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Letter from Bangladesh

by Rizwan Sharif

Having worked in the PR industry in Bangladesh from 2008 to 2010, I observed PR to be a new phenomenon in the country that has shown a significant growth pattern in recent years. The credit goes to large advertising groups and their multinational clients who during the late '90s realised the need for strategic communications and public engagement apart from creative communications and, thus, paved the way for PR consultancies to emerge.

Since then, today there are several local and international PR consultancies operating in Bangladesh. Amongst them are some prominent names in this field including Northbrook Consultants, Concito PR (an affiliate of Burson Marsteller), Impact PR, Masthead PR and Forethought PR.

My career as a PR practitioner began at Northbrook Consultants as the Client Relations manager and the majority of the PR tasks that I had to perform included maintaining a positive image of the clients to the media, events management, crisis communications and implementing corporate social responsibility campaigns. A few of the renowned clients that I had the opportunity to work with are Coca Cola, Nokia, Tata, and Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industries.

Despite its growth, over the past few years the PR industry in Bangladesh has also been presented with some key challenges that it needs to overcome in order to become more professional and credible. One of them is lack of professional education and knowledge in PR. The majority of the practitioners come with academic backgrounds in business and other disciplines and develop their expertise based on hands-on experiences.

Another obstacle that is worth mentioning is the lack of awareness of PR among local organisations and mass audiences. For many of these organisations, advertising comes as the first point of call to communicate and engage with consumers and PR in this regard is seen as a secondary tool for media coverage and events promotion.

However, this is not true for the multinational companies in Bangladesh who value PR equally alongside advertising and marketing. On the other hand, media personnel in Bangladesh also have a negative attitude towards PR and often perceive it as interference to their jobs due to lack of professional understanding.

In addition, Bangladesh as a country is often misrepresented in international media, which perhaps caused lack of interest among global PR agencies to benefit from the untapped market opportunities lying there. It is due to this that large advertising groups such as Leo Burnett, JWT, TBWA, Grey Worldwide, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Ogilvy have been dominating the local communications industry for decades.

Therefore, three things are crucial for future development of PR in Bangladesh:

 

  • Academics and practitioners should develop a consensus among them in offering certified PR education to existing and potential practitioners. Organisations like the CIPR or the PRSA can play an important role here by establishing their training programmes in Bangladesh.

  • Mass awareness of PR needs to be developed among local organisations because they make the largest untapped market for PR in Bangladesh. Moreover, as many of the local companies are now expanding their businesses abroad, it is the perfect opportunity for the PR industry to unlock its potentials with these companies.

  • Journalists and other media professionals in Bangladesh need to be made aware of the benefits and potentials of PR and how it can support their professions so that they feel encouraged to work together with the PR professionals.
     

To succeed in the PR industry in Bangladesh, one also needs to consider a few more issues:

  • Bangladesh is a Muslim country and people are sensitive about their national history, culture and heritage

  • Strong media networking and communication skills in Bengali and English are central to any PR activity in Bangladesh

  • To get the best results from the media, one should focus more on building sound relationships with senior management in press and electronic media, as they are the ones who would decide on news coverage or help you with crisis communications

  • Use of internet and computer literacy is growing at lightning speed and therefore a practitioner in the near future would be required to have expertise in social and new media techniques.

In conclusion, even though the PR industry is smaller in nature than the other media activities, it has bigger opportunities to explore and a lot can be done at this start-up stage. The industry is definitely projecting optimism for the future with trained PR graduates from abroad getting involved in local PR practice. Moreover, as multinationals and local organisations are expanding their communication activities in Bangladesh to cope with the growing economy and consumer awareness, local PR agencies in Bangladesh are now actively concentrating on including standard global practices in their campaigns and on opportunities to collaborate with global PR agencies in Bangladesh.