Stop portraying Pakistan as the Meera of the world!
Public relations managers can improve Pakistan's image; why should we be the country everyone loves to hate?
“What do you do?”
“I’m a PR consultant.”
“No, public relations.”
“Oh, you organise events?”
Unfortunately, that is what I get from most people when I travel to Pakistan – either this, or I just have to settle for telling them that I work in marketing; which is a socially acceptable and easily understandable term.
PR is not a well known field in Pakistan and is still in stages of infancy; despite the presence of a few PR agencies, the field still remains remarkably untapped.
Media and its teething problems
One of the obstacles in the development of this field, as I see it, is the fact that media in Pakistan is still going through a formative period and has not yet matured. Lessons can be learned from British media which has had many years to develop and mature, whereby The Telegraph backs the Tories and the Financial Times remains predominantly inclined towards the Labour Party.
Political ideologies notwithstanding, independent media outlets in Pakistan (both print and broadcast) focus more on sensationalising news and less on analysis and features. The only difference you’d find between one newspaper or another, or one television channel or another, is perhaps a difference in the number of deaths or injuries caused as a result of a recent incident – you won’t find them developing viewpoints and perspectives into what could potentially have gone behind those incidents or what possible consequences it can bring. Having said this, maturity of the media is followed by subsequent evolution of fields like PR which rely on media.
What PR consultancy can do
When executed correctly, PR can be far more influential and more cost effective than grand and costly advertising campaigns. Effectively implemented PR campaigns shift audience perceptions and can also be utilised to deal with crisis situations effectively. The recent BP oil disaster, for instance, was a case that could have been managed in a significantly better way than it was if their crisis communications plan was better planned and executed, who knows, perhaps Hayward wouldn’t even have had to step down.
Pakistan: The ‘Meera’ of the world
What Pakistan needs is good PR – the government needs to launch an effective PR campaign for Pakistan starting with local media and then spanning international media. Currently, the only stories you hear about Pakistan are negative stories: bomb blasts, terrorist attacks and political unrest. While these are things that do happen in Pakistan fairly frequently, I am confident other countries of the world face the same amount of social unrest, if not in form of terrorist attacks then in form of social mutations such as serial killers, paedophiles and organised crime gangs. However, you do not see these issues highlighted in the media as negatively as anything remotely associated with Pakistan is.
Pakistan has become the Veena or the Meera of the world – we’re a country people love to hate and reading about us has become people’s guilty pleasure, which media outlets milk to the greatest possible extent.
An effective PR campaign for Pakistan would focus on more positive aspects of Pakistan such as the recent Guinness World Record, the upcoming launch of the reconstructed Malam Jabba Ski Resort, the sports goods industry in Sialkot or our booming leather and textile industries. Positive developments would be used as news hooks to generate favourable coverage driving positive perceptions to all audiences, local and international. Not only would it focus on the positive aspects, the campaign would also have an action plan for putting a positive spin on negative aspects as well as an effective strategy for dealing with crisis situations.
There are many hurdles to achieving this and it will be a very painful process – the project will need a full buy out from the Government of Pakistan as well as some amount of transparency. However, if planned and executed correctly, the Pakistan PR project would yield results, slowly but surely.