Recently, Bish Mukherjee, an Indian Communication professional became the first Indian to be recognized with the highest honour that any communication professional can get in the world. He has become one of the less than 100 IABC Fellows in the world today.
The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) is a global network of communication professionals committed to improving organizational effectiveness through strategic communication. Established in 1970, IABC serves members in more than 70 countries for networking, career development and personal growth.
In an exclusive interview with Sukruti Vadula, Editorial Team member of PreSense, Bish Mukherjee shared his journey from a RBI official to communication professional. Excerpts.
What made you enter the field of PR ? How did this start ?
It was accidental. I was working in Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in Exchange Control when I was hand-picked by the Editor of Without Reserve, the house magazine of RBI, to help editorially him out with the publication. This was in addition to my regular duties as Exchange Control Officer (ECO), which in itself was a very heavy desk, as I was in-charge of issuing RBI permits for foreign travel. In those days you could not get foreign currency for travel overseas without RBI permits.
In my role of ECO, I used to meet numerous VIP-s (or their senior representatives) and iconic people from different industries. I met cricketers, musicians, dancers, shipping magnates, travel agents, airline companies, eminent doctors, sportsmen and women and industrialists. I tried to take a realistic view of the applicants' requests for foreign exchange requirements and tried to help out in a genuine way. Word went around inside the bank that I was very people friendly and that I had PR skills.
Soon I was made one of three RBI's nominees for the Association of Business Communicators of India (ABCI). That paved the way for me to later become the Secretary and then the President of ABCI.
I got transferred to RBI's Without Reserve Cell and started work for RBI as their PR representative. In those days RBI had a Press Relations Officer but no PR Officer. My efforts at Without Reserve started yielding results as the journal got several awards in the coming years.
In later years, my work in PR and editing work in RBI was recognised by the RBI Governor in the presence of the top brass of the organisation when I was given a plaque and certificate during the bank's platinum jubilee celebrations. I had left the bank many years ago but they traced me and offered me return airfares and hotel accommodation to come over to Mumbai and accept the award and also be part of the gala dinner etc. It was so touching and memorable.
How did it feel to be the First Indian to receive the IABC Fellows award in the USA ?
In 1987 when I received the Accredited Business Communicator's (ABC) recognition from the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC) in the USA, I was the first Indian to become accredited. There are 800 ABCs in the world today. I was in Colgate-Palmolive as the head of PR, Sponsorships and Publications at the time, and there was a big party at the US Club in Mumbai to celebrate it with the President of Colgate-Palmolive opening the champagne bottle in my honour. It was an unreal experience.
Now, after so many years, I have been recognised with the highest honour in the world that the communications profession can bestow to a professional. It is an industry award bestowed by the IABC for the recipient's sagacity, experience, reach and overall contribution to the communications profession globally. There are less than 100 IABC Fellows in the world today. Once again, I am the first recipient of this top award in India. It is a very proud moment for me and for the communications profession. I am deeply humbled.
Who is your role model and mentor ?
I have never believed in soothsayers and parrot-readers for my success in life. I have believed in continuous upgrading of knowledge, skills and tactics, in unbeatable strategies, in hard work, sheer perseverence and staying focussed and calm despite provocations. I have learnt immensely from industry leaders, from my colleagues and subordinates, and from my peers and bosses. I started emulating successful leaders from my school and college days which lead me to earning the St Xaviers School Gold Medal for Elocution and the College Blue. I believe in standing up for honour and truth and never compromise on ethics.
What is the road map for the freshers to soar in the field of PR ?
Be honest. Be unambiguously truthful and never compromise with ethics. Freshers must learn to do jobs with dedication and commitment. They need to take on each job in an organised way, that is, to be sure as to what they are doing and to do it in the best possible way and then to measure the outcomes and communicate to the bosses. If you have done good or great work but are not able to measure the impact of that work to the company' bottomline and then to communicate effectively to management, then that job may not be counted by them for your career growth in the organisation. That really is the secret mantra for freshers.
You being an Accredited Business Communicator(ABC), where do you see the standard of Indian Business Communication in comparison to the global market ?
PR standards in India have evolved over the past couple of decades, thanks mostly to the plethora of multi-national companies entering the Indian markets. They have brought with them the best practices and guidelines that are of uncompromising standards. They have trained the staff in their Indian sites as per their requirements, they have brought in an era of Planning and Measurement in business communications that is so vital for an orgnisation's success.
In the process, Indian companies are recognising the importance of communicating effectively as evinced from the various workshops they are running to upskill their staff. Mr Srinivasan of PreSense has conducted a few such workshops for Indian Bank, IOB and others. PR is an important function even in Government today as evinced from the Advisory role being played by Mr MB Jayaram in a major PSU today after he retired from the company he was working for. The impact is evident even in the education sector. Institutes and Colleges are competing with each other to get the best PR people as guest speakers at their campuses. It is all good for the Indian business communication scene.
How will you define PR in your experience.
There are many ways you can understand PR but there is only one way you can know PR - that is through experience and experience alone.
Is PR just a "Call for Attention" mantra or much beyond. People generally think PR as media and publicity. What is your say.
PR is really an all-inclusive, all-pervading concept. If you split the two words you will find the meaning yourself. Anything related to public (corporate public) is PR and anything that enhances the effective relationship of the organisation or the individual with that corporate public is PR. And if the word public includes media, publicity, events, publishing etc so be it.
What is the Scope of PR in India and in the global market ?
Scope of PR in India is massive. Association bodies that are espousing the cause of PR in India are doing monumental work and there is no denying it. The untiring professional efforts by the Public Relations Council of India (PRCI), ABCI, PRSI, PRCAI and other bodies must be commended in this respect.
When the Union Carbide crisis unfolded in Bhopal, the company realised how important it was to have had a good PR outfit in India. They didn't have that advantage then. The World Vice-President for Communications at Union Carbide Mr Bob Berzok flew down the very next day from Connecticut and had a meeting with me in Mumbai. He asked for help. He asked me to join the company and immediately swing into action in crisis communications mode. I had to decline his gracious offer as I had just joined Colgate-Palmolive after very respectfully turning down job offers from Phillips, Hoechst and UTI. Bob asked me for 3 names which I readily provided. Bob recruited Mr Kishore Hattangadi who did a fantastic job at Union Carbide. Rest is history. Such situations are waiting to happen in many companies which do not believe in corporate PR. The sooner that gap is filled up the better it will be for our industry.
We have a little catching up to do in India so far as global standards are concerned. The very fact that Indian companies send in so many entries to world competitions in communications but win very few awards is a pointer in that direction. Judging entries from all over the world at the Gold Quill Awards at Shanghai, I noticed that apart from US, Canada, UK and Europe, even China and the Philippines were winning heaps of awards in various categories but the Indian entries suffered from lack of slick presentation skills and adequate responses to the measurement criteria. We need to work hard on these two aspects to find a bigger place in the global scenario. Tatas, perhaps, is the only exception which keeps winning awards in communications year after year in various categories.
What are your top three marketing and PR tips for the PR Professionals.
1. Know and understand your organisation, its products and services thoroughly
2. Plan, strategise and evaluate your work on a daily basis; relate everything that you do to the organisation's bottomline and its stakeholders
3. Be honest and ethical in whatever you do; be a leader but with utmost humility