Hectic, but worth it

January 31, 2019

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IF you have ever lived in a joint family system in Pakistan, especially in Karachi, you must have been haunted, taunted or disciplined by the threat of what the people might say about this, that and everything else. The common phrase, as many of you would have recalled by now, is: Loag Kiya Kahaingai.

Gracing the world with your presence in a family of engineers and doctors, it inevitably becomes more of a daily dose to you if you see the world as a canvas and you want to paint it your way.

Many ideas are crushed, dreams shattered and hopes slaughtered at the altar of ‘what the people might say’. This magic wand of a statement wipes out just about everything because what you want somehow doesn’t fit the stereotype of a successful professional life that everyone else is supposedly living.

You keep asking everyone who these so-called Loag happen to be so that you might try to reach out in person and ask them to say whatever they want to say on your face and you might settle it right there. Alas! It never happens. It happens all the time, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, I was no different. But fortunately, I had my way. And with a perfect 6/6 hindsight, not many have regrets about the choices I ended up making. The Loag have been quiet for a long time.

Many ideas are crushed, dreams shattered and hopes slaughtered at the altar of ‘what the people might say’. But who can fault you for aspiring to be a kingmaker that a PR man practically is?

However, it did push me back in my early teens and I tried my hand at a few things not knowing that this quest would lead me to this profession of mine; a publicist. Now that’s a dirty word, many would say. Or is it?

Unlike other professions, public relations has been a widely misunderstood entity. Our nature of work asks us to connect and consult the top guys directly instead of different layers of pseudo-protocols in any system and that is why if you dig deep in history, you would easily find a wide range of people relating this profession to sycophancy … people who had, or have, little or no knowledge of what the publicists do.

I often narrate this to our clients while on-boarding and to the younger generation entering this domain that there are three professions in the world in which the client has to trust its consultants completely and inform everything he knows about the case in hand; a doctor, a lawyer and a publicist a.k.a. public relations consultant.

Because of this trusted relationship and our nature of work, our clients share quite a lot of confidential information with us which at times is not exposed or detailed to even close allies, fellow colleagues within the organisation and at times in the family too.

Back in the days of different dynasties and rulers, the empires made conscious efforts to win over hearts to their agenda. It has been said by some that the secret weapon of Roman Empire was not its armies; it was their mastery in terms of public relations.

For us, no two days are same; every day is a new day. Our routine days are all about looking at different perspectives on any topic. By virtue of this profession, where we tend to master the discourse, it becomes an instinct to stay away from the obvious by not taking things on face value alone. This is where we get close to our colleagues in journalism.

However, at times, the fraternity at large sees us as the devils in the business, for, apparently, it is the channelling of content from our side that irks the relationships. Quite often we face the allegations of not being honest when all we do is to ensure that we only strategically relay the specific piece of information required at any particular point of time.

The advent of the digitalisation, unlike any other business, changed the complete course of business operations. Because of round-the-clock accessibility of content, we have to stay available throughout to and on behalf of our clients.

When I started my career in 2003, it was a fairly clear routine of life. The instances that made us stretch the working hours to attend any events were just a few per month. The work-life balance was pretty easy to strike. We worked during the day, and once we left office, it was our time to spend the way we wanted to. It was not quite Stone Age, but the communication cycle at work was primarily based on calls, mails (to some), faxes and emails. No one bothered to check screens and notifications all the time.

I have this profound affection for gadgets and smart-phones. Back in the days when the smart-phones were making their way into our lives, I literally enjoyed being connected through the devices; it felt like I was on the top of my game. But its impact on work-life balance is serious. And that is an understatement.

Everyone loves to get well connected, and this line of profession gives you access to the top guys and leadership teams. If you are readily available to them, they involve you more in their planning and discussions. People like us who are always accessible are notably termed ‘dependable’ by our peers. It feels great to be in touch with everyone on the go, be it clients, journalists or colleagues. You always feel more in control with your routine affairs at work. In our line of work, it’s like the ecstasy feeling when things go as per your plan. But work-life balance? Yes, that remains the soft underbelly of being connected 24/7.

In the last decade or so, some glorious moments have passed by. Our nature of work evolved manifold. The advent of technology, working with clients in different time zones, listening to eureka moments by innovative thinkers (and, strangely, most such ideas reveal themselves after office hours !) and then constant monitoring and reporting of offline and online media, is sort of snatching from us the control of our own lives.

The ‘always-on’ mantra these days has made life a lot more demanding. What initially was an exception is now the norm, and if you happen to be on the agency side of the equation and looking at different portfolios, only God has the power to help you!

The WhatsApp culture has radically changed the definition of a balanced life, changing everything that dictionaries and management toolkits ever had to say on the matter. We do make protocols and processes to mitigate situations, but no two situations are the same. And crisis moments are not something you may plan ahead for. However, being there when it matters the most is just being professional. It is not surprising that a number of studies show Public Relations among the top 10 most stressful professions in the world. We wear our best suits when the situation is at its most calamitous.

Am I grumbling about the choice I myself made? No! The idea is to share a glimpse of what I opted for. This is what the love of the game is, and it can only be driven by passion. If you don’t have it, you don’t survive for long. And even if you do, you don’t thrive. That much is for sure.

If I were to describe in one sentence what we do, this would be it: We build and maintain reputations and, mostly, do it covertly.

Edelman, a leading global communications marketing firm, published its 2018 Earned Brand Report recently. This annual global study included responses from 8,000 people in eight countries on how brands earn, strengthen and protect their relationships with consumers. The study revealed that the two-thirds of consumers worldwide now buy on the basis of beliefs. They believe that the brands can bring societal change more powerfully than the government.

The company CEO, Richard Edelman, summed it well in his statement to CBS News, “This is an important trend that is here to stay because business is the most trusted institution in the world”.

It sounds like music to any publicist’s ears. It actually sums up all the efforts that PR practitioners are propagating both within the systems and to the outer worlds. It is not a mere day act; people have worked over years to gain that trust, that reputation and that image for their respective businesses.

So, in a nutshell, I am part of the mechanism that builds and sustains reputations. If Come to think of it, it is like being among the kingmakers. So, can you fault me for having opted to be the kingmaker? Hardly!