In 2009, Manjeno Raihan Khan, who was working in a PR agency, went to meet his future father-in-law for the first time. In that interview, Raihan could not explain what he actually did for a living as Public Relations was not a known field let alone a fashionable job back then. Now he is the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Concito PR, one of the eminent PR agencies in the country.
He says, " Even today most of us think PR agencies do press releases and event management. But in reality, it is much more than that."
Concito PR has been operating in Bangladesh for the last 12 years. In this duodecennial journey, the agency has worked with Marico among other well-known companies.
So what does a PR agency do?
"Storytelling", Raihan explained in one word.
"Just like journalists, but the main difference is that we do it on behalf of our clients with our audiences being different stakeholders important for the client."
Moreover, the medium or platform can vary greatly- it may be in a written story or even a video. It can also be an internal meeting or event organised for the stakeholders.
And nowadays, apart from mainstream media, social media and digital platforms are also being used as essential platforms. "In other words, we mix and match different media and platforms according to nature and the needs of our clients", Raihan explained.
Raihan emphasised stakeholders for any client. For example, he explained that while working for Marico Bangladesh to promote Parachute coconut oil, the important stakeholders, apart from the customers, would be the finance ministry, BSTI, BFSA and shareholders. "So to persuade these stakeholders to make important policy changes and get their approval, we as their PR agency may publish different articles on business dailies."
Although these stakeholders are not the direct customer, through important policy-making, these internal groups are essential for a company to thrive and that is where public relation plays an important role- to maintain a client company's reputation among the stakeholders.
"So it is not direct marketing or advertisement, rather it can be called 'reputation management'", Raihan said.
Concito PR has a young team of 35 individuals with an average age of 25 and coming from a communication and journalism background as storytelling is one of the main aspects of their occupation.
However, Raihan told us that this field struggled with skilled manpower. As we have established earlier, public relations is still a misinterpreted field which leads to less concentration on the specific skill development initiatives.
There are not enough academic training opportunities here in our country, not even in the universities. "As a result either we recruit marketing students who have at least 2/3 years of experience or students with a mass communication or journalism background who have a certain level of communication skills and train them to be PR professionals", Raihan said.
We all probably remember the scandal involving Sayem Sobhan Anvir, the managing director of Bashundhara group, and a college student. This was a critical moment for the brand value of the Bashundhara group. And if the PR team decided to deport Anvir and his family to Dubai so that the media cannot reach him, it would be a grave mistake for the group according to Raihan.
Raihan says, "Crisis management is probably one of the most crucial jobs for a PR agency. The problem arises when the company owners avoid any kind of media communication which leads to further problems and speculations. It has been almost a month since the scandal, and still, we do not see any positive stories, CSR profiles or any stories related to their social contributions in the media. This is not how you preserve a brand's name."
Although globally PR agencies can work even at the policymaking level. They have incorporated data science and multidisciplinary skills in the field. And there are a number of corporate blogs where independent writers are paid to write about a company's profile.
"But here in Bangladesh, this field is still growing and we are learning to accept it. It will take time to reach that global level", but Raihan thinks that we need to work at the policy level for the development of the field.