Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Working one's way up and other queries

Dear students,

You have been gracious to read my blog and respond. In a personal email to me, rather than a direct comment on my blog, which is what I prefer, Amith Prabhu asks about:
a) the importance of working one’s way up, rather than wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do.
b) the difference between work in a PR consultancy and Corporate Communication. Many students in communications are confused with this, and I feel a good Corp Comm professional should have PR consultancy experience.
c) the growing need for ethics and discipline in careers.

Let me take the areas, one by one. I’ll take up (b) first. And then (a) and (c) together.

b) The difference between work in a PR consultancy and Corporate Communication. Many students in communications are confused with this, and I feel a good Corp Comm professional should have PR consultancy experience.

The difference between any field of communication arises due to “where you are”.

For example, by personal communication, we mean “one-on-one” communication where we speak with someone -- face-to-face in a meeting or over a meal; on the phone; send an SMS by mobile phone; write a letter or email. This communication is always two-way; in the case of letters, SMS or email, there is a time lag. The idea of “chat” came up in order to enhance the two-way feel, while on the mobile or computer.

Then we have “one-on-many” communication – personally as in a lecture, a public speech; in writing, as in a newspaper or magazine; in the form of listening to the disembodied voice on radio; or the semblance (illusion) of voice and person on TV; access to the Internet. Here it’s essentially one-way communication, though we have efforts at enhancing feedback, through letters to the editor (in print); phone-ins (on radio and TV); online websites of papers and TV channels, etc. Also this blog!

What about “many-to-one” communication? In the form of impact on the individual person from various messages bombarding him/her through various channels like daily life (in the home, family, street, at work); through print, music, radio, TV, the Internet, etc. You can add to this list.


I am getting into basic communication (like R.P. in “Basic Journalism”), because similar principles are applicable to PR and Corp Comm. Ask yourself the question, “Where am I, the sender of messages, vis-à-vis my publics”?

If you are in a mass media organisation like a paper, website, radio/TV station, then you are in direct contact with the general public, giving you enormous power (without responsibility?).

In a PR consultancy, that is, located outside corporate entities and the mass media, you work for individual clients (generally companies, but also maybe individuals), whose messages you try to direct towards specific “publics” – like the client’s customers, share-holders, investors, suppliers, dealers, employees (current and potential), the government, and even rivals or competitors.

In Corporate Communication, you are located right inside the corporate entity, like a private limited company. Here your “publics” are the customers, employees (current and potential), suppliers, vendors, dealers. But you are in communication with them in a much more direct and personal way than if you were in a PR consultancy or mass media. Actually, in Corp Comm, you would be dealing with your advertisement agency and your PR consultancy also in order to influence your “publics”.


Since I have worked in newspapers, and come up from the ranks – right from the stringer level in 1977, to sub-editor in 1983, to chief-sub in 1984, to assistant editor in 1989 and finally as editor of a newspaper in 2004 (with a seven-year stint in Corp Comm from 1996-2003) – I have seen the world of mass communication from “both sides”.

My advice would be: do a stint in mass media first – print, radio, TV, online. Then, if you wish, do a stint in Corp Comm to get a feel for the corporate world from the inside. And then go into a PR consultancy. This is like moving from the wider world into more specialised worlds. It helps to have the bigger view first and then get closer down to the specifics.

Dear students, I feel a good PR consultant should have mass media and, then, Corp Comm experience – in that order. But you can go the other way too: PR experience first and then Corp Comm. The important thing to do, while reflecting on your experiences and learning your lessons, is to constantly ask yourself the basic communication question, “Where am I, the sender of messages, vis-à-vis my publics”?

Your ability to influence the opinion of your “publics” is critically dependent on where you are located in the chain. This is because of the issue of “credibility”.

The most insidious power of the corporate world (with the help of PR agencies) to influence the opinions of people is due to its money-power (lobbying) and, therefore, its ability to buy journalists and the mass media directly or indirectly. More of this ideology stuff, later.

But let me come back to your question. Yes, you need experience in both Corp Comm and PR consultancy. But be careful, you tread dangerous territory: manipulation of news, filtering only what creates a favourable image of your client, etc. What I call, lying and deception.

Look at the collapse of the US stock markets due to “irresponsible lending” for housing in USA. At that time, though, credit was glorified; and investment banks and their securities were projected as being “safe bets”. Even today, in India, credit finance is available for housing and vehicles, without checking the ability to repay.


And now to the second part of Amith’s questions:
a) the importance of working one’s way up, rather than wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do.
c) the growing need for ethics and discipline in careers.

Let me share my own experience. As I have narrated, I started as a sub-editor on 2 May 1983 at Maharashtra Herald, Pune with a salary of Rs.600/- and then rose slowly to become an editor in 2003 at Gomantak Times, Panaji, Goa: “working one’s way up”, as Amith puts it, for 20 years. The advantage is I know the ropes and the job/tasks at every level. Finally, when I was at the top and gave instructions, I knew what it’s like to implement orders. Also, the chances are that power does not go to my head and I am more likely to be considerate of journalists at lower levels.

I don’t know about it is like “wanting to be in top posts and failing miserably, which some manage to do”. Amith, or some other student of mine, will have to explain what it means to be in that situation.


As for the growing need for ethics, I would point to honesty and not allowing the marketing or circulation people to dictate what and how news is to be portrayed. Editors are capable of understanding the business side of a paper.

Let me refer you to C.P. Scott’s 1921 essay on the centenary of the Manchester Guardian where he says, “A newspaper has two sides to it. It is a business, like any other, and has to pay in the material sense in order to live. But is much more than a business; it is an institution; it reflects and it influences the life of a whole community …”

Scott goes on to identify character – “honesty, cleanness, courage, fairness, a sense of duty to the reader and the community”. Here you also find the famous lines, “Comment is free, but facts are sacred.” That seven-word line calls for an entire post on my blog.

The link is at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2002/nov/29/1
Once you’ve read the essay, I’d like to discuss the matter further.


As for “discipline in careers”, stick to one job for at least one or two years, a sufficient time to learn. I would give the job three years to teach me; you may not want to be so patient. Recall the saying, “A rolling stone gathers no moss.” This means, if you change jobs too often, you may not give yourself enough time to accumulate experience. Also, identify what you want to learn and whom you’re going to learn it from. Fortunately, there are lots of serious journalists out there. I am compiling a list, which I will not post on my blog, but will send to you only on request.

Above all, dear students, do not allow money to decide what you’re doing. My experience and conversation with journalists tells me that the jobs that pay the most are also the ones that tie down your hands and feet; worse, you’ll also have to keep your eyes and ears shut too. We will discuss this issue at length some time.

Am I sounding scary? I don’t intend to; but it’s wise to be cautious, under the circumstances. When a student asked me in class, “Sir, what do you think of the market collapse?” I answered, “When thieves fall out, honest men (and women) come into their own.” Dear students, pluck the courage to remain honest.

Warm regards,

- Joe.


Mohan Sinha said...

Hi Joe,
Nice piece on PR and corporate communications. You couldn’t have put it better - especially the bit about filtering only what creates a favourable image of a client, and what you call, lying and deception.
After spending three years in Corporate Communications, and before that 20+ years in the print media, I can now quite honestly state that apart from all the PR amd media experience, one must learn to be a ‘spin meister’ to work in corporate communications! It’s an art to produce something out of nothing – and that happens most of the time in the corporate world!
Mohan Sinha

Amith Prabhu said...

Dear Mr Pinto,

Thanks for hitting the nail on the head. I like the way you have put your perspective across. This will be helpful to a lot of students currently pursuing various media courses who are confused due to a lack of adequate guidance.

Looking forward to reading more such exprential sharings from you.

Joseph M. Pinto, Pune, India said...

Dear students,

Smita Aggarwal, one of my students, has commented on this posting (see Comment 8 in the earlier posting, "Make your comments, here itself").

She says, "I want to initiate a discussion on this - gifts that journalists receive, whether at a press conference, or on a festival; how much do they interfere with a journalist's working style or do they interfere at all?
Would welcome house's opinion on this. Also, want to get in PR/Corp Comm guys on this one."

Amith Prabhu said...

Smita - You have brought in an interesting question. There were times when the main job of the PRO/ now suitably renamed Corporate Communications Manager was to wine and dine with journalists and go gify shopping for them. I'm sure some unevolved companies still practice this. But in larger towns (read main metros) this trend is beginning to wane away and journalists who are now formally educated like their counterparts at the corporate side in reputed institutes.

There are some companies, which are listed, market leaders or state of the art, which can never be ignored whther they give a gift or not. There are some others that need to bribe their way to news columns and there are others who cultivate aset of media for a long term gain.

However there are media houses and there are some journalists across media houses who care two hoots for gifts and will still cover the news without a bias.

Over to you

Joseph M. Pinto, Pune, India said...

Thanks Amith - Thanks for responding to Smita and simmering the debate. - Joe.

Smita said...

Thanks Prabhu for your inputs.

I tend to agree with you on the fact that companies today are listed and some of them will be covered no matter what.

But, I don't think the trend is waning, in fact it is on the rise.

Joe Pinto, Pune said...

My dear students,

Thanks Sinha, Amith, Smita, for contributing and others for reading on this issue of PR.

I am waiting for a few days more, so that a colleague of mine, Abhay Vaidya of DNA, to write about his experiences on "Gifts that journalists receive."

As soon as he sends in his comment, I will post this debate up again for a wider discussion.

Warm regards,

- Joe.