Creating an Impact
In good or bad times a business's best friend is its PR
Eleven years ago, in 1995, Shamsur Rahman Momen took his first job as a trainee sub-editor in The Daily Star (DS). After a year as a sub, he switched to business reporting, as he said he was “missing his name in the newspaper”. His first break came in 2001 when the paper's business in-charge Inam Ahmed was shifted to the front page and Momen was named the new editor of the paper's burgeoning business page. As a new in-charge, he faced a problem: “The management wanted to run some positives stories on different businesses; but the problem was, these businesses were reluctant to disclose their financial details, fearing it would expose their secrets to the world and, worse still, to their rivals." They were not ready to embrace the idea of positive reporting, thinking the papers were more interested in the shadier and murkier side of the business world. Momen laments that the plan though good as it was, had never been carried out.
So, when he was offered a job in a Public Relations (PR) firm in the Emirati capital Dubai, Momen thought of giving it a good try, and that brief stint of his in PR has opened a new world before him. At that time the memories of the DS's business page were still vivid, and Momen recalls how, at his leisure, he would leaf through the pages of Khaleej Times and other Dubai newspapers. "The business section is a thick stack of pages, covering new products, investment details, new services… you just need to name it,” he says.
Then it is not surprising that one warm evening, Momen would pay a visit to the office of the newspaper to see for himself how Khaleej's business page worked. The visit turned out to be a surprising one, opening a brave new world of business journalism to him. Momen recalls: “I could not believe it when I saw that their business page was run by the same number of reporters and sub-editors that I had at The Daily Star.”
Momen at that time did not know that most of the reports and features that the paper printed were sent to them by different PR firms in the form of press releases; Khaleej subs just need to rephrase some of the sentences before making sure these stories go with their news policy.
The next one year, Momen, with a news reporter's eye and diligence, followed different Emirati newspapers and magazines to get a hang of this particular type of reporting he did not know of. Things got clearer to him within a few months, and he decided to implement his newfound knowledge in his native land.
Already there were some PR agencies that would regularly send press releases to the newspaper offices, sometimes photographs even, of signing ceremonies, where faceless businessmen shook hands with little-known bankers. “That PR agencies can do full-length news items for the papers was a new concept,” says Momen.
But the hard time Momen had at first was not with the papers. The prime hurdle was to convince different businessmen who did not know why they would have to hire a firm to manage their public relations. Good for Momen and his company Impact PR, so, that he made the Beximco group understand the need for his professional help to improve their image in the country's business world. Having taken Beximco under his fold, Momen moved on and within months he found himself managing the public relations of Asia Energy (Bangladesh) and a few more companies.
Impact, though a new organisation as it is, is quite picky about taking new clients. Without naming anyone he says, “I had to say no to several companies: One of them had a very troubled relationship with the Bangladesh Bank, and another's work went against the interest of the people of Bangladesh.
“Ours is a business organisation," he continues, “but that does not mean that we will not take the issue of social and corporate responsibilities into consideration.”
It is expected that many will follow Momen's suit. And when that happens we can expect to see the vibrant world of local business reflected on the pages of Dhaka papers.
-- AM HUSSAIN
(R) thedailystar.net 2006