The Impact of On-line and Off-line Tools on Public Relation Department of Himachal Pradesh

Krishan Yadav*
Ashok Kumar**
Rajesh Kumar***

Abstract

The Department of Information and Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh, since its inception in 1954, has passed through various stages. It has done its best to equip itself with what was essentially required to meet the challenges of times and thus make its presence felt through the optimum use of various tools of public relations. The department has been using various traditional tools of Public Relations (press publicity, various publications, feature services, song & drama, advertisements & exhibitions) in addition to new tools of on-line public relations like departmental website, digital information centers and direct reception sets. During the study, it was observed that the department has been kept pace with the times and has emerged as a dependable organization which can deliver the goods. It can cope up with the growing publicity demands and can ensure the uninterrupted flow of information. The publicity cannot be measured in terms of money and goods. Yet the department continues to perform from behind the curtain without the least intention to come to the forefront just to make others see the services it renders. The department has adopted different strategies for different strata of society so that the objective assigned to it could be achieved in true earnest. The tools of publicity generally used in urban areas are different than that of the tools used in rural areas.

The study was conducted by the researchers to know the efforts by the PR practitioners of Himachal Pradesh to meet the contemporary challenges. The major relevance of this study is to highlight the ‘Online/E-PR perspective’ among PR professionals of Himachal Pradesh. Having ‘E-PR perspective’ involves learning three new ‘R’s, viz Relations, Reputation and Relevance. During the study it came out that the PR professionals of the Information & Public Relations Department, Himachal Pradesh have fully developed E-PR perspective. They are using all the tools of the new social digital media. For example, the department has developed a web portal http://www.himachalpr.gov.in. The State Information Center at Shimla caters to the visitors and readers who visit in large numbers daily by providing them information about the State and also policies and programmes of the state government. The Information Centers in the districts are being run by the department. The department has installed 498 community TV sets in different parts of the state. Besides, 279 direct reception sets are installed in such areas which do not receive Doordarshan signals. The present study implies that E-PR model used by the Department of Information & Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh, can be used as an effective guide for e-governance, information sharing, transparency and addressing public grievances in a speedy manner.

Introduction

Public relations have long been a professional practice where fads are common and conceptualization of faddish concepts is weak or nonexistent. Public relations fads have focused on such concepts as images, perceptions, messaging, reputation, brands, integrated marketing communication, return on investment (ROI), strategic communication, and corporate social responsibility projects. Most practitioners following these fads have skill sets that are limited to media and media relations, and they fervently believe that publicity in traditional media will produce the faddish outcome currently in vogue. Thus, it is not surprising that so many public relations practitioners view the new digital social media as a revolutionary force that changes the way they think and upsets the way they practice public relations.

Fads change quickly, however, and public relations practitioners have rapidly embraced new digital social media as being at the centre of what they consider to be a new form of public relations. The traditional media frenzy of so many practitioners has been replaced by new social media frenzy. Although many practitioners have simply transferred their traditional media skills and techniques to digital media, the new fascination with social media promises to have positive consequences for the public relations profession. It is believed that if the new digital social media are used to their full potential, they will inexorably make public relations practice more global, strategic, two-way and interactive, symmetrical or dialogical, and socially responsible.

A huge proportion of the world’s population now has access to and is using digital media, and usage in developing countries is catching up with that in the developing countries. In addition, digital media have made most public relations global and forced organizations to think globally about their public relations practice. Public relations departments of organizations are moving rapidly to adjust to this change in media. According to a report from i-Pressroom, Trend stream, PRSA, and Korn/Ferry International, as reported in PR News online (2009), 51% of public relations departments in the United States are responsible for digital communication, 49% for blogging, 48% for social networking, and 52% for micro blogging (such as text messaging, instant messaging, and Twittering).

In addition, a 2007 study by the Arthur Page Society, a US association of chief corporate communication officers, included “Leadership in enabling the enterprise with ‘new media’ skill and tools” as one of four priorities and skills that will be needed by chief communication officers (CCOs) in the future. The other three skills of the global theory of public relations were leadership in defining and instilling company values, building and managing multi-stakeholder relationships, and building and managing trust. The new digital media have dialogical, interactive, relational, and global properties that make them perfectly suited for a strategic management paradigm of public relations properties that one would think would force public relations practitioners to abandon their traditional one-way, message-oriented, asymmetrical and ethnocentric paradigm of practice.

Public relations practitioners first used online media as an information dump, in the same way that they used traditional media, newsletters, and publications. Websites were used to disseminate information and to post publications and news releases. Employee intranets largely have been online newsletters. E-mail has been used to push promotional messages to the extent that they have been named spam. Social media are being used to disseminate marketing messages through such techniques as viral marketing. There is widespread use of digital media for employee communication programmes, including social media (used frequently or occasionally by 80% of survey participants), emails (75%), intranet (88%), websites (76%), virtual meetings (55%), and podcasts (20%). Digital media also are being used extensively for media relations, customer relations, financial relations, community relations, member relations for non-profits, donor relations, alumni relations for colleges and universities, public affairs and political public relations, and many other programmes designed to cultivate relationships with the public.

Organization 

The Information & Public Relations Department of Himachal Pradesh is headed by Director, Information & Public Relations, he is assisted by two Additional Directors,  one Joint Director, one Deputy Director, six Information Officers, one Senior Technical Officer, one Public Relations Officer (Song & Drama), one Superintendent Grade-I, two Senior Editors, two Editors, one Reporter, two Film & Photo Officers, two Assistant Editors, four APROs, one SO (SAS), three Superintendents Grade-II, one PA and seven Sub-Editors. The department/Director Information & Public Relations is assisted and represented by DPROs at the district headquarters, APROs at the Sub-Divisional level and Deputy Directors at Press Liaison office, Chandigarh and Delhi, besides Deputy Director at Zonal Office, Dharmshala. In addition to the above other supporting staff is also assisting the Director in publicity and other Public Relations works.

Administrative Setup

The Department of information & Public Relations is one of the oldest departments of the government. Its importance cannot be denied in the government function. To run the departments smoothly there are well defined functional sections of the department which are being manned by the professional like various sections at directorate level co-ordinate technical, semi-technical and professional activities of the department. The department undertakes following activities through its various wings; Establishment Section, Accounts Section, Advertisement Section, Store Section, Technical Section, Publication Section, Budget Section, Planning Section & Press Publicity wing.

Various Tools

The department uses various traditional tools of public relations like press publicity, various publications, feature services, song and drama, advertisements and exhibitions in addition to new tools of E-PR. The brief account of their activities and usage of various tools during the year of study i.e. 2010-11 is as below:

Press Publicity

This is one of the most important sections of the department. The main objective of press publicity is to ensure effective dissemination of information of the masses through print media. The “Fourth Pillar” of democracy, the print and visual media has inevitably gained an importance in this knowledge-based world of information and satellite communication. Today, exchange of information happens in seconds. Communicating information on government’s announcements activities with related graphics through e-mail to the print media and cassettes to the visual media has become an important day to day activity of the department. The press release section works intensely in carrying out these tasks. Information and Public Relations Department arranges press conferences, press tours for coverage of VIP events and other important functions to highlight the developmental activities of the government.

  • During the year under report as many as 9218 Press Notes based on VVIP’s functions, spot news and important meetings have been issued both in English and Hindi to the press and maximum media coverage of these were ensured.
  • Over 2572 messages of the Governor, Chief Minister, Ministers and others were drafted for release in publications such as souvenirs and magazines. Besides, articles on the state’s perspective were released to the press for publication on important occasions and were got published in local, regional and national newspapers and magazines.

Publications

The publication wing of the department ensures that the policies and programmes initiated by the state government reach the maximum number of the target group.

  • The publication wing from time to time is bringing out publications such as folders, booklets, brochures and pamphlets, posters and calendar, highlighting the policies and programmes of the state government which are distributed amongst the general public especially amongst the opinion-makers for opinion building and wider publicity. During the year under report, the department brought out eleven booklets/folders highlighting the development and welfare programmes of the government.
  • Besides this, the department is also bringing out a weekly magazine Giriraj regularly. The weekly contains news and views on all-round development of Himachal Pradesh besides articles and write-ups on developmental, cultural and literary activities. Efforts have been made to make both these publications more informative and attractive. During the year under report on an average 11,380 copies of Giriraj were published each week and circulated amongst the readers. Concerted efforts were made to promote and popularize the weekly in the remotest corners of the state.
  • The monthly magazine Himprastha, with 1700 copies per issue, is also being brought out by the department. The magazine is mainly devoted to art, literature, culture and socio-economic aspects besides highlighting the government policies and programs.

Electronic news gathering (ENG)

The main objective of this unit is to provide news clips and cassettes pertaining to developmental activities in the state. Regular newsreel is also prepared by the department for telecast. Electronic media has become one of the most powerful means of communication. To keep abreast with the fast changing scenario in the communication world, the department has 72 video display units in the field, which has been provided with colored TV and VCP for showing film and documentaries on welfare and developmental schemes of the state. Besides, there is one ENG section which has a studio with editing and other facilities.

  • The department is also producing a programme called Himachal Diary which is being telecast on Doordarshan, Delhi on Sundays. Twenty eight episodes of Himachal Diary of 15 minutes duration each were also prepared which were telecast on the national channel of the Doordarshan Kendra, Delhi during 2010-11.
  • Besides soft stories, developmental stories prepared by video units were got telecast on Doordarshan and other channels. This unit has prepared 52 soft stories on developmental, cultural and other aspects which were also telecast on Doordarshan and other channels.
  • The department is also producing documentary films of other departments of the state on nominal charges.
  • This unit arranged 917 video coverage of various functions and meetings of VVIP’s including the Governor, the Chief Minister and other Ministers which were telecast on Doordarshan Kendra, Shimla other channels including the local cable networks.
  • The ENG unit also covered three sessions of the Vidhan Sabha and edited copies of the Vidhan Sabha proceedings were sent to Doordarshan Kendra, Shimla for telecast. The local channel was also given the footage of Vidhan Sabha proceedings for telecast.
  • The department has prepared one film on the completion of three years of the government and three short films for the Agriculture Department, Animal Husbandry Department and Fisheries Department.

Feature Service

This service aims at providing developmental write-ups and success stories for both the print and the electronic media. During 2011-12, 52 features on various aspects have been issued from the state headquarter and 401 from the district headquarters under the Feature Service of the department. These features got wide publicity in local, regional and national newspapers.

Press Conferences

The Department arranged 528 Press Conferences and Press briefings of the Chief Minister, Ministers and other important dignitaries during the year within and outside the state.

Songs and Drama

The Song and Drama unit, through inter personal communication helps in disseminating policies and programmes of the state government through the traditional mode of communication. The department has four Drama Units, one at the state level and one each at Shimla and Dharmshala, besides one unit for tribal areas stationed at Kullu.  These Drama Units organized 1385 drama shows and performances in different parts of the state during the year. These performances were based on the programmes launched by the government for the betterment and welfare of the people and various other programmes aimed at the betterment of the society.

Advertisement

This wing of the department releases and prepares display/classified advertisements to the print media about the ongoing schemes and government achievements. All the advertisements of the government of Himachal Pradesh are issued to the media through Information and Public Relations Department. Advertisements are released to newspapers after considering their importance and reach and the group targeted. In order to encourage the small and medium scale newspapers, the advertisements are also released in such newspapers.

  • The centralization of the advertisements has provided fruitful results to the state government because all the advertisements are released through the PR Department and this has resulted in saving of lakhs of rupees as the department is issuing advertisements on DAVP or state government rates.
  • In addition, the advertisement wing looks at the space management of various advertisements including classified/display so that it may not cause any loss to the government exchequer. The Information and Public Relations Department is working as the nodal department for releasing of display advertisements in respect of all the departments/boards and corporations of the state.
  • As many as 4783 classified advertisements and 835 display advertisements were released to different newspapers and periodicals for publication during the year 2005-2006.

Exhibition

Government exhibitions are organized by the exhibition wing of the Information and Public Relations Department to educated people on various achievements, welfare schemes, and policies of the government of Himachal Pradesh. Exhibitions are being organized during the state level fairs and festivals to educate the people about the developmental activities especially amongst the rural people.

The Exhibition Unit of the department organized six exhibitions on important fairs and festivals besides about a dozen exhibitions in the field during the year highlighting the policies and programmes of the state government. Besides 28 big hoardings two in each district have also been installed.

Photos

Photos relating to success stories and other programme activities are collected from the fields and photo library maintained. These photos are used as and when required. Photos are used in exhibition also.

Photo section of the department ensured coverage of 813 functions of VVIPs/VIPs and other events and released these to the press at the state headquarter, district headquarter, sub-divisional level and also through Press Liaison Offices based at Delhi, Jallandhar, Chandigarh and Zonal Office, Dharamshala. The photographs were also transmitted through E-mail to the newspapers besides feeding in the department’s Website for the newspapers.

On-line PR Tools

A purposive sample of 101 Public Relations Officers of the Department of Information & Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh, was selected for the present study. Of these 101 officers 25 were Directors (Additional, Joint & Deputy Directors) – retired as well as serving the department, 34 of them were District Public Relation Officers (DPROs) – retired as well as serving the department and the remaining 42 of them were Assistant Public Relation Officers (APROs) – retired as well as serving the department. The present questionnaire on Media Habits, Internet Usage, Crisis Communication & e-PR was developed under the ample guidance of the guide. The researcher collected the item from the field/area on Media Habits, Internet Awareness, Internet Access & Internet Usage & e-PR. The items were further subjected to the standard item analysis procedure by the researcher to judge the worth of the items. Some items were dropped and 43 items were retaining in the form of questionnaire. The questionnaire comprises Part A (Personal Information & Media Habits), Part B (Awareness, Access and Use of Internet in Office/Department/Organization) and Part C (e-PR perspective and Crisis Communication).

After collection of data and their analysis, it was found that the famous quote by Shirky, C. (2008) “When we change the way we communicate, we change society” is perfectly suited to the Department of Information & Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh. The Department of Information and Public Relations since its Inception in 1954 has passed through various stages and has done its best to equip itself with what was essentially required to meet the challenges of times and thus make its presence felt through the optimum use of its potential and technologies of new media. The main function of department is to disseminate the policies and programmes of the government in the right perspective and to gauge and assess the reactions of the quarter concerned and keep the government informed about their impact amongst the masses. Besides it also educates the people about various programmes launched for the welfare of the people by the centre and state governments from time to time. This task is indeed a challenging one due to difficult terrain, remoteness of areas, and the inadequate reach of communication.

From the study it came out that the Department of Information & Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh has fully developed three ‘R’ or e-PR perspectives and it is clear from the use of the tools of the new digital social media by them.

With the advancement and day-to-day additions of latest technology in the field of communication and information this task has become all the more challenging. The Department of Information and Public Relations keeping pace with the times has emerged as a substantially dependable organization which can undoubtedly deliver the goods and as such cope up with the growing publicity demands and can ensure the uninterrupted flow of information to all the right quarters. Although publicity cannot be measured in terms of money and goods, the department continues to perform from behind the curtain without the least intention to come to the forefront just to make other see the services it renders.

The Department of Information and Public Relations has adopted different strategies for different strata of society so that the objective it has been assigned could be achieved. The tools of publicity used in the urban and rural areas are different. The people of urban areas are comparatively more educated, more aware about the happenings on regional, national and international level because of the easy excess they have to the print and electronic media.

The people in rural areas are more often than not guided or tutored by their collective conscience and traditions (sanskars) stored at the back of their minds, especially when they almost no access to the print and electronic media. Apart from this, they also depend upon teachers or any other official posted in the village to know what is happening beyond the periphery of their village. That is how the rural people form their opinion about the activities being initiated for their welfare. And the people living in the remotest areas bank heavily upon on the traditional media where the reach of print electronic media is a far cry.

This necessitated the department of Information and Public Relations to devise different strategies. Accordingly, it has done its best to equip itself with the various kinds of publicity tools which suit a different strategy to realize its objectives.

The Information and Public Relations Department has functioned with full potential in fruitful way and ensured effective dissemination of policies and programmes of the government down to the grassroots level. The following new tools of PR have been used by Himachal Pradesh PR professionals to meet the challenges of the new world:

Departmental Website

The department has developed a web portal http://www.himachalpr.gov.in. The website has database facilities. The web site is updated at least five times daily for press releases/news photographs etc. The website has archives of all development features issued by the department. The site also comprises the profile of the state government. Recently the department has started a news clipping service on its site. All the important news items related to Himachal Pradesh are being available on this website. It has link for every website of the state government, making it quite comprehensive for browsing information regarding the state government and its various departments/corporations. The department proposes to make it more user-friendly and comprehensive.

For ensuring effective publicity and bringing efficiency, the Press Section at the state headquarter, Press Liaison offices and District Public Relations Offices in the State have been provided with computers The Press Notes are also being sent through E-mail and feeding in official website.

Information Centers

The State Information Center at the Mall, Shimla is run in a befitting manner to cater to the visitors and readers who visit in large number daily by providing them information about the state and also policies and programmes of the government. In all the district headquarters Information Centers are being run by the department.

T.V. and D.R. Sets

The department has installed 498 Community TV sets in the different parts of the state. Besides, 279 Direct Reception sets are installed in such areas where Doordarshan signals are not received. The department is maintaining these TV/DR sets installed in the field during the year 2005-2006. The efforts are being made to switch over from DR sets to D.T.H Services launched by the Prasar Bharati to ensure the reach of Doordarshan in these areas.

CONCLUSION

This e-PR approach is a paradigm shift in the mode of the communication and interaction resulting in the qualitatively change in the society in general and PR professionals in particular. It has not only improved the speed of communication but has also effectively addressed very large audiences across areas even in the remotest parts. E-PR can be an effective tool in crisis communication situation and informing the citizenry about the government vision, policy and practices without any loss of time. The present study implies that e-PR model used by the Department of Information & Public Relations, Himachal Pradesh can be used as an effective guide for e-governance, information sharing, transparency and addressing public grievance in speedy manner.

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