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, July 28, 2011

PR Strategies for MSME(Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector

Recently we were approached by a company, which is in the process of launching an innovative product for children, for possible PR support.

After talking to the client, understanding his business and going to the drawing board for a possible strategy, we were left in a dilemma. The dilemma stemmed from the fact that clients and consultancies centre their PR strategy around media.

This particular client also wanted, what we simply term as, media relations. While this was understandable, our problem was the fact that media in India has this tendency to only cover corporates who have already attained some sort of market leadership in their categories. Also the offerings directed towards children hardly has any space.

While we have had immense success in creating categories and media space where none existed, this was a tough challenge. The challenge was made tougher by the fact that the client who spends resources will not necessarily give you the time in seeding the space.

This set me thinking, as we have often in the past gone back to prospective clients and frankly told them that there is little we can offer them by way of Media engagement but we can strategize for them. Most of these potentials have shied away from engaging us. As a PR consultant is our role confined to only media relations? My firm belief is NO, even though most of us end up doing just that. So what is it that we can offer to the MSME sector?

To answer this question, we must examine as to what is it that we specialize in? My answer is Communication. What is a client trying to do? The client is trying to communicate with his target audience. So why can't we, as communication specialists, make his communication process more effective. Sadly we ourselves are not able to communicate this fact to the client.

Media (offline) is a tool to address the target audience. We can tap this through expensive advertising or lower cost media relations.

But if we do not have advertising budgets and media relations is likely to be ineffective, then are we supposed to call off the PR campaign? I think not, though most of us tend to.

My suggested strategy is as follows:

First, Identify the target audience - based on the likely users of the client's services or products

Next, Identify the vehicles that can be used to reach out to this audience - Offline Media (Print and AV), Online Media (Websites, Social Media, Blogs), Trade Channels Exhibitions, Trade shows etc.), BTL activities (direct contact programmes, roadshows etc.)

Then, Formulate Engagement strategies for this audience

And, Devise Communication strategies to begin a dialogue with the Target Audience

Finally, Identify where all can you plug in the Client initiatives / business / growth plans / products

Once these steps have been completed, present this to the Client.

If you can make a difference to the clients business and help him grow, there is every possibility that he will buy into your services. The key is to become his partner through your core competencies. We are in the process of trying this out and I will try and share our experiences on this.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Are CSR Campaigns being misused for PR Gains:

Recently a coupon site was in news for running a CSR campaign in a village and the village being renamed as I heard some of my colleagues in office discussing how this was a major PR coup and that the client must be so happy with its communication people.

This set me thinking as to what is the real purpose of CSR? Is CSR undertaken by corporates purely as a publicity gimmick, or is there more to it? Should we as PR professionals encourage the practice of undertaking CSR campaigns purely from a PR perspective.

When I posed this question to my colleagues stating that I was uncomfortable with a CSR initiative just to derive PR mileage, the response was enlightening. They said that by this initiative, snapdeal had installed 20 odd handpumps in the village where the villagers had to trek miles to get water, in the process providing them with water, which was a necessity that was required. If they in return derive some mileage, then what is the harm? It was also pointed out that when most of the stories that are carried in the media in India centre around crime, at least these types of stories can motivate others to make some positive contribution to the society. I must admit they have a valid reasoning in the sense that something is better than nothing, But I am still uncomfortable with this idea.

I still remember the time when we were handling this leading footwear brand and the Marketing Director approached us saying that there is a request from the Government of India to contribute shoes to the children who were being given the National Bravery awards and can we help generate media coverage over this saying how the company was socially conscious. We were aghast and shaken to the core and needless to say we dissuaded the client from the publicity aspect of it.

In India giving is a tradition and it is said that "when one gives, the left hand should not know what the right hand has given". This has also been followed by big Business Houses like Tatas, Birlas, Singhanias, etc. for decades. Having been bought up with such ethos and values, creating pure publicity blitzkrieg around CSR activities, makes me cringe.

What the PR agencies and others preach to justify their actions is that media exposure of Philanthropic acts only galvanizes others to contribute. However my take is, that one should set out to undertake charity and CSR programmes for the reason of giving back to the society which has helped them gain wealth in the first instance, and if there is media or other exposure of such acts then it is good, if there is none then it is better.

I do not have any problem with CSR programmes where the primary motive is to benefit the society and the secondary motive is to derive mileage. But when the primary motive becomes to derive mileage and the rest becomes secondary then there is a serious ethical issue.

In Snapdeal's case, this company is a start-up, still looking for funding, most probably still not profitable and this company undertakes a so called CSR initiative spending a paltry $5000 and tom toms it to the world. This is pure bull and I have objections to this kind of act being publicized by the media. I can already hear our clients asking us to devise such low cost CSR initiatives (so called) to gain maximum media mileage. What perfect nonsense???