R Natraj, chairman of Tamil Nadu Public Service Commission, introduced himself to a gathering of students in Stella Maris college, highlighting the fact that his wife and sisters had studied in the institution. “This is an exercise in PR - I am endearing myself to you by establishing a connection,” he said; apt, as he was in the college to inaugurate the public relations forum, Prakasa.
Advocating the need for PR in government departments, Natraj shared his experiences while in the police force. “In government, knowledge is power; so we cannot tell everything. The police department is especially a victim of this, and they do not have a proper PR department. This means all their successes are not shared but their failures are trumpeted. Since it affects life and property, it has higher visibility,” he said. Quoting Churchill on how a lie travels around the whole world before the truth has a chance to put its pants on, he says this is the biggest problem PR professionals face on a daily basis.
“One of the best lessons I learned about the importance of PR was when I headed the special task force to capture brigand Veerappan. Even when his group was depleted to five or six loyalists, he managed to keep two state governments, their police force and administration at bay while keeping the support of the villagers. They considered both him and the police force as gangs; since the police usually threatened and badgered them for information, they preferred to stay on his side,” recalled Natraj.
When assigned to the Special Task Force, he reduced the number from close to 1000 to 250. These officers were then directed to spread out over the five districts of Veerappan’s influence and undertake an exercise in PR. Natraj says, “They were only to familiarise themselves with the area and the people and find out their problems. We then proceeded to solve these issues. They began to trust us, and when we won them over, we could get at Veerappan’s resources of food and the crores of ransom money. After that it was just a matter of time before he was caught.”
A similar problem was present when Natraj took over the TNPSC; so he decided on the total transparency approach. “Everything went online. And it has changed the way people look at the exam, and more people are taking part,” he said, adding that individuals don’t stay, it is the institution that matters. He advised the students to take up PR for worthy causes like NGOs who really have need of it.
Prakasa will provide a forum for the students of public relations stream to engage in real life PR and media relations. Guest faculty and CEO of Prism PR, Sathyan Bhatt, Dr Christina and Sister Susan were also present at the inauguration of the forum.