image. They are questioning the century old traditions and customs associated with gender stereotypes to stand out. 

PR is yet to get there. Most brands are either going the conventional way or not joining the bandwagon. It is like a cookie-cut recipe. Messaging of “This Women’s Day is like any other day for us” or “every day is women’s day for us” is not helping cut ice. They tend to appear naïve. One needs a more radical and unconventional approach than this. Let us hope next Women’s Day we see PR stereotypes being shattered; history created.


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

Radha Radhakrishnan
Radha Radhakrishnan has over 25 years of experience in corporate communications and marketing across different industries and geographies. She has built a reputation as a storyteller and a creative thinker. She has mentored social entrepreneurial startups and has been a visiting faculty at premier communications institutes in India. She is currently the global head of corporate communications at Wipro Enterprises.

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