The public relations or image management industry, after losing one of their own tribe in circumstances that are yet to be investigated, is divided on whether the nature of the job can drive someone to either suicide or an early death.
“It (the pressure) went into a slightly more gray area. It went into unchartered territory, from professional to unprofessional,” said a Mumbai-based PR professional with over 15 years experience who attended the funeral of Charudatta Deshpande, former corporate communications head at Tata Steel, but did not wish to be identified as he heads PR at a well-known company and spoke to Business Standard in his personal capacity.
“You cannot control a story. (As long as) your side has been articulated,” he said, discussing his job. “If the news is correct and its negative, to say a PR professional can control a story is wrong”.
He said a company can have irrational expectations from a PR person. "I will contact the editor of a newspaper only if my side of the story is not being heard", he said.
In most companies, the head of corporate communications reports to the chief executive and is often treated as a firefighter, said Jitendra Bhargava, identified with corporate communication at Air India for an entire generation of journalists.
“In private sector, (sometimes) it can be: use any kind of ethical or unethical resource to win over a journalist”, said Bhargava. “In public sector, a method used (against a PR person) is to stop your promotion or get a false case registered against you”.
The public relations industry, though having grown by leaps and bounds and estimated to touch $10 billion this year by Assocham, does not have an agency or body representing it. Sans serif, a blog which reports on developments in the media, reported on Deshpande’s death and reproduced the letter written by his friends to Cyrus Mistry.
Deshpande’s LinkedIn profile shows that he worked in corporate communications at Mahindra & Mahindra and ICICI Bank before joining Tata Steel. “We are all harrowed by this sad situation. Charu has been a former colleague,” said Roma Balwani, who heads corporate communications at Mahindra. She declined to be interviewed.
Another executive who has handled media relations in an earlier avataar described the job as "marketing without the pressure", and said in a lot of companies chief executives do their own PR.