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In demand: Makeover guys of politics
- In election season, Leaders across parties are hiring PR experts

New Delhi, March 26: When the polls draw near, these pals step in.

No, they don’t broker alliances, nor do they bankroll campaigns. But India’s politicians have been increasingly turning to these professional friends to guide them through tricky election terrain where an unguarded comment can trigger instant tempests in this age of quicksilver communication.

Dev, alias Dipak Adhikari, would vouch for that.

Meet the PR guys of politics — makeover specialists armed with artistry of speech and trained in the intricacies of body language.

Take, for example, Abhishek Katiyar. The 26-year-old follows Udit Raj, just a step behind the BJP’s Dalit candidate from North West Delhi, advising him on what to say and how to say it.

“I realised political PR is a huge industry and almost completely untapped,” says Katiyar, who writes Raj’s speeches, his punchlines, posts about him on social media and, above all, keeps track of his client’s rival candidates.

Katiyar, who started his company Brand2Life in 2011, took his first tentative step towards political PR the next year with the Delhi municipal elections. His clients included 17 candidates. Not bad for a beginner.

Nikhil Kumar, managing director of The Storytellers, explains why. Kumar, who is strategising for Ramesh Bidhuri, the BJP candidate from South Delhi, says political PR is needed for dissemination of information through text messages, tweets and Facebook posts.

“A candidate cannot go to every house in his constituency. We help him reach out. We make sure he is seen and heard saying the things that adds value to his campaign.”

Adding value is what Viveck Shetty, a veteran of political PR, considers his job. Shetty’s firm, Indus Communications, handled 17 candidates during the 2004 Maharashtra Assembly elections — 16 won the race — and has clients from Rajasthan vying for his attention.

“Unfortunately in India, a PR job for politicians is like a firefighter’s job. It’s only during elections that politicians run to PR firms. Abroad, PR firms are part of a politician’s core campaigning unit. However, things have changed in the last two years,” says Shetty.

“Our job isn’t restricted to writing press releases for candidates. We do a brand audit of our clients to understand his or her worth, we send teams to constituencies, advise clients on the content of their speeches, the way he is dressed and his body language.”

Some firms like Political Edge call themselves strategists. “We do customised studies for our clients, going to each village in their constituencies. Then we advise them on a strategy. We also suggest ways in which MPs can use their local area development funds,” says Saurabh Vyas, co-founder of Political Edge, whose clientele includes 13 MPs, including ministers like Milind Deora who have stuck with the firm since the 2009 elections.

Vyas has worked with politicians from at least one-and-a-half dozen states, including Bengal.

Many PR consultants said bloopers, especially by first-timers like Trinamul’s actor candidate Dev two days ago, showed how important their job was. Asked if he was enjoying his campaign, the Trinamul candidate from Ghatal, West Midnapore, said: “Enjoy...! It’s just like being raped, yaar! You can shout or you can enjoy.” He later tweeted an apology.

Most PR consultants were reluctant to talk about their clients but said there had been a sharp increase in the number of candidates seeking their expertise. Among them is former Jharkhand chief minister Babulal Marandi who, sources said, is looking to hire a PR firm in the capital ahead of the April-May elections.

Even in rural constituencies, the sources said, candidates have been hiring PR firms. Jayaprakash Hegde, the Congress candidate from Udupi in Karnataka, has hired professional help after he realised the reach of social media.

So has Ramya, the Kannada actress who is contesting from Mandia near Mysore.

Footballer Bhaichung Bhutia, Trinamul candidate from Darjeeling, and Jaswant Singh are also said to have hired professional help.

Balakrishna Pillai, director and CEO, Spin Communique, believes political PR is here to stay.

“I think we help in telling the politician what he needs to hear and not what he wants to hear,” says Kumar of The Storytellers.