Celebrating the PR professional

In the past few weeks, I’ve met many young P.R. professionals who have made two or more job switches in the early years of their career. When I asked them about it, the usual answer is in search of a better opportunity. So, my obvious next question is what they want to achieve from this opportunity and from the career. And that’s where the hollowness of the decision begins to show.

The real problem is that most of them don’t know what they want to achieve in their careers. So money and designation become the obvious baits to lure them into a new job. The new employer, in most cases, has already guessed this weakness and couldn’t care less about their growth. They are thrown into the sea – if they learn to swim, they move ahead else they are left to drown. As a result, the persons find themselves in the same old state a few months down the line in the new job – frustrated, stressed out and vindictive. In the end, the once promising practitioner feels disillusioned barely 2-3 years into the profession.

The ways to avoid such an early setback to one’s career are to ask the following questions before deciding to switch:

  • Will I learn any new skills or will I just be doing the same things but for a new set of clients/ stakeholders? The plausible reason to switch a job in the first two years of one’s career is if a significant learning opportunity awaits you at the other end. A candidate with one year’s experience once told me during the interview that she didn’t really have a reason to move and was just exploring any new opportunities with my firm. My response was that if she wasn’t clear about what she wanted to learn in her new role, I saw no reason to hire her. Be very clear about why you need to switch your job. Learning should be the foremost reason.
  • Could there be a problem with my attitude? At college, I asked my professors what they sought in candidates during the entrance interview. The unambiguous response was attitude. Skills can be taught, attitude comes from within. For instance, if one is not able to get along with most teammates in the earlier firm and that is the reason for a change, there is a very high probability of the scenario being repeated in the new firm. It’s better to introspect than to be shown the mirror and thereafter, the door. In such a well-knit industry as public relations, it’s almost impossible to hide one’s behavioral attributes. Many of us have been through situations where a new employee’s attitude is known to teammates even before the person joins the firm. Always keep in mind, wherever you may go, your reputation is likely to precede you.
  • Am I prepared to start from scratch? In most firms, persons with less than three years of work experience are expected to prove their competence at press office reporting before being assigned client-facing work. I remember having done press office work in addition to other responsibilities even at a manager level. If you switched jobs thinking you’ll be free from reporting tasks, prepare for a rude shock (no matter what you have been promised during the job interview).
  • Am I ready for the role that I’m getting into? This is primarily for those who are moving into corporates at a very early stage in their careers. Corporate culture can be ruthless. So, unlike P.R. firms where seniors are ready to mentor/train employees, in corporates the difference in experience between the senior and subordinate is usually so large (7- 10 years or more) and the corporate communications team is so small, that the senior hardly has the time or the inclination to spend on bringing someone upto speed. Also, P.R. is a support function in a corporate so they would not be too keen to invest in training the PR team. So the subordinate either uses his/her experience gathered at a P.R. firm or learns the tricks on his/her own. If neither of these work, a pink slip is on its way, particularly if the company is not doing well.

The apt testament is to analyze the career path of most successful P.R. and corporate communications professionals wherein it becomes clear that staying power is a common attribute. For most senior-level positions particularly in corporates, a job hopper is likely to lose out to candidates whose career graph shows stability. So, short-sightedness may seem to be working in the short-term but it is bound to wreck long-term career prospects for any aspiring public relations professional.

The author of this post, Tarun Nagrani works at a leading Public Relations firm in Gurgaon, India. The views expressed here are the author’s independent views and do not reflect his organisation’s viewpoint.

If you have not had a chance to see the event website do so now and see the programme overview. We are a little over 4 months away from the second edition and a lot of work is underway. We have blocked 120 rooms in a hotel that should be able to accommodate 150 people. In addition we expect another 100 delegates who will make their own arrangements to stay at one of the three other hotels in the area Watershaw, Fortune, Ekaant. The earlier you register be assured of a place at the official hotel – Mercure. The summit will take place at the LICC.

We are lining up a great array of speakers – both for keynotes and for panels. We have a panel each on Marketing which will have CMOs (awaiting confirmations) of Indian grown companies (behemoths such as Reliance, AV Birla Group, Infosys and one more) discussing relevance and interdependence of Marketing and Branding in Public Relations. We will have senior women corporate communications leaders of Asian grown companies (Mahindra, Avantha, Biocon, Samsung – awaiting confirmations) discussing Leaning In and beyond. We have confirmations from four leading Editors (of a business daily, a business magazine, a general daily and a general magazine – all confirmed) sharing how they see the changing scenario in the world of Public Relations in relation with equations that professionals from both sides share. We are still working on another panel and couple of workshops and will have updates next month.

The highlight will be 2-3 excellent keynotes by the best in the business – from UK and from India (both global names). We also have a live performance from an upcoming performer. We have three media partners – MxMIndia, The Holmes Report and PR Moment whose Editors will be in attendance. We have six confirmed sponsors and hoping to sign up four more. All in all the second edition of PRAXIS seems to be action packed and power packed.

As we prepare for PRAXIS 2013 a few questions pertaining to how we will organize this edition based on what we learnt from the previous one will crop up. Three things that will certainly not happen –

Speakers – We will never repeat 99% of our panelists or speakers. The only exception will be Editors from the organizations that were media partners.

Sponsors – We will never sell a speaking opportunity to a sponsor. However, it is possible that a company that sponsors may have one of its executives invited to speak or vice versa where a confirmed speaker is approached to seek a possible event support.

Exclusivity – The main purpose of the summit is offering a platform to the professional community and bringing fellow professionals together. Commercial profit is not an aim and in fact organisers shelled 20% of the investment from their pocket for the first edition. Hence we will not encourage an exclusive sponsorship from PR firms and allied enterprises including measurement, content, translation, distribution companies unless they choose to underwrite the cost of the entire event. For those who wish to have an exclusive partnership we always have Pronto.

PRonto1 NCR

Welcome to the blog for more information on PRonto1. As we go forward we will number each of the PRonto evenings just to eliminate confusion and help people connect on Twitter better using the hashtag. The next PRonto in Mumbai and Bangalore to be held in March and April respectively will be Pronto2 and Pronto3. The PRonto4 will take place in New Delhi in May since Pronto1 is taking place in Gurgaon unless the unanimous choice is to continue with the same venue.

#PRonto1

We are excited about having the PRonto1 on the third thursday of this month which is the 21st of February between 7 pm and 10 pm at a venue dedicated to the world of media. The Media Cafe is located on the 3rd Floor at South Point Mall on the Golf Course Road, next to Genpact in Gurgaon.

We have two options to register at the venue by cash: RS 600/- for two drinks and a snack or Rs 900/- for unlimited drinks (between 7 and 10 – no sharing) and a snack. If you pay by card this price will vary with the addition of taxes.

Things to remember –

Carry cash and business cards as the mall does not have an ATM

Until 11 am on Feb 21st you may register at a price point of Rs 400/- online (which includes a snack, a drink and a Rs 500/- discount when you sign up as an individual to PRAXIS2013. This discount is not available for registrations done at the venue).

For those who have registered online already you are free to let Liza Saha at the venue at the time of check in that you would like to upgrade to the unlimited drinks option by paying Rs 500 extra by cash.

Sab Miller is giving the first 50 to arrive at the venue and pay up a complimentary pint of Indus Pride. Make sure you get yours as long as you are the first 50 and have a happy hour.

The Media Cafe is offering the first 30 who register online an extra drink coupon. So for Rs 400/- you can actually get a drink, a snack, a pint of beer, a discount to PRAXIS 2013 and an additional drink for registering early.

PR Moment India is offering one lucky winner a free training programme. LEave your business card with Liza to be eligible to win.

A team of three professionals co ordinates the PRonto evening. PRonto1 is led by Liza Saha, Text 100 and supported by Tarun Nagrani of Edelman India and Shrey Khetarpal of Genesis BM

For any query send us a mail at prontoevenings@gmail.com from your official email address .

PRonto is an initiative born out of the after hours conversations at PRAXIS 2012 in Pondicherry and brings to life the theme of the first summit – OUR TIME IS NOW. PRonto is an evening of cocktails and conversations, held once a quarter in each of the metros. The designated date is the third Thursday unless specified otherwise and the exact venue will be announced two weeks before each PRonto evening.

At the core is being at an event with no agenda where the corporate communications and Public Relations community gathers together and has a good time. We are working on two models – one where walk ins are recommended and the other where one pre-registers for a nominal cost that entitles the individual to a drink and a snack. Additional drinks and snacks maybe purchased at the venue on actuals.

The first set of dates are – Feb 21st – NCR; Mar 21st  – Bangalore; Apr 19th – Mumbai; May 16th – NCR; Jun 20th – Bangalore; Jul 18th – Mumbai; Aug 22nd – Chennai. Mark your calendars and gear up PRonto – because that’s what it means to gear up quickly and wrap up when its still safe to go home. 7 pm then – in a city of your choice.

The debate on women’s rights, at home and at work, has made headlines in the past month in India. Public Relations (PR) is among those businesses where women comprise around 70% of the workforce (if not more) and women are part of the top management in most PR firms in India. Although there is no study to substantiate this aspect, if we were to look around in any PR firm, it would seem the norm. Appointment of women CEOs makes headlines in other industries but for us in the PR business, it is business as usual. Of the various disciplines of mass communication, PR is where women entrepreneurs and leaders have helped build the business from scratch. So, I felt that it is only fair that public relations should be seen as the model for a gender neutral environment that corporate India needs to cultivate.

For most corporates, two key issues that need attention are the acceptance of women as bosses and the need to understand a woman’s concerns in balancing her personal and professional life.

Truth be told, many modern and ‘civilized’ Indian men would find taking orders from a woman a tad demeaning. A highly qualified and successful friend (in the real estate sector) once mentioned to me that he turned down a job offer because the company had too many women employees and he was not keen to adjust to their working style. Another friend was thinking of tendering his resignation because his boss, who happens to be a woman, was quite hot-tempered and he couldn’t possibly imagine being chided by her in front of other colleagues.

The fact of the matter is that while women as subordinates are fine (and sometimes desirable especially to accompany male bosses for meetings) but having women bosses isn’t welcome at various levels in the corporate hierarchy. In order to shroud these chauvinist feelings, the most widely used (and abused) argument is that women are more emotional and so may not be able to take unbiased decisions. Well, human emotions have played a major role in our upbringing. Even bearing a child is an emotional decision. If emotions were taken away from human lives, not sure how many of us would see the light of this world.

Discussions on these chauvinist topics are at their peak during appraisal season. If women colleagues with lesser years of experience than their male counterparts are promoted, issues are raised about either the lack of meritocracy in the organization or favoritism towards women by the boss. The same male colleagues wouldn’t think about meritocracy when women are forced to take a career break either for the sake of their children or to accompany their husbands when they need to relocate. And how is it that there is hardly any talk of meritocracy when girls are either denied higher education by families or advised to opt for less time-consuming career options such as teaching or secretarial jobs so that they can devote more time to the chores at home after marriage.

Despite braving the odds, many Indian women happily sacrifice their careers for their children. My mother was one of them. It is a pity when the sons grow up and question the right of other women to greater opportunities at the workplace to make up for the lost years. Surely, we owe it to our mothers to help other women succeed.

On discussing the subject with women colleagues, some of them mentioned that while male colleagues were supportive, it was women colleagues who were not so forthcoming. It was surprising to know of instances of women trying to impede the growth of other women within the same organization. A woman employee once mentioned to me that she was more apprehensive of how other women colleagues would react to the news of her promotion. The patriarchal mindset truly runs very deep irrespective of gender.

Calling it a societal problem or blaming corporate culture is not going to help. We need to look ahead. Board room discussions or televised panel discussions on the subject of women emancipation are not enough. Some people are tempted to recommend reservations for women in jobs. The experience with reservations in jobs in the case of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India has proved that they are primarily enforceable only in government departments or public sector and have restricted the persons of these communities to getting less-skilled and primarily non-managerial jobs. Extending the same reservations to women may get them more jobs but not necessarily more respect. This fight is fundamentally of respect for women.

The issue is clearly that of change of mindset. Therefore it requires stronger internal debates within corporate India on how more opportunities can be extended to women at every level. There are cases where men genuinely do not understand the situations that women face on a daily basis. Gender sensitization sessions to help discuss women’s perspectives and pressures among male colleagues at all levels may help in building better working relationships and addressing prejudices against women that have been part of the patriarchal mindset.

It is accepted for men to let their family lives take a backseat while they devote more time to their careers. Most married women do not have that option. So, the point on flexibility for women needs to be better understood.

In conclusion, corporate India needs to give more to women to correct the skewed distribution of opportunities. Companies need to be open about the steps being taken to address it, particularly in the case of women who have taken career breaks for the sake of their family. Some companies have made a good beginning by stating measurable goals such as having at least 40-50 percent management positions held by women within a set time frame  PR owes a lot to women leaders. If women can help build and succeed in a highly challenging and demanding profession as public relations, it is a matter of time before the success story is repeated in other disciplines, provided they are given the opportunities they deserve.

The author of this post, Tarun Nagrani works at a leading Public Relations firm in Gurgaon, India. The views expressed here are the author’s independent views and do not reflect his organisation’s viewpoint. He has just launched a blog dedicated to PR and can be found here.

A PRAXIS experience well told

The scenic drive down the East Coast Road, the beautiful white facade of the building against the backdrop of the blue ocean and the sound of waves as they lapped up to the beach. Welcome to PRAXIS2012. The first ever conference organised for and by the PR community and convened by The PRomise Foundation at Pondicherry was, to say the least, a resounding success. As I landed in Chennai I was looking forward to not just receiving my scholarship but also the chance to interact with some of the biggest names in the public relations business. We boarded the bus at the Chennai airport and started recalling how I got this amazing opportunity. There are dozens of competitions for MBA students to participate in, but few that would appeal to the journalist in me. Between making PowerPoint Presentations and using marketing jargon, I seldom got a chance to write. To write the way I wanted to; express myself in any many words as I wanted. The PRomise Foundation gave me that opportunity; to write an essay on the changing role of PR and corporate communications in India. And to win the scholarship was the cherry on the cake.

This was also my first time in Pondicherry, and it was love at first sight. The quaint little French colony just takes your heart away. This is a love affair that is going to last very long. The two-day conference was organised at Le Pondy, a beautiful resort, a little outside the city. The resort literally takes you back in time, with its French architecture and mud thatched roofs.

Hats off to the organising committee as the management of the event was impeccable. I got to meet and interact with so many distinguished people. For someone who is standing at the brink of her career this was a huge experience to learn. I met people from the top PR firms in India: Madison PR, Edelman PR, APCO Worldwide, Burson Marsteller and Adfactors among others. I also got a chance to hear some of the communications experts  like Deirdre Breakenridge and J.V. Vil’anilam; and renowned authors like Ashwin Sanghi and Anita Nair.

To receive my scholarship cheque in front of such a celebrated people was more than a honour for me. And it’s no fun to receive an award when there is no one to cheer for you who has journeyed with you?. My father had joined me for this event from Chennai and it was just incredible to have him in the audience. As the distinguished jury awarded me the cheque, I could see the pride in his eyes and that was probably the happiest moment of my life. I felt proud and humbled at the same moment to represent my family and my college, MICA, as I stood on the stage.

I believe, the feat that the summit accomplished was to get all the wonderful and talented people on the same platform to interact and mutually learn. Day 1 ended in a gala dinner and cocktails, which was just what all the guests needed to end their tired yet fruitful day. And the summit was not all work; the performance by Swarathma got everyone in the mood for some fun. I had other commitments on Day 2 as leave from college is a precious commodity and hard to come by.

If I had to sum it up, I would just say, that more than receiving the prize, the experience of being there was what I loved and will always remember. Cheers to PRAXIS.

Aishwarya Padmanabhan, the author of this post, is a student at MICA. She is the recipient of the first PRomise scholarship for PR. The views expressed here are her own and do not reflect here organisation’s viewpoint.