What it takes to be a “Spin Doctor”
There is a reason why people in the Public Relations sphere are called Spin Doctors. So, while I was mulling over different ways to explain this, I came across this quote which I thought would save me the hard work of having to explain it to you –
“If a young man tells his date how handsome, smart and successful he is – that’s advertising. If the young man tells his date she’s intelligent, looks lovely, and is a great conversationalist, he’s saying the right things to the right person and that’s marketing. If someone else tells the young woman how handsome, smart and successful her date is – that’s PR.”
Well, tongue in cheek it may be, but let’s face it no one can put a spin on things as well a PR professional! Think about it:
- A great PR campaign got celebrities (like Bill Gates, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Cook, Shakira and Taylor Swift) and wannabes to agree to have a bucket of ice water dumped on them (http://www.alsa.org/fight-als/ice-bucket-challenge.html)
- A superhero movie whose main characters were a talking raccoon and tree trunk became Disney’s Marvel Studios highest grossing movie in 2014 (we are of course referring to Guardians of the Galaxy!)
- Many street corners in India are getting a deluxe makeover as so many Indians have suddenly discovered the benefits to living in cleaner and more pristine surroundings (no points for guessing what I am referring to here!)
Let’s face it – did we really need to be told that our country needed to be cleaner? The very fact that this iniative has taken a grip on a nation known for its inward looking take on life is perhaps the biggest PR success of the last year.
So, what does it take to be a Spin Doctor? It’s not easy to turn something which appears innocuous into something which becomes the topic of discussion across dinner tables and coffee meetings. Is it about being at the right place at the right time? Or about having the necessary social skills to talk to celebrities? Or being seen and heard at the right parties?
Well, this is just a part of – albeit a critical part – what it takes to be a successful PR professional.
We caught up with Himanshu Raj, a PR professional for the last 6 years. Himanshu has worked with agencies like MSLGROUP, Concept Communications and Avian Media where he worked very closely with clients like Nike, Procam International, Karnataka State Cricket Association, HTC, Eurocopter, Philips(R&D), IMG Reliance World Sports Group & CAA Kwan. He currently works at IBM where he manages external relations for the Mobility and R&D division.
Himanshu says the most common notion that aspiring PR professionals have about this industry is that it is only about rubbing shoulders with the whos who and attending press meets. Think again he says.
“A lot of hard work goes in before you actually meet celebrities or attend press meets. You have to know who to network with, who are the journalists who write about different topics, understand the material that you are trying to promote and really know how to write well!”
Himanshu has put in the hard work to earn his spurs in this profession. He naturally gravitated towards PR because of his extroverted nature and his innate desire to be around and get to know people. He completed a Masters degree in Mass Communication from Christ University which he says gave him the launching pad that he needed to get started in this field. The course he went through was a sort of umbrella course as it covered communication in different areas like advertising, event management, content writing, technical writing, film production, news production and yes, PR. Though Himanshu feels that getting the degree was necessary, the actual learning started on the job.
“Our courses are not really built to teach what it takes to do the job. I think I learnt 40% from the course I did and the rest of it on the job.“
But he still recommends a degree in Mass Communication rather than diving straight in because
“…at some point it will open doors – even if it takes time!“
In a short span of time, Himanshu has tasted success. For example, he helped to launch the new uniforms of the Indian Cricket Team in 2013 – an experience which was not easy as
“it was in Rajkot, a city where I had no contacts and had to literally do everything by myself along with a stringer.”
He has also managed sports events like Aircel Chennai Open, TCS World 10k , Indian National Rally Championship, FMSCI- National Racing Championship, Punj Lloyd PSA Masters Squash and South Asian Football Federation Championship.
So, if Himanshu had to write a handbook on “How to get ahead in PR” what would he say? Well…
- Be ready for a lot!
- Learn how to network (Himanshu meets different people almost everyday to talk about his clients!)
- Develop a really thick skin! There is no end to the flak that one gets – and from all quarters. So, if your first instinct is to crumble at the slightest form of criticism, you need to learn to toughen up – and fast!
- Do not expect to sit back with your feet up – this job is not relaxing! You will be expected to be on your toes all the time.
- Be prepared for long hours!
- Hone your creativity – a large part of your job is to get boring material look really interesting!
- Learn to write really well.
- Read, read, read, read (Himanshu reads 5 newspapers a day! And he says you should be ready to switch your reading based on the material you are working with. While his earlier job, required him to read GQ, in his current job he devours DQ or Data Quotient!)
- Be active on social media – and he does not mean be selfie obsessed. It’s but logical – how can you promote someone or something else, if you yourself are not talking and interacting on social media ?! So, create a Twitter handle and join conversations, or start conversations. Share cerebral posts on FB.
- Become adaptable. Today you could be promoting clothes, tomorrow it could be detergents (Himanshu himself has moved from sports to technology. He says that he now wants to explore different verticals in his current organization!)
- Don’t expect to be patted on the back at every turn! (Himanshu recalls that most people were not aware of the work that went in to launching the new jersey for the Indian cricket team in Rajkot!) Your reward is in a job well done!
Himanshu has learnt a lot in the last few years. And not all of it is job related.
“Today I am not afraid to tell anyone what I think. Whether it is the CEO of a company or a fresher or someone in the government. And I know how to change the way I communicate from one person to another!”
After having done the academics to job route, Himanshu strongly feels that the education system in our country needs to be more skills based. Like in countries like the US.
“In our country, we often see that people often study something and end up doing something else. This is because they haven’t found a direct fit educationally to what they want to do. In countries like the US, kids start training soon after school – there are programmes which actually teach them the skills to do what they want to do. This could end up saving someone a lot of time.”
He cites an example:
“In college we were taught a para on crisis communication. At work we realize that crisis communication is really critical – so you are left to figure it out while on the job!“
And he has does not mince his words when it comes to young people today.
“Youngsters these days do not read! Their knowledge of social media is to put up pictures on Instagram. And they believe that meeting celebrities or going to promo parties is their right of passage in PR! We need young people to have more drive, not run away from hard work and be more aware of the world!”
Himanshu loves his job – it is pretty evident from the passion in his voice when he speaks about his profession. At the end, that’s what differentiates a career from a job – love and belief in what you do. We are sure that in the years to come, Himanshu will be at the helm of many a successful PR campaign!
You can follow Himanshu on Twitter at @bollockspeak or if you have any questions for him, then do write to us, and we will make sure it reaches him!
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