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!

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.

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