CAMPAIGNS: Judge and Jury; Management of beauty contests should be more than skin-deep

The Miss World contest offers an ideal window of televised opportunity to address social perceptions in India, says Allwyn Fernandes, vice- president, Burson-Marsteller Roger Pereira, India

The Miss World contest offers an ideal window of televised opportunity

to address social perceptions in India, says Allwyn Fernandes, vice-

president, Burson-Marsteller Roger Pereira, India

It would be easy to dismiss the protests that have convulsed Bangalore

over the Miss World contest as an indication of India’s unwillingness to

accept the modern world. The truth is much more complex. It arises from

a PR failure to read the signals and to attempt to treat the contest as

an event management exercise, rather than one of perception management.

Every society has its dissenters and a thriving democracy like India’s

allows them to express their views freely. Perception management

consultants anticipate the negatives well in advance and work towards

enlisting support and overcoming fears, thereby marginalising the


Event managers, on the other hand, work towards staging a successful

show and neglect the more intellectual pursuits necessary for a project

of this magnitude.

Anyone who watched the recent general election campaign in India would

have realised the kind of turmoil this country is going through as it

gets sucked willy-nilly into the global system with the aid of satellite


Against just two channels six years ago, cable operators now download 45

channels. For an audience used to sanitised serials and religious epics

these channels have been a culture shock.

India’s success in winning both the Miss World and Miss Universe crowns

in 1994 has captured the minds of India’s young women. Managers of local

companies have been quick to cash in with beauty contests of their own

and girls from the most conservative families have enthusiastically

taken to showing off their charms. Is it any surprise then that a

section of an otherwise male-dominated society is alarmed at what it

sees as a threat to Indian values?

Bangalore is not new to violent protests. Remember Cargill and its

hybrid seeds and, more recently the protests against KFC? Yet today the

same farmers who wanted to throw Cargill out are making a beeline for

Cargill seeds and KFC continues to thrive.

All this should have taught PR practitioners to learn from their

mistakes and get it right this time. Instead of trying to understand how

and why the Cargill and KFC issues turned out to be non-issues, these

unfortunate practitioners chose to pat themselves on the back in the

media on how they won the business.

What a let-down. And now, what could have been an ideal opportunity for

building a case study in perception management has turned out to be an

exercise in ensuring security for the contestants.


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