Whither the Communication Function?

The nature of corporate communication has changed over the last couple of decades and is continuing to change as a result of shifts in both the economic and media landscapes in the country. What are the implications for startups today? I have been fortunate to belong to a generation of communication professionals that had their careers almost equally split between pre- and post-liberalisation India. When I started out in Public Relations in 1979, many did not know what this profession really entailed. It was seen as an adjunct function to related fields like Marketing or HR that could be performed by anybody.

Enterprises did not interact much with the media in pre-liberalisation days as they largely operated in the public sector and were mostly monopolistic in nature. Communication was minimal with press notes mainly pertaining to visits by government dignitaries or new facility launches. Internal communication was also confined to a quarterly four page newsletter that was heavily biased towards the management. Corporate social responsibility had not yet come of age and unions with political affiliations called the shots for the most part. Proactive media was confined to disputes, negotiations and settlements between managements and unions.

Publications were far and few in between. All India Radio (AIR) was a prime source of information while television – still a nascent medium at that point – had Doordarshan as the sole functioning channel. And since this was government-owned and controlled, it provided little in the way of independent commentary or analysis.