Saturday, November 25, 2006

Was that for PR?

My colleague Twinkle exclaimed that it was a great PR move! I knew what she was talking about. Pesticide problem was plaguing (still, I guess) the cola companies and then came the announcement that Indra Nooyi was going to be heading Pepsi's global operations.

I told Twinkle that this would not have been the case. Indra Nooyi's ascent was not because a relatively small part of the global operations was having trouble, believing that an Indian taking over will solve the problem. What happens if tomorrow, Pakistani operations have a trouble, will they replace Indra with a Pakistani?

I guess Twinkle is passionate about PR and that’s why she sees every corporate move as a PR initiative.

This I figured out when she said that Lalu speaking at IIM-A was a big PR achievement for the institution. Well, I agree there was good PR but can't say who contributed to whose image!

After mulling over her comments, I was wondering whether Corporates do PR for the sake of doing PR or is there strong business reasoning.

And as a management student who chanced upon a PR career, I could only reason out that PR is just a tool for communication and companies would not use this tool unless and until they have something substantial to announce. Think about it. Would a car brand launch a new vehicle because it wants to do PR or because it wants to increase its revenues, address a customer need, or, at max, ward off competition.

Thought of PR comes to the management after they have something concrete at their hands to offer.

Wait a minute, Twinkle could still be right. To me, Mr. Ratan Tata's Rs. 1 lac car seems like a PR move. Why? Since he made the announcement, nothing much has happened. Last heard (read in some newspaper), Tata Motors was not sure if the car will be priced at Rs. 1 lac. The cost might push the price little beyond Rs. 1 lac. Oh yes, land has been cleared in West Bengal for this project, though.

But why am I so cynical? Rs. 1 lac car could be Mr. Tata's vision. And great visions don't get translated to reality in a short period.

Though PR provides me bread-and-butter, I do not think Corporates have PR in mind behind every move.

As one will understand from Kotler's 4 Ps, Product comes first; Price comes second, then the Place, and finally the Promotion. Yeah, PR is part of Promotion.

Well that’s the ideal situation. In the highly competitive environment, those are just guidance. In practice things change.

I was reading Thinking Strategically by Avinash K. Dixit and Barry J. Nalebuff, there are many instances where communication has been used strategically to improve ones chances in a Game. One such chapter talked about Unconditional Moves where the authors describe how America could improve its chances against Japan in the race for HDTV standards. There are many more such cases in the book.

By the way, people who follow management and strategy, Thinking Strategically is a great book. You can order this book at Thinking-Strategically-Competitive-Politics-Everyday/dp/0393310353.

But those are strategic moves.

So, is PR reactive? Can it work only when the client shares a development and agencies come with a strategy on how to handle that event? Can PR consultants never don the mantle of a Management/Marketing consultant?

Not quite so. In our lives as a PR professional, we come across many instances where we have to do activities that are more ad hoc than planned. To justify our existence and in the name of value addition, we are urged to bring coverage even on unrelated topics. Worse, in many cases the clients themselves do not have a good strategy and expect agencies to bring clarity. But to look at that positively, it underlines the growing maturity of PR agencies.

But doing PR and waiting for business may be foolhardy. PR is a great tool in the hands of Corporates, if their overall strategy is in place. PR cannot by itself be corporate strategy!

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