Here we discuss the basic ingredients of Public Relations: Topical Issues, The backdrop - economic and social, What makes PR tick, the pain points, the problems, the positives, the negatives... almost anything under the sun related to the communication industry!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Misconceptions about PR

Most of those who are a part of the PR industry and even those who are not, often have several misconceptions about PR. I am touching upon several of these below that I have personally witnessed in the last two years that I have been in the industry:

Advertising & PR are the same: People believe that all publicity is Advertising and therefore since we are in the publicity business, we are in Advertising.

The most interesting manifestation was visible when one of the team at a clients’ told us that we were the first guys who he had met who were not doing advertising and were only pursuing PR. He told us to rethink our business and include Advertising as well. Oopsie… The rest of the meeting with him went into making him realize the difference between the both, which was rather embarrassing for us as we had been working with them for quite a long time.

Females in the PR industry: Another misconception associated with PR is that PR agencies only appoint good looking girls because they have more “pleasing power” and they attract more attention which helps in getting their work done… How skewed can this get???

I am told that some PR agencies also have strict guidelines about how to dress up professionally. It does not really make sense for a PR person to dress up in “attractively” just to seek attention. But, so deeply engrained are our biases that we believe that only drop-dead gorgeous girls can be good PR people. An academically minded professional who was given additional responsibility of PR was at the receiving end of her own colleagues who did not think that she did not look “PRish” enough for her job. She has since joined the civil services and as luck would have it, is in the Information Services…

I do not believe that only good looks can get the work done. What matters is that a professional needs to be presentable and in our business, interactive.

Because of this mindset, generally only “lookers” are appointed for the PR function by the corporates and PR agencies. Unfortunately, this brings with it another categorization – “dumb”.

Most media believes that most PR women are dumb. And I am forced to concede to a recent statement by Shashi Tharoor which said that “media cannot accept an attractive girl as a serious business professional”.

I wonder if girls will ever be recognized for their professional skills rather than what people believe that they are???

PR a revenue generating exercise: Clients often tend to believe that by undertaking a PR exercise, they can increase their revenues overnight. PR is NOT a sales function, though it assists in adding to the revenues in the long run.

PR highlights the USPs of the organization, creates perceptions which do not exist or shares information about new products and services. PR is a facilitator for information dissemination and perception moulding but not for sales. The best that PR does is brings the buyer and seller at a common platform, but it does not sell!!!

PR is all about having good media relations: Those who know PR believe that PR is not public relations but press relations – and now media relations. The perception is that PR professionals have to have good relations with journalists which can help them get good coverage in the media and most stories can be generated because of good relationships.

I believe that this is wrong… The only thing that matters when it comes to generating a good story is the content and information that we share and the way we are able to communicate it – in short, does it sound convincing to the journalist and whether he/she is convinced that this makes for a good story?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why Rookies of Mass Communication are more interested in Journalism

The much debated power of journalism has captivated the imagination of millions who aspire to be Barkha Dutt or Pranav roy. They aspire to be one amongst the top rated journalist this country has ever seen. They join famous schools and colleges to do several courses, in the hope that they will be a part of this glamorous career.

In India, journalism has reached the coveted heights where from PM to CM, everybody seems to oblige them in one way or the other. They are treated like celebrities wherever they go and they are seen as symbols of truth and justice. This very showcase of power and liberty inspires many to follow their footsteps.

As debated in the previous articles, I shall not comment on the quality of these institutions but I'd rather focus on why people are confused and choose other verticals like PR as the founding stone to fulfil their aspirations.

Most of the rookies I have interacted with, have no clue as to the kind of hard and tedious work and long hours that journalist has to put in to do an honest story.

They have hardly any information either on PR, Advertising, or Journalism. Their only comment on what they want to become say five year down the line is - a reputed journalist.

Journalism is the prize possession they would want to achieve, but if you ask them “How”, they have no clue whatsoever.

Alleged Colleges of Mass Communication should provide them with a clear roadmap as to how the education that they are getting, would enhance their chances to fulfil their aspirations. If they wish to become a Reporter/Journalist there should be clear roadmap of how they should achieve it.

But no one can deny the fact that today the focus is on glamour and power rather than on reporting and in one way or the other, Media is also responsible for creating this ecosystem.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What to do with colleagues who are very good workers but have "poorest of the poor" comprehension of English?

Today I am faced with a peculiar problem for which I am still scratching my head trying to figure out a solution. This problem I am sure is prevalent all across the PR Industry and I would like to know the solution. One of our colleagues with more than a decent track record in delivery across media both vernacular and mainline English, has not even passable knowledge of English. Unfortunately for all of us coming from the interiors of India, English still happens to be the main language of communication at least in the written mode. This is especially true for emails.

Our problem stems from the fact that his written English is as bad as it can get. Typically one of his colleagues edits his mail and then he sends it. We are all aware of this and have let it be in the hope that he will slowly pick up and start doing his own writing. But this seems to be not working and today a wrong mail was sent by him to a client who is very particular, causing embarrassment all around. He just escaped being fired by the skin of his teeth. We all feel sorry for him, but how do we get him to improve?

This brings me to the larger question - why can't the so called Industry organisations run some kind of English classes for those aspiring to make a career in the Public Relations sector. Since this is a problem that most of the PR professionals, that I have come across, have - poor written communication skills. To give a classical example Chartered Accountants in India were never known for their communication skills,however ICAI, the governing body recognised this and today runs courses for CA's on communication in conjunction with the best institutions that there are in the country. The CA profession has benefited immensely and today you will find a marked difference in how a CA communicates, though there is still a long way to go. But at least they have made a beginning.

I just hope that all of us working in the PR sector wake up to this reality and take some corrective steps or else many a career like my colleagues will be in jeopardy.

In today's era of Communication, Is the Clients' fascination with Multiple Offices justified?

We are living in an era where communication methods are evolving on a daily basis. If I tell today's generation, that to get a telephone connection one had to apply and wait for years together then they would probably take me for a mentally deranged person. Yet I remember the 70's and 80's when telephone was a luxury and one gave a neighbours number as a p.p. number to be contacted in an emergency. When I bought a Fax machine in 1992 most of the people were unaware of such a contraption.

90's bought the era of internet and e-mails, I actually had an incident when a pretty neighbour of ours walked into my office and pointing to the Fax machine asked is this the e-mail :). Yet today we take this all for granted such has been the progress of technology in the field of communication. We no longer need physical presence we are available 24x7 over mobile phones/email/messengers.

One would have thought that with so much advancement in Communication and with support from the Aviation sector in India, one could do with having large centralised operations for PR set up with Strategic offices in cities of importance.

We decided on this model and have successfully executed PR campaigns not only across India, but also in UK, US, South Asia - Lanka, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives; Singapore, Middle East etc. with a centralised delivery team in Delhi. Clients who have worked with us have endorsed this by staying with us for years together.

Yet I am dismayed sometimes at the mindset of people at new Client pitches. You send them your profile which mentions this fact and they call you for pitches. Here you are more often than not asked, how many offices do you have? One looks flabbergasted, is this guy for real? We have sent him our profile, he has called us for a pitch assumingly after having read the profile, then why this stupid question? One patiently explains and tries to show him the power of communication, but this guy will not understand. He wants an agency which has 50 offices. More the better.

One loses out in the pitch to agencies who show 30-40-50 offices. And what are these offices, more often than not they are affiliates or one man desk manned by junior level guy. And the client wants this? I can only scratch my head and wonder at the intelligence of such clients. Whenever we have lost a pitch to the so called big agencies, we have monitored the PR campaign of such clients closely for years together and have wondered at the output.

One would not be complaining if the outputs were good, as you would at least have the consolation that the account went to someone who is good. But rarely have I seen accounts going to better agencies. My question is really to all those people sitting on clients side, who happen to read this, Is your phobia with number of offices justified? Shouldn't you be looking at the bandwidth that the agency is bringing to the table? Shouldn't you be looking at people who can actually partner you in your enterprise rather than act as vendors?

Managements at Clients should realise that unless their marketing team gets rid of this phobia, they might end up the ultimate losers, by appointing agencies who at best can perhaps do sporadic media relations and lot of ego massage of the marketing team. And by the time the realisation of a mistake dawns on them, it might be too late for them to catch up with the competition.

Friday, March 19, 2010

What do PR courses teach you...

I think PR is one field which is the most “misunderstood” by people. Most of us know it only as an extended part of media or to be more precise as a division of ‘Advertising’ but no one knows what exactly it is.

When I took up education for my bachelors and later my masters in Mass Communication, ‘PR’ was the subject which was given least importance. In fact, in my years of graduation only a couple of pages were “wasted” in making notes about PR. I haven’t really understood why: Was it my lack of understanding of the subject ,or was it that the stock of knowledge of my teachers on the subject was limited?

Most of the fresh graduates from any mass communication or PR course have one thing in common, i.e. the definition of PR, ‘Creating Goodwill of the Company In eyes of its audience’. But if we ask them how they will create this ‘good will’, then almost all sport a ‘puzzled’ look. And God forbid, if someone asks them the names of top 10 publications of India, then they are in real trouble!

Also, most of the PR students know of a PR tool called “Press Release”, as it is a common word used by their teachers in colleges. But when it comes to writing it, most of them land up in scratching their heads or ending up with 1 paragraph or the best of all excuse: “Sorry our teachers have not taught us this”.

I think the problem is not at the students end, but with the educational institutes which are offering these wonderful courses. The educational hubs which take pride in calling themselves as the heralders of quality “job-oriented” education and offer different courses in media, churn out 100s of “so called” PR professionals at the same time. But the lack of depth in the course content ensures that none of them are equipped with the necessary skill sets to ensure their right fitment for the job. It is imagined that “learning on the job” will work where education failed!

Most of the novices who take PR as their career have to learn one thing that if they want to be a good PR professionals, then they have to unlearn the theory books of their colleges and have to make a fresh beginning with a open mind, so that they can grasp the complexities of the field.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Deliverables in PR exercise

Yet another mail from a prospective client asking for quantifiable deliverables from the PR exercise!!! How many times have we faced this question during pitches and what has been our response?
I have asked this question from innumerable PR professionals and have yet to come across a satisfying response. Similar questions posted on various forums like Linkedin etc. have all elicited a tepid response at best. Most of the deliverables are centered around media coverage and the editorial economic value of the coverage. Simply put the easiest way of doing this is to calculate the advertising value based on the space (column centimeters) and multiply this by 6-8 times (the factor given internationally to editorial coverage vis a vis advertising).
But how fair is it ? If a half page story carries one quote from the client, still it is considered to be a half page editorial space for the client. There are seldom stories which are entirely devoted to the client. At the maximum I would say the average across all clients would be in the range of 10% for stand alone stories. We do have cases of 100% stories on the client but this is rare.
Why can't the so called associations representing the PR Industry like PRCAI, IPRA, PRSI etc. work out a common denominator? Why can't we have a PR Measurement Index (PRMI)? The quantifiable deliverables are something which has vexed the PR Industry ever since the beginning. These so called International and National associations, if they are serious in doing some good work for the profession and seeing the profession evolve into a strong Industry must apply themselves to this task.Then only can they be called the true torch bearers of the profession.
I have certain thoughts on the subject, which may or may not find acceptance. I will express these in my next article.

Media Monitoring as a Service

Most PR agencies in India include Media Monitoring as a part of their PR activities. The cost of the PR exercise quoted includes the cost of the media monitoring and is not charged as a separate service. However while media monitoring is done in-house, most PR agencies also outsource the Monitoring services to specialised Service Providers. This is done in order to try and capture the maximum coverage that appears across geographies. This is a standard practice and is not an issue.
The issue at stake is that with most clients wanting free PR service or wanting them at a cost which is like free :), how can agencies survive. This is even more true if you want to engage competent Monitoring agencies. With Media Monitoring which used to be 10-15% of the cost, spiraling to 20-25% of the normal retainers charged by most agencies, isn't it time that we started billing our clients separately for the media monitoring?
Internationally it is a norm to charge extra for monitoring, it is high time that we adopted international norms, since most clients expect us to deliver to global standards.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How far should we go in handholding a Client?

Yesterday we had an internal disagreement on the extent that one should go in guiding a client. The disagreement centered around an article which we thought would be difficult to place in the media in the format that it came in. The person servicing the account felt that since we do article writing we should pitch in and mould the article to suit our purposes. The problem was that this was a technical field and though the article was nicely put, the writer was not summing up. There was no way we could structure the article ourselves.

This set me thinking as to how far do we go as consultants in handholding the client. Do we write complete articles for our clients? More importantly do we have the technical expertise for such things. We generally advise our clients on a lot of things like what to speak, how to address, even what to wear but sometimes one has to tread cautiously.

There was this big client of ours which was looking at merger and acquisition activity and fund raising. Given my background as a Chartered Accountant and the fact that we had been working very closely with the client for three years, I was inducted into the Financial Committee which was overseeing the entire activity. This was perhaps a first for any PR agency and gave us a high, but when at a certain point things were not working to the plan, effort was made to make us the scapegoats since we were outsiders. Also we were putting in huge amount of extra effort not in our mandate and were deriving no monetary gain.

Then there was this time when the Director of one of our clients wanted to invite the Page 3 media for one of his party since he wanted to be seen as a socialite. We had to put our foot down and explain to him bluntly that this was not in keeping with the image of the organisation as a serious player in its category. The Director still nurtures the ambition of seeing his pics on Page 3 and mentions this at every conceivable opportunity.

This brings me to the questions that I began with - how far should we go? Should we cater to every whim and fancy of our client? How far should we go beyond our mandated work?

I guess there are no easy answers to these questions. Most of the PR proponents might differ with me and say, we should do whatever it takes to appease our client. Some of them may even go to he extent of saying that apple polishing is one of the core mantras that a PR professional must practice.

I differ on this and feel that while we may go beyond our mandate but these must be occasionally and the client should know this. If the activities are done on a regular basis then we risk not being compensated and also being made the fall guys in crunch situations.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Public Relations vis a vis Advertising - a marketing dilemma?

The easiest thing for the marketing head of any organisation to do is to draw up an advertising budget and undertake advertising as there are tangibles in terms of advertisements that appear. Also advertising is a more evolved field so there are measurement tools which help justify the huge ad spends.

Moreover in the AV media ever since most of the channels started taking breaks at the same time, flipping of channels I presume has lessened and the stickiness to channel being viewed is more. This increases the chances of an advertisement being viewed by the viewer.

However when it comes to PR, the same organisations who are willing to spend millions on advertising, hesitate to spend a few lakhs on a communication exercise. Increasingly we find even smaller organisations spending huge amounts on celebrity association.

While I am not an expert on advertising and so would not like to comment on the efficacies of such an association, I remember talking to the marketing head of an organisation which was paying huge amounts for such an exercise and asking him the effectiveness of the exercise, his answer really left me wondering on the decision making process. He said that "more often than not, celebrity endorsement decisions are taken in drawing and bed rooms rather than the board rooms".

I am not talking about PR replacing advertising, but am advocating that marketers of all hues should look at a combination of both PR and advertising while drawing their marketing plans. While for larger organisations with established brands it is all about capturing the maximum mindspace and hence over emphasis on advertising, for smaller companies still in the process of brand building this is not true.

The fact is that advertising is a costly affair and the smaller organisations do not have the luxury of resources to spend on a failed advertising strategy. For these companies it makes more sense to rely on PR as the preferred marketing tool to build their brand. One quarter page advertisement in any leading newspaper will set back the organisation by a huge amount. On the other hand at the same or marginally higher cost, it is possible to retain the services of a good PR agency, which will constantly be working for brand building of the organisation.

In marketing at is all about the push and pull effect. Every marketer wants a 100% pull effect and constantly works towards it. For smaller organisations it is always 100% push and the PR exercise is the most cost effective way of correcting this imbalance. We have found this to be especially true for organisations looking at funding. PR exercise has the potential to provide the necessary thrust and the requisite pull to attract investments and funding. Over dependence on advertising can in fact erode the finances of organisation pretty fast.

To give you an example: There is this organisation which has a good business model, and which we had helped raise financial resources by undertaking an extensive PR campaign. This is now in deep trouble financially. The mess came about because the company burnt up huge amounts of cash in advertising while the targeted revenues were not met. The company has already raised finances twice and is going for third round of financing but the very survival of this company is at stake. Also surprisingly, in bad times the company decided to do away with PR, forgetting that PR was instrumental in getting them funding in the first place and an effective PR strategy may still have helped in their critical times.

This is not only the case with this company, but most organisations view PR as a non core activity. I think it is high time that organisations realised that Corporate Communication is not about only "spend, spend, spend" but is a critical activity.

In times of crisis, PR can actually send a strong message to all the partners of an organisation like employees, vendors & suppliers, investors and buyers. In the recent economic meltdown, most of the Indian companies cut their marketing budgets. The first to be affected in almost all cases was PR. This actually should have been the last activity to be stopped. They say that "the tough get going when the going gets tough" which is why the communication dialogue must never be stopped.

It is time that marketers and managements resolved the dilemma of Advertising vs. PR and started viewing PR as a core activity.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Crisis Management: An Overview

Most of us in the PR Industry have heard and used the word Crisis Management, courtesy us most of our clients have also heard about Crisis Management. Almost all of us when making a pitch for business talk about how we will help organisations deal with crisis, if and when it happens.

But are we as PR professionals really geared up to tackle Crisis at our Client's end? Do we really prepare our client in advance to deal with Crisis? If we do have a crisis management programme in place, how often do we review it? Have we ever conducted a mock to test the efficacy of our Crisis plans?

I am sure that the answer to most of these questions would be a NO. We, the practitioners of Communication strategies, lack preparedness in our own organisations to tackle Crisis at our clients end. Just think, how many times in the innumerable brain storming sessions that we regularly undertake have we discussed Crisis Management? We tend to put up a hurried and confused response to a crisis when it occurs and that is largely due to unpreparedness.

Today with communication mediums like social media, internet, innumerable TV channels always searching to come up with Breaking News, Telecom revolution etc., evolving and becoming faster by the day, the risk of even a minor incident being blown out of proportion and becoming a crisis is always lurking around the corner. If we are not prepared to tackle such situations then we are risking our clients reputation which we have nurtured so painstakingly. In the process we are putting our own agencies reputation at risk.

Two high profile examples are worth mentioning here. The first and one of the most discussed globally is that of Tiger Woods. What were his PR guys doing? Especially in Celebrity management, crisis management should have been on top of the list of the strategy for PR. Why didn't they advise the client properly? They should have advised him to come clean in the first instance itself, rather than going into a denial mode and having skeletons tumbling out of the cupboard one after the other. Remember Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Despite all the sordid details, Clinton still ranks very high in public perception. But see the perception about Tiger Woods. He is in hiding unlike Clinton who probably could not afford to do so. But what is Tiger Woods gaining by being in hiding and evading public scrutiny. We all have to admit that he is still the greatest Golfer and has done a huge lot to make Golf popular the world over. He is human after all and how many amongst us would have been able to resist the temptation that was on offer to him? What is his PR machinery doing in this, his greatest hour of Crisis?

Second example I would like to delve upon is more India centric and has to do with the Satyam scandal and the role of PWC. In the whole incident PWC is still smelling like shit. What was the crisis preparedness on their part, especially since they had been through such an incidents in the past not only in India but globally too. In India they were earlier indicted for Global Trust Bank fiasco. In Japan PWC was the auditor in the Book keeping fraud at Cosmetics and Textile maker Kanebo. One would have thought that after a series of such incidents, the Corporate Communication team would have been better prepared. But alas it was not.

So what are the lessons that we can learn from these and other incidents around us? The most important lesson is that most of us consider Crisis as the remotest possibility for our clients and so are not willing to commit resources of time and manpower to a Crisis strategy. The second is that since crisis can be of the most unexpected nature, we tend to argue that it is very difficult to predict the crisis' and hence difficult to be prepared. What is the first response that we as PR professionals advocate? "We will get back to you" or better still "No Comments". Both in my view are the responses that one should take as a measure of the last resort. Ideally immediately as soon as a crisis erupts, there should be a spokesperson from the Client and from the PR agency trying to address the queries of the media and others. We should try to be as transparent as possible in the first 48 hours, when the crisis is at its peak any single irresponsible statement can pour petrol over the fire instead of dousing the fire.

We as PR professionals should act like lawyers to our clients and ask them to trust us with the full facts of the case. We should try and limit the damage and come out with facts that can contain collateral damage. Even if the facts are damning, we should not abstain from giving our point of view and admitting mistakes wherever possible. Ultimately Crisis management is about risk management and containment.

In normal times we should periodically review Crisis Management strategies for our clients, internally as well as with the client. Wherever possible we should try and undertake a mock for any small crisis that occurs at the clients end so that we can see the response to the strategy at both ends.

In short it is better to be prepared than be caught napping. Both for our and clients' betterment.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

How to cultivate the Media?

Media is one of the most important ingredients of a PR exercise. In fact most of the PR agencies devise their strategies around media relations. They tom tom their expertise in handling media and harp on the excellent personal relationships that they share with journalists. Clients have been so sensitised to this that most of them, during a PR pitch ask about this. In fact one of the reasons why clients insist on experience in a particular sector is their belief that having worked in one sector, this agency would have excellent media contacts and would further their cause in the media.

So one comes to the question as to how does one go about cultivating the media? Is it true that if you have not worked on a particular sector before, it would be difficult to do effective media relations? If you see I have used the term effective media relations and not media relations. I will go on to explain what I mean by this later.

Coming to the cultivating part or creating linkages with media, most PR agencies and PR professionals believe gifting, wining and dining to be the shortest and surest way to forging relationships with journalists. One keeps hearing whispers as to how one has to pay the journalists in cash or in kind to get the stories published. But is this really the truth? Is it the only way? True I have also come across journalists who have hinted at such things, but does that mean that all journalists are like that? Isn't this kind of behaviour true of people from other professions as well? As recently as yesterday I came across this doctor who is the head of ENT for a large Government hospital, who had prescribed hearing aid for my father, refusing to verify the bills which were to be submitted for reimbursement. He wanted the seller of the hearing aid to talk to him or visit him so that he could get a commission on this. But does this make all doctors corrupt?

In our dealings with the media, we have come across many journalists who have refused to accept any kind of gifts. Journalists who one has heard of are corrupt, have never asked us for a favour and still done our stories. Clients look at us in dismay, when we say that we do not require any gifts to be handed out during a Press Conference. They scratch their heads and wonder, are these guys for real when we say we will not serve liquor at our Press Meets. Till date we have never had any reason to do so and all our press conferences and press meets have been pretty successful. So much so that in one of our Press Conferences in Delhi, where an adjoining Press conference for the launch of IPO of one of the biggest corporates was going on, the PR head of the agency handling that conference, whom I knew, requested us to lend him journalists so that his client could be happy.

So why is this notion there? I would put the blame squarely on the PR industry, it is we who have propagated this. It is we who ask the clients to dole out expensive gifts and sometimes envelopes containing hard cash. We in order to get people into the press meets have resorted to these tactics. We are in fact shirking our responsibility and encouraging rampant corruption. What started as a practice of gifting at the press meets has gone onto giving cash and other gifts for getting stories. Temptation can make even the most honest amongst us, corrupt. So why blame the media,they are human beings too.

I still remember this instance a few years ago, when we had gone to meet this senior journalist who happens to be a friend, writing on Auto sector in one of the leading Financial Papers. We were generally catching up, when this PYT (Pretty Young Thing) comes upto him, batting her eyelids, at her coyish best asking this friend of our "can we go out for lunch or dinner". The friend looked scandalised as he belonged to the old school of thought where going out to lunch or dinner was to be with someone whom you really knew well and this girl had just met him.

We as PR agencies encourage this practice. We only try and recruit good looking girls. Looks are all that matter. How many guys do we have in the PR Industry, not many I am sure. There is so much gender discrimination of the opposite kind that it is not funny. A couple of years back we recruited this boy who had been to so many PR agencies for employment who had rejected him because he was a male, that he had tears in his eyes when we told him that he had been selected.

So how do we forge our relationships with the media? My firm belief is that we have to create content for the media. Content that is credible and that can add value to the journalist. Content is king and the key differentiator. For this we have to create an environment of learning in our agencies. I firmly believe that we are one of the few Knowledge based agencies.

Knowledge comes from reading and writing, not wining and dining. Knowledge comes from trying to know as much about your client's business as much as the client does. Knowledge comes from creating ecosystems or being part of ecosystems that your client operates in. Try and step into your clients shoes, understand his requirements. Go beyond column centimeters. Try and engage your audience ( the journalist - in media relations) with content and ideation. If you can do this then no wining, dining and gifting is going to replace your relationships with the media.

I had mentioned effective media relations,let me enlarge. As you read this, just sit back and think will getting coverage in Financial Publications for a Beedi launch, going to increase your clients ( a beedi manufacturer) sales. Is getting a half page personal profile of the marketing head of an organisation, going to help the organisation (it will surely earn you brownie points with the marketing head who will suddenly appear on the radar of head hunters). You have to understand the client requirements and undertake media activity accordingly. However the requirements need not be constant, so your media strategy has also to keep evolving e.g. for the beedi client of yours while the Financial media might not make sense if he is looking at a product launch, it will suddenly make sense if he is looking at fund raising. We have to constantly keep analysing our clients business needs to undertake effective media relations.

At our agency we have been constantly practicing this. The credo has always been to enhance the business of our clients through communication.

Today most of the journalists that I have interacted with are friends. It is not because I have wined and dined with them, the friendship is based on mutual respect. Respect can only be earned and not bought. Please understand one thing, howsoever corrupt a journalist may be, he/she still has a job to do. For that job to be done they require content and if we can give them content, then these very journalists who are tagged as corrupt by others are no longer corrupt with you. You have to create a need for your content to such an extent that they come to rely on you.

Dear friends if we can do this, then we can do away with the so called necessities of doing business in the PR industry.

Do PR Agencies encourage professionals from Other Fields

Recently I saw the website of a leading PR agency in India and saw the profile of one of their heads, whom I knew and had worked with professionally. This person was shown as the head of Investor relations, which set me wondering, since this person though being a good PR professional certainly did not have any Finance background.

It made me ponder as to how we recruit and train our manpower, and how we allocate them job responsibilities. Are the various functions of a PR exercise treated similarly e.g. is Financial PR the same as Normal PR. The problem is that we continue to view any and all PR as media intensive and train and pick up people accordingly.

But PR is not just media relations. Financial PR requires a great deal of interaction with the non media, Financial community such as Analysts, Research Houses, Brokerages, Mutual Funds, Private Equity and Venture Capitalists. This community is looking at things from the financial angle like what are the capex plans, what is the Earning Per share, what are the profitability ratios for different streams of businesses, what is the ROI, EBDITA, PE ratios, how soon will a new project achieve breakeven etc.

Is it reasonable for us to expect that a non - finance professional will be able to cope adequately on his/her own when faced with a barrage of such questions. I would assume that he/she will come up with "I will get back to you with the figures after talking to the Management" or in all likelihoods give the number of the CFO of the organisation. A finance professional in this role would be the most suited.

Similarly in most of the large corporates which are catering to the B2B segment, the trade media is very important. Most of the trade media comprises of people who have loads of experience and are professionally trained or qualified for that trade. How reasonable is it to expect a PR professional to do justice of dealing with such a media. At the max we end up just pushing Press Releases or requesting for interviews and most of this is also a barter against advertising. We also end up complaining that the Trade publications do not do justice to our clients because they are only after advertising.

I believe this is wrong, in nearly a decade of our existence, we have never had to broker editorial content in lieu of advertising. Some of the Editors of the leading trade publications in the auto component sector have relied heavily on us for providing them good content. But how can you generate good content unless you understand the trade.

Do our clients have non-finance professionals in finance roles, non-science people manning engineering sections? No. So why should we not try to hire people on the same lines.

Ultimately what is PR? It is trying to further the business objectives of entities through communication. For this to happen we have to have a thorough understanding of our Clients business. How reasonable is it to expect a person who has done a course in Mass Communication or Journalism to understand the nuances of Finance or Engineering? Imagine trying to teach a mass communication professional, engineering or Finance? On the other hand it is easier to train a person from science background, the requisite communication skills.

We as an organisation have consciously refrained from picking up people with PR background and have always picked up people with backgrounds of Finance, Science, Art etc. It has been our experience that some of the best PR practitioners in our consultancy have had nothing to do with PR before they joined us.

One of them Milton Singh ( who has taken a sabbatical due to family reasons ) is a case study in himself. An MBA in IT systems, he began his career with Airtel and went on to work in the BPO sector before joining us.He was one person who could sell anything to anybody. But was it just his selling skills? No it was his ability to understand the subject on hand and create the need in the buyer to acquire that subject. This all came from his having undertaken the rigors of doing MBA in such a specialised field as IT systems. He is an outstanding PR professional today.

For PR to evolve as an Industry, it is very important that we encourage people from diverse background to enter the profession. It is high time that we dispelled the notion that to get a job in the PR sector, one needs to have mass communication background.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

col cm in a PR campaign

Sharing a personal angst here: Why is that even after more than 30 odd years that the PR industry has been in operations in India, it still is "col cm" that guides any new PR pitch?

Agreed, PR in India began as a subset of Advertising but isn't it time that we moved away from the media-fixation and the "number of clips" to providing total PR solutions???

Be it a small company or a large one, an organisation selling "Gutka" or selling "diamond cuff-links", why is everybody so stuck on media coverage and that too in the top two publications in the country? I mean is somebody going to buy gutka after reading about it in HT/TOI? So why are clients so fixated? Or is it us (the PR guys) who have created the "need" to have media stories as a bench-mark for effective PR?

We tell our new joinees that we are "different" and look at PR holistically and yet most work in office is centred around media - so what is the take-away? Unfortunately, it is a classic case of "Do in Greece, what Greeks do!"

If the rest of the world is offering media clippings as a barometer for efficacy of a PR campaign, do we also follow suit? We have, over the years, met quite a few clients who told us that some of our ilk were willing to commit the "number of clips" that they would give them in the first month / first quarter.

So is a PR campaign justified only by measuring the col cm in the traditional media and other ways to reach out to the target group completely to be overlooked? What about social media, BTL activities, synergistic alliances, relationship management, direct contact programmes, etc.??? What about reaching out to the customer directly???