Stop portraying Pakistan as the Meera of the world!

Published: December 22, 2010
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We’re a country people love to hate and reading about us has become people’s guilty pleasure.

“What do you do?”

“I’m a PR consultant.”

“Personal relationships?”

“No, public relations.”

“Oh, you organise events?”

Unfortunately, that is what I get from most people when I travel to Pakistan – either this, or I just have to settle for telling them that I work in marketing; which is  a socially acceptable and easily understandable term.

PR is not a well known field in Pakistan and is still in stages of infancy; despite the presence of a few PR agencies, the field still remains remarkably untapped.

Media and its teething problems

One of the obstacles in the development of this field, as I see it, is the fact that media in Pakistan is still going through a formative period and has not yet matured. Lessons can be learned from British media which has had many years to develop and mature, whereby The Telegraph backs the Tories and the Financial Times remains predominantly inclined towards the Labour Party.

Political ideologies notwithstanding, independent media outlets in Pakistan (both print and broadcast) focus more on sensationalising news and less on analysis and features. The only difference you’d find between one newspaper or another, or one television channel or another, is perhaps a difference in the number of deaths or injuries caused as a result of a recent incident – you won’t find them developing viewpoints and perspectives into what could potentially have gone behind those incidents or what possible consequences it can bring. Having said this, maturity of the media is followed by subsequent evolution of fields like PR which rely on media.

What PR consultancy can do

When executed correctly, PR can be far more influential and more cost effective than grand and costly advertising campaigns. Effectively implemented PR campaigns shift audience perceptions and can also be utilised to deal with crisis situations effectively. The recent BP oil disaster, for instance, was a case that could have been managed in a significantly better way than it was if their crisis communications plan was better planned and executed, who knows, perhaps Hayward wouldn’t even have had to step down.

Pakistan: The ‘Meera’ of the world

What Pakistan needs is good PR – the government needs to launch an effective PR campaign for Pakistan starting with local media and then spanning international media. Currently, the only stories you hear about Pakistan are negative stories: bomb blasts, terrorist attacks and political unrest. While these are things that do happen in Pakistan fairly frequently, I am confident other countries of the world face the same amount of social unrest, if not in form of terrorist attacks then in form of social mutations such as serial killers, paedophiles and organised crime gangs. However, you do not see these issues highlighted in the media as negatively as anything remotely associated with Pakistan is.

Pakistan has become the Veena or the Meera of the world – we’re a country people love to hate and reading about us has become people’s guilty pleasure, which media outlets milk to the greatest possible extent.

An effective PR campaign for Pakistan would focus on more positive aspects of Pakistan such as the recent Guinness World Record, the upcoming launch of the reconstructed Malam Jabba Ski Resort, the sports goods industry in Sialkot or our booming leather and textile industries. Positive developments would be used as news hooks to generate favourable coverage driving positive perceptions to all audiences, local and international. Not only would it focus on the positive aspects, the campaign would also have an action plan for putting a positive spin on negative aspects as well as an effective strategy for dealing with crisis situations.

There are many hurdles to achieving this and it will be a very painful process – the project will need a full buy out from the Government of Pakistan as well as some amount of transparency. However, if planned and executed correctly, the Pakistan PR project would yield results, slowly but surely.

kiran.farooque

Kiran Farooque

A PR consultant in London who aspires to be a fashionista and a food critic.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • A reader from the world

    What a great idea! Thumbs up for the thought.Recommend

  • shaz

    Very true. Well saidRecommend

  • Salma

    “the Financial Times remains predominantly inclined towards the Labour Party.”
    – You obviously no nothing about the FT! As is most certainly does not incline towards the Labour Party. Please get your basic facts correct.Recommend

  • Neeraj, India

    So, a PR consultant can change the image of Pakistan! Bravo lady! I wish Osama bin Laden hires a PR man for himself!!Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/2534/whose-country-is-this-anyway-not-the-tax-payers/ Syed Nadir El-Edroos

    Dont you think that by attaching Pakistan to Meera and Veena you are actually perpetuating rather than challenging the dominant narrative? Recommend

  • Amena

    Er, sorry, Pakistan isn’t the Meera of the world (harmless and funny) but the Joker of the world.

    Honestly! The notion that you can use PR tactics to hide the on-ground realities is so laughable, it’s sad! Recommend

  • Mahvesh

    Another word for what you’re suggesting – misleading information! Recommend

  • Hathem

    So shallow and immature views.
    Agree with Salma that the writer should get her facts right.
    Also, the random suggestions for developing a positive PR campaign are so cliche and superficially researched.Recommend

  • http://na Prasad

    The only aspect of this article that rings true is the guilty pleasure bit – for me and many like me it has become a terrible addiction. But if the writer believes that pakistan’s woes is screwed up PR she is seriously deluded.

    Pakistan is not viewed as a mere train wreck – a la the Veena’s and Meera’s of the world.

    Kiran – you cannot merely brush the blasphemy laws, the taliban, the LET etc etc under the carpet. Just watched Quo Vadis – and the obvious analogy is Nero fiddling while Rome is burning.Recommend

  • Kiran Farooque

    Salma: As someone who religiously reads the FT and C&M each morning, I can assure you my facts are sorted. Even something as simple as Wikipedia will verify FT’s inclination towards Labour for the past several years – granted, the support is waning but historically it has always associated itself with it.

    Amena: “The notion that you can use PR tactics to hide the on-ground realities is so laughable, it’s sad” – I do it on a daily basis along with countless people who are in the same profession, I’m glad my profession amuses you :) It’s less about hiding on-ground realities, more about emphasising the positive as well as providing a positive spin to negative aspects

    Hathem and Prasad: Thank you very much for the constructive criticism, however I do hope you do not visit blogs in attempts to find a thoroughly researched thesis. My aim for this piece was to introduce an idea, not pitch a developed PR campaign.Recommend

  • Nat Da Bat

    A few points in response to some of the more negative comments expressed here:

    It’s a blog. It’s going to cover a complex issue in limited depth by the nature of its being
    The FT supported the labour party in the UK until this year, when it switched allegiance to the Tories. It had done so since 1992
    True, Pakistan has a lot of problems. But coverage of said problems is the only coverage the country receives in the media. Highlighting some of its little-known good points seems sensible if the country is going to ever be seen as anything more than an alarmist annoyance on the world stage.
    Recommend

  • adi

    the only one who actually need a PR consultant is the writer herself. Had she hired a intellectually mature PR consultant before writing this, my 5min wouldn’t be wasted reading this article. Recommend

  • Ali Hassan

    PR firms can’t do anything unless the ground realities are changed (I know being a PR professional you won’t agree).
    Its not a bad idea at all, many countries have successfully employed PR firms to portray their better image (and off course to attract investments / tourists).
    Pakistan also wasted alot of money during Musharraf’s time on PR related things especially adds in CNN and BBC, but as I said, ground realities need to change first.Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    Give it a rest. I think it was a nice introduction to the field of PR, and it IS true that the concept of PR is alien in our part of the world.

    In my view… nice effort and a lot better than your previous articles.Recommend

  • Ali

    Dont treat meera as the meera of the world either. That woman is very successful inher field because of her tactics.Recommend

  • parvez

    The PR thing has been tried. The “soft image ” and ” enlightened moderation ” of the Musharraf era comes to mind, what a laugh that was. The fact remains that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.
    PR would work in companies and structured orginisations but with countries where the dynamics are completely different, its another ball game all together. Recommend

  • Zahra

    It’s a great idea. There are so many interesting facts about Pakistan that need to be told. I think our media has done some great work in the past, but now they need to change their policy and show some intellectual programs also. Pakistan is a great country and now we just have to show this to the rest of the world. Recommend

  • Mubasher

    A nice try. I like your idea and thought, a positive thought, to improve the image of Pakistan.

    However, you need in-depth knowledge of Social, Economic, Political and Geophysical realities. PR relation is not a new thing. However, it had and has many shapes and forms. In Pakistan, PR is normally considered as ‘Ta’alkaat’. For example, if you have some problem with your telephone bill (jn Pakistan). the best way is to find someone who has ‘ta’alkaat’ or PR in the telephone department. This is social reality in Pakistan.

    Tesco the largest supermarket in the UK, when entered in to the Chinese market, it tried the same policies to attract customers as they used in the UK but failed. Then they researched the Chinese market and found that Tesco must have to adapt the localisation policies to attract customers and to increase its economic share in the market. They started to sell live fish, frogs and other animals which you cannot see in the UK. Moreover, they hired all the local staff and store managers from the local Chinese community to give the impression to the customers that Tesco is not a foreign company. By adapting these policies Tesco broken the first barrier to PR. The lesson in this example is the adaptability to social, economic and geophysical realities. You cannot devise a policy ignoring these issues, whatever that policy is.

    Now come to Pakistan. First of all, Pakistan is Country NOT a Company. Any country has more complex structure than a company, although there may be some similarities. I will give you (Kiran Farooque) a hint. Do not go back to far, just study time span of Pakistan’s recent history from 1979 to the split of USSR, and from the split of USSR to present day. Afterwards, try to formulate your PR policy. Then right another post on the same issue. Personally, I agree with your idea but you need to take account of ground realities.

    And about the media. I am living in the UK and its my habit for last 3/4 years I daily read Pakistani newspapers and watch TV talk shows and I feel that Pakistani media has improved rapidly and considerably and now so many issues previously considered taboo are openly discussed; even BBC and CNN quote Pakistani media in their news. And you must not compare any world media of one country to another country’s media because any media is a reflection of social, moral, economic and political realities and hypothesis of that country. Recommend

  • Ijazz Butt

    What Pakistan needs is good, decent, moral and realistic politics. No amount of PR is going to save the country from the manure it’s been swiming in unassisted. You talk about “Media”, but everyone sa e for Pakistanis recognise all of them as the long arm of the Agencies. Recommend

  • Talha

    I am sick and tired of these Indian comments on Pakistani websites, they spew nothing but their brand of nonsense overlooking the dump that they live in.

    This Indian circus has to be stopped.Recommend

  • Calm Down

    @ Talha

    Calm down dude. I used to get upset too much about Indian’s comments on youtube videos and other websites.

    Now I realise that some of them love us, while the rest are obsessed with us. Just be happy that someone is thinking about our country! I have never commented about Greece or Syria anywhere.

    Just do your job. Its only when we get upset, they enjoy to provoke us. Recommend

  • Lalit

    don,t disgrace Veena and Meera…Recommend

  • http://amnamela.wordpress.com/ Amna Mela

    “emphasizing the positive as well as providing a positive spin to negative aspects”

    I agree with parvez on this- giving a positive spin to negative aspects seems ok enough for people and organizations, but doesn’t seem applicable to countries.

    The positive should definitely be highlighted more than it currently is, but I am strongly against portraying negative events in any country as anything less than what they are. I’m against sensationalism of bad news, but also against watering it down, as is already being done with drones and child rape. A lot of the problems we have actually don’t get enough balanced coverage. They need more, not less.Recommend

  • nan

    I always wondered why Pakistan does such a bad job of advertising itself. I haven’t seen a single tourist video of the country or any entertainment video being promoted. Unless the normal life and the better side of Pakistan is show, the world will know only of its darker side.Recommend

  • Daaniyal

    @Prasad:

    Sorry to bother you while indulging in your guilty pleasure? I might venture that there is no guilt in this pleasure for you..

    You completely missed the point of the article. It has holes, yes. But a point can be made. which was THE point. So it would seem basic english comprehension was not something you are any good at.

    Lastly, never underestimate the value of carefully crafted PR. After it, is that which allows people to swallow the ‘India Shining myth’ and allows Narendra Modi to come across as an ace administrator.Recommend

  • Daaniyal

    @Neeraj, India:

    maybe he can check with the BJP and Narendra Modi and hire the same guy?Recommend

  • Saad Sheikh

    @ adi
    wouldn’t it be better had u not waster another 1 min in writing the comment?

    @ writer
    I really appreciate your effort and i genuinely believe that a positive PR campaign for our country would do a world’s good for US and our country as well. All the bashing parties here are either arrogant or they don’t care about what happens to this land. How many people knows outside Pakistan that the 2nd highest peak is in our country and every year a lot of climber visit here. We have some of the most beautiful, breathtaking and easily accessible Glaciers, peaks, hill stations and landscapes in the world. People don’t appreciate Allah’s blessing when they are easily provided. I pray we all learn to value what we have. May God bless Pakistan, its people and you too for voicing this point of view.Recommend

  • Rabia

    I dont say i disagree with you even for a second… but dont you think these ideas have come to other people before as well. I think Pakistan needs a revolution and then a PR event. no matter how much you try and erase the negative media from peoples minds, as long as we have leaders who are “The Meera” of world then it is no point trying to make Pakistan look positive as they will ruin your efforts enlessly! Recommend

  • Maha

    Though i agree with the article but it’s rather funny that your newspaper “Express tribune” has posted such pessimistic articles themselves. e.g
    http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/story/3963/why-should-i-live-in-pakistan/
    http://tribune.com.pk/story/77389/wake-up-and-smell-the-failure/

    Charity begins at home :)Recommend

  • http://asaddurrani.wordpress.com Asad

    why headings?? Recommend