Crisis Management & Media Training @ Oriel

The Siege Around

(In this two part article published in The Financial Express, Khalid Jamal comments on the current status of corporate
communications discipline and its future)

''Some people change their ways when they see the light; others when they feel the heat.''

Extend this Caroline Schoedar's aphorism to cover the widespread misconception about 'Corporate Communications' in the Public Relations (PR) and financial advertising industries and chances are that you will find yourself confounded, if not dumbstruck.

The maze of paradoxes involving public relations and corporate communications is so entrenched in the world of 'Image Makers' (positioned as PR firms, financial ad agencies offering the incentives of 'press coverage' and the one-stop -communications-shops'). that it is often difficult to decipher them on this count.

Nevertheless, one cannot completely disregard their potential to see the 'light' but possibly after the 'heat' is felt to have been turned on them by the clients who have, thanks to the changing business environment, begun to feel the 'heat' themselves to have a more comprehensive and yet a distinct corporate image.

Before reaching the stage of hoping to see the light of change in a 'world' where everyone appears to be gorging 'Corporate Communications' and 'PR' mantras with great felicity. Consider the case of a few a leading financial ad agencies claiming that they offer apart from every thing, 'PR and Corporate Communications'. Self-styled 'largest PR firm in India' claims that it offers 'Public Affairs' (read as lobbying with the establishment). Media Management (that's management' for securing press coverage) and 'Corporate Communications'. Yet another boasts of providing everything under the banner of 'Public Relations' including 'Corporate Communications'.

The list of those who have managed to conveniently appropriate 'Corporate Communications' -predictably due to the high sounding effect that this phrase creates - is a never ending one. A close scrutiny will reveal that the phrase finds its place more to embellish the menu of services for impressive spiel than anything implied to provide veritable substance to the clients.


So you wonder why is it so? What could be the possible difference between corporate communications and PR? Is one the part of the other? Is the role complementary? What qualifies a PR firm or financial ad agency to provide the Corporate Communications solutions? And whether they will do justice. The questions that elude answers abound. But then who bothers as long as the client can be influenced and stays amenable to hogwash and as long as favorable press stories can be generated occasionably through 'contacts, friends and former colleagues' in the media to keep the clients 'satisfied'.

The situation on the other side of the fence or the clients' side is no better either. The label of 'Corporate Communications' has found its popular adoption as a mere brag-tag for those entrusted with PR (call it rather press liaison) or even advertising coupled with assorted jobs. However, one must acknowledge some path-breaking work that the internal corporate communications wing of many organization keep churning out periodically. They single mindedly pursue their objectives through integrated corporate communications programmes to create and promote corporate equity. Many of them today enjoy an enviable corporate reputation and image.

From the dominating hodge-podge that one comes across in the industry emerges a picture where PR is mistaken for corporate communications and vice versa, even by professionals who claim to be 'Practitioners'! So much so that it has been reduced to being an exalted qualifier for many to describe the 'efforts' at securing press coverage which is still considered the planned and sustained work towards image- building aimed at promoting understanding between an organization and its publics.

There is a need to clear the clouds that surround corporate communications and create awareness about it as a stand-alone discipline that it is and its role in creating, nurturing and protecting corporate equity.


There are many factors that aided and abetted the misnomer about this discipline. The first being the concept of 'niche services' in communications which could not quite catch up with the Indian industries. Even today anything that has got something to do with communications is considered the domain of ad agencies only.

In contrast, the concept of the agency, the world over, underwent a sea change in the last one decade - in that many service sprung out from the mainstream advertising and evolved into specialized services on their exclusive strengths such as DM. Media Buying, PR, Events, A/V, Print Production which were either sourced from outside or the agency spun off divisions as independent units to handle such businesses.

This process is far from being accepted in India though a beginning was made by many agencies who had been exploring new avenues for growth. They realized that niche services would provide a good platform for growth and boost the sagging bottom-line. This realization received a further impetus following liberalization of the Indian economy and the arrival of MNCs in India.

However, the agencies could make only a modest headway in this direction because most MNCs who were expected to use such services extensively were in their nascent phase of operation to employ such services.

The Indian business could not be tapped fully owing to the fact that a majority of them expected such services as add-on of freebies while others did not find much merit in the quality of services to justify retainerships. As a result the concept could not take off along the expected lines for which the agencies must take their share of blame.

They never focused on such operations with the kind of resources and commitment required leaving a gap between promise and delivery to the clients which was further compounded by the lack of expertise in these specialized areas.

Therefore, the divisions hived off to provide niche services could seldom cross the 'letterhead' stage, at least in PR.

And today many of them exist in the most elementary form experiencing only occasional bumps of activity which are handled with an equal measure of incompetence and non commitment.


On the flip side, the new found interest in image building and reduction in media spending triggered a spurt in demand for 'PR activities' which made it a lucrative business proposition. This saw a large number of people cashing in on the opportunity and launching PR outfits as their second or third career option. There was nothing wrong with that per se as long as the focus on capability and competence development was not lost. Instead, the industry pushed investment in training and infrastructure to the background and considered it a taboo in its scheme for rapid survival. Unfortunately, this mindset by and large still continues.

Consequently, the discipline was strapped of innovative ideas, freshness of approach and extra-ordinariness of work content which are the mainstays of any discipline. And without these basic elements, the dilution is bound to take place which precisely is corporate communications and PR's case today impelling it to gasp for fresh air.

If this discipline has to grow along the lines of other functional areas then it is imperative that 'PR / Corporate Communications Professionals' initiate work on developing and expanding the functional scope with the same zeal that they display for
the bottom-line.

Moreover, as the clients look for more value for the fee and come to terms with the reality of creating, nurturing and protecting corporate image. Merely listing down the services may no longer sustain the aura that is sought to be created every time a presentation or pitch is made which only leaves more and more clients to discover later that what was packaged originally can not be stretched beyond a few coverage clippings.


The first step to correct the misnomer would be to recognize that corporate communications is not a poor cousin of either corporate advertising or PR but by itself an independent discipline having PR and corporate advertising as two of its important elements: and when adopted, applied and practiced by following what it entails for comprehensive image building helps an organization build corporate equity.

Corporate Communications is a discipline that integrates and encompasses all elements of mass media whether corporate advertising, identity management, events, public affairs or media coverage. The selection of components is a function of situation and programme objectives. It is the holistic approach to building and sustaining a distinct and relevant corporate image through reinforcing the understanding and relationships of an improvisation with all publics primarily through various means of information dissemination and sharing.

Corporate Communications programs cannot be conceived and implemented without having premises of substance. It involves projecting and building reputation of an organization covering its activities, quality of products, management, manpower, philosophy, culture, vision, fulfillment of responsibilities as a corporate citizen and contribution to the society and environment. The nature and quality of these aspects of an organization contribute to the creation of reputation which in turn transforms into image. While the reputation is largely action driven, corporate communications can only highlight various contributory aspects and help an organization strategize, evolve and implement programmes that could strengthen and emphasize those aspects and in turn create and reinforce its reputation.

It is through reputation that an organization builds its corporate equity which not only breeds familiarity and thereby favourable disposition of the target groups but yields an opportunity to be heard when a danger lurks from hostile quarters having potential to hamper the operation and impact the image.

In the changing scenario where one can witness a debate on corporate governance, a call for transparency and greater accountability - on the one hand, and a marketplace where the product/brand differentiation is getting diminished across all categories coupled with proactive consumer fora, fastidious consumers and a plethora of competing players, on the other - corporate communications can help organizations build a meaningful rapport with the marketplace, internal stake holders or any other group by opening channels of communication through a sustained image-building exercise and ensure a balanced share of voice and recognition which in turn would lend a competitive advantage to the organization.

However, one must be clear that providing undue smoke-screen in troubled times invities more trouble and that constructive criticism from media and pressure groups, which corporate communications can help tone down and build the information bridge that could enable an organization present its case and help the interest groups take note of the organization's perspective also.

There is a school of thought (specially in the ad industry) which believes that a corporate should be treated like a product brand for promoting the corporate as a brand and that the traditional product-brand building principles should be applied. While the merit of this argument, to a certain extent, cannot be discarded, the point to be borne in mind is that branding the corporate is an entirely different ballgame, distinguished from building product brand equity. It involves multiple target audience which cannot be influenced through a brilliant corporate ad campaign alone or its short term hoopla which proves insufficient to create and sustain, in all circumstances, a long term 'top-of - the-mind' awareness.

Corporate Advertising, as one of the important components of corporate communications, can be used only as a supplementary and short term measure. The task of integration of the ad campaign with other programmes will have to be carried out for a universal impact which is why corporate communications must be considered as an umbrella discipline that can perform an integrated orchestra for the brand building of the corporate. It looks at and beyond conventional advertising towards areas such as events, literature, A/V, identity management, avenues for financial and internal communications, communications with the pressure groups and institutions, and integrates multi-directional efforts for strengthening the corporate reputation. In marketing, it lends the advantage of corporate image and opens scope for greater marketing successes while tilting the balance in favour of the organization. It is therefore necessary that a strong corporate identity is developed and managed. But in contrast to a planned approach to developing and sustaining an identity what happens often is that it is treated as an exercise in visual gimmickry.

In the process, the significance and relevance of this potent vehicle which could otherwise effectively reflect the heart and soul of an organization and differentiate it in the marketplace is pushed to irrelevance and drudgery. Corporate Communications can be employed to address the issue of evolving and integrating the corporate identity with the overall communications programme in a way that it becomes a true representation of an organization and reflects various traits of its personality.

The fact remains that the misconception about the discipline of corporate communications, and the confusion that follows it, is unfortunately all pervading. But we, whether clients or ad and PR industries, must take a beginning to put things in the right perspective and derive maximum advantage from what this discipline is capable of delivering. While the clients should demand, more than a few coverage clippings, the work that could lend a competitive advantage to them through proper exercise in image-building and be willing to pay a price for it. As for PR firms, if they want to reap the real benefits of using corporate communications should focus on capability development and training.

Initially, the change in approach may cause a little heart burning and possibly effect a shake out among the 'Image Makers'. But mustn't it be done if it can lead to the good of the clients in terms of building corporate equity and the PR/financial as industries in terms of their own growth and stable future. As for the audience, whether press or pressure groups, availability of relevant information, which at times seems so difficult to come by, and proper response to queries would certainly turn out to be reasons to celebrate.

Other Articles

Building Corporate Equity: The Importance Of Being Earnest
(This is the first part of the article on corporate communications written by Khalid Jamal and published in the Hindu BusinessLine)

Cultivating An Image
(This is the 2nd part of the article on corporate communications written by Khalid Jamal and published in the Hindu BusinessLine)

Creating An Identity
(This is the 3rd part of the article on corporate communications written by Khalid Jamal and published in the Hindu BusinessLine)

The Plight of Public Relations
( In this article published in The Financial Express, Khalid Jamal comments on the state of PR industry and its future)