As India rolls out the drums in preparation for the country’s National Public Relations (PR) Day slated for April 21, there is a need to assess this largely overlooked industry in a country bustling with youthful brilliance and vibrancy.

Edward Bernays, acclaimed father of public relations, famously declared that “in almost every aspect of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or ethical thinking, we are dominated by a relatively small number of persons… it is they who pull the wires which control the public mind”.

Bernays’ words still reverberate today within the fabric of society where professions like public relations, though highly influential, do not get the recognition they deserve and need.

Largely unappreciated, PR is the thread that holds every other sector together. With the National PR Day, an opportunity presents itself to highlight some of the activities and strides of PR practitioners of Assam who have distinguished themselves in an evolving sector.

Thriving in a Competitive Industry

Tituraj Kashyap is a Guwahati-born PR professional with Master’s Degree in Economics from Pune University and an MBA in Marketing from Pondicherry University. But like he says, mere degrees are not enough, and Tituraj embarks on continuous learning and skills upscaling using platforms like MOOC (massive open online course) for programmes like digital marketing, content marketing, data driver marketing, public healthcare reporting, and audiovisual training, among others.

Tituraj Kashyap (Centre) with Adil Hussain

Now in his 15th year as a practitioner, his first encounter with PR was at Adfactors PR where he worked in Investor Relations (IR). It was the lessons and knowledge from that platform that helped his transition from IR to PR. As co-founder of Rhino Comms, Tituraj is creating a niche for himself in the highly competitive PR ecosystem. “Our focus is primarily technology, healthcare, and public advocacy while our strength lies in content marketing, digital marketing, public advocacy, and social media. Our clients are from healthcare, pharmaceuticals, infrastructure, civic authority, as well as technology,” he says.

Chief among some of his most outstanding projects are those such as his work with the Guwahati Police and Fortis Healthcare. Tituraj explains that some of these projects taught him a lot about team dynamics, creativity and digital communication. “It is a privilege to work as creative consultant for Guwahati Police and with Harmeet Singh, the Commissioner of Police. It has been a great learning experience and the feedback has been truly encouraging. Similarly, my experience in healthcare communications comes from an in-depth work I did at Fortis Healthcare. I learnt a lot about team dynamics, sensitivity around healthcare and priority for the welfare of patients,” he adds.

Tituraj’s most important guiding principle is believing in the story that you are selling. He says this is the most fundamental and important asset one can have as a PR professional. “If you are convinced about a pitch, then you can sell it to anyone. The conviction in a pitch comes from knowledge. I always read up as much information as possible on the client and prepare before I ring up a journalist to pitch a story about my client,” he notes, adding that this is one secret that has worked for him from the very beginning.

Another noteworthy PR practitioner with huge reach and influence across Assam and India is Delhi-based Anuj Kumar Boruah, with roots in Dikhowmukh, Sivasagar. As founder and CEO of Conversations Unbound, Anuj has distinguished himself as a truly versatile professional who’s always pushing for excellence in any project he handles; whether it’s a small start-up or a huge multinational. An M.A. in English Literature from Gauhati University and an alumnus of Mass Communication from the prestigious Cotton College (now known as Cotton University), it was an internship (and subsequent employment) with Rediffusion-Y&R in 2007 that offered him the exposure and skill sets he needed to launch into the world of public relations.

Anuj Kumar Boruah (left) with Shyamkanu Mahanta and others

Anuj would go on to excel as an outstanding PR professional with three other different companies i.e. Comma Consulting, Le Communique, Young Monk between 2007 and 2019, managing public relations for brands like PVR Cinemas, PVR Pictures, Toyota Kirloskar Motor, and WB channel (for which he was a huge part of the launch). Today, he cannot possibly count how many high-profile brands he has worked with, including Jack Daniel’s, WWF, Hero Indian Open, Panasonic Open, Khelo India, National School of Drama’s Bharat Rang Mahotsav, Jashne Bachpan & Bal Sangam, Lalit Kala Akademi, North East Festival, Sankaradev Movement, Rongali, Paragliding World Cup, Delhi Dynamos, Cleartrip, Jaypee Greens, Sesame Workshop India, Alcis Sports, Brahmaputra Utsav, North East Green Summit and so much more. 

“After spending 12 years in the industry, one fine day I decided to resign and start my own venture. Despite the ups and downs due to Covid-19 pandemic, I could still manage to score clients not only from India, but counties like USA, UK, UAE etc. The best part is, 99 percent of my clients have come through reference. I always believe in giving my 100 percent in work; probably that’s the reason I am able to handle clients such as National School of Drama, North East Festival, and Rongali Festival for almost a decade,” he chuckles.

Highlighting some of his most challenging yet fruitful experiences in his entrepreneurial career, Anuj says, “In 2020, I was hired by a Guwahati-based organisation to handle national PR and social media for a political party in Assam. This was an old, regional party with almost no social media presence and wanted national PR too. We started a very clean social media campaign and got some interviews of the spokesperson with some tough questions in national media which was able to clear many doubts about the party and make their stand in various critical issues clear. I think, I did really a great job there.”

“Another client I would like to mention is Khelo India. It’s like mini-Olympics with multiple events, venues and thousands of participants. It was challenging but accomplished it so well that I have been a part of all the last three editions of Khelo India. In 2013, a friend approached me to handle the PR of the widely popular North East Festival. The challenge was that they had just sacked one of the reputed PR firms for miserably failing at the announcement press conference.  I took up the challenge. News about North East Festival was flooded in national media so much so that this festival became a brand in no time and it created awareness about the region and its people in the mainstream media for the right reasons for the first time. Since its inception, to date, it has been 9 years, I have been handling the PR for North East Festival,” he adds.

Anuj’s team at Conversations Unbound has experience in various verticals, be it – art and culture, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, brands, start-ups, automotive, IT, telecom, education, health, travel and tourism to name a few. They offer services not just across India and internationally with their strong global media network.

For Anuj, the most important part of his journey is the learning he received during those years. “Working with these high-profile clients which were very active in events as well, shaped my initial learning and ability to work under tremendous pressure. We had days when we had three events with three different clients. In some situations, I needed to work 20 hours a day. I learnt how to handle work pressure and balance my personal and work life,” he says.

Just like Tituraj and Anuj, Utpal Saikia’s rise to the top echelon of Assam’s PR and corporate worlds was gradual and eventful. Growing up in that remote village in Golaghat district, all he had was his dream. Utpal’s ambition was to become a Public Relations Officer in a government agency or large organisation which is why he obtained a degree in Journalism and Mass Communication, but it never quite happened. Instead, he found himself in various stints as a journalist for magazines, newspapers and other media houses.

Utpal Saikia (centre)

His big break came after a friend who worked with an advert agency offered him a PR assignment in her absence. The way he implemented it was so impressive that she referred him to other potential clients in her circle. Today, he’s a renowned PR practitioner with wide experiences spanning almost two decades. As he says, “There has been a lot of transformation in the PR world since I began. There’s a bit more recognition now than there was in the past, because clients now understand that a PR firm is more specialized in image making than advert agencies who only sell products or services.”

Soaring above challenges

One uphill task for any PR firm is trying to ensure the client sees what the professional sees. The intangibility of returns on investment and subjectivity in interpreting such returns makes it really difficult for PR professionals. This is the view of most practitioners in Assam, and even beyond. As Anuj puts it, “Image building is the toughest job in the world. In PR, you can only put in your effort, the result is not in your hand. How the client would see your achievements for the brand is also subjective and quantifying it is difficult. Hence, a good briefing to the client on how PR works is important.”

Anuj Kumar Boruah and Nipon Goswami

For Utpal, the challenges are more systemic and mainstream than most people think. While he admits that things are getting better, he says there’s always a need to enlighten people on the roles of a PR practitioner. “In the initial years, both the media and the client did not have a clear idea about PR. We had to make clients understand the importance of what we do. On the other hand, many clients were very much delighted with the PR activity as they received tremendous response after we projected them in good light,” he says.

In image: Utpal Saikia

Speaking further, Utpal says there was also the issue of monotony and the lack of diversified channels as we have them today. “It was a pretty rough journey getting to this point we’re at today,” he adds.

The problem of geography is also a major problem for many Assam PR practitioners. It is no news that most of the clientele and big organisations that require substantial PR services are in the bigger industrial cities like Delhi. This was also further buttressed by Tituraj who decried the situation. “One concern for those of us based in the North East is the lack of local business potential. We are dependent on the business from metros which is where PR has largely remained. The proliferation of the smarter version of PR has not happened in the true sense of the term.

Tituraj Kashyap (left) with Sarbananda Sonowal

“While Covid-19 took away almost two years from our lives, it also provided an opportunity for us to work remotely from any location. We’ll see if this is going to be sustained with the Covid restrictions now relaxed, as people in the metro are hurrying back to offices,” he adds. Indeed, the digital space made it easier for practitioners in suburbs like Assam to reach out to clients in the metropolitan cities and render services to them. The reality is: most businesses in Assam and environs do not really understand the importance of PR.

Prospects for the future

With brands such as these ones run by Tituraj, Anuj, and Utpal scrambling to get the much needed recognition from big corporate players in the metropolises, it is hoped that the National PR Day serves as a strong reminder for the efforts, dedication, professionalism, and commitment of individuals whose primary objective is to help individuals and brands get the best possible perception in the eyes of the public.

However, these players know that there is no free meal in the PR world. For them to become relevant to clients from metropolises or abroad, they must bring value to the table. Maintaining strict professionalism and timely delivery of service is most important to build their own brands and position themselves as a preferred destination for PR services in India.

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