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!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Media Relations in smaller towns and Cities...

India is a vast country and every few kilometers the language, culture, nuances - everything changes... So how does one look at media relations in these places???

For a consultancy that has had more than its share of "client requirements" for smaller cities and towns - we targeted more than 300 towns in North India for a client several years ago - we have been pretty successful in garnering coverage across regions.

And this was not through some rocket-science, but keeping the basic tenets of PR in mind:

1. Reach Out and Communicate: In the smaller towns, the opportunities are fewer and most media is more than happy to connect with your client, if he/she can get a bite/quote that can give him/her more visibility. So the crux is to reach out and open channels of communication. Just remember - Phones/Faxes are preferred modes over emails/sms here.

2. Respect: We have always believed that respect is a two-way street and sometimes we are so caught up in our own sense of importance, that we forget common courtesies. Most agencies err on the side of "superiority" - we err on the side of caution. Making a person feel good about himself/herself and then getting him the access to the right people, we have realized, helps get better stories than any amount of push/pull from the head office or throwing names

3. Localize: Giving the local flavour, and adding some basic details relevant to that region helps a lot... Customization is the key here... It also gives the media a sense of "relevance" and they can fight to get their stories in better... Wherever possible communicate in the local language and offer quotes and details in the same language. Remember - Google translate is NOT a good idea - it only transliterates and does not translate! Locate a quality translator, often a local media person or someone who the local media can recommend!

4. Brief your client well on the do's and don'ts: It pays to have a short briefing session on the local media, just before the activity, so that the client is fully abreast of what to say and what not to say/do!!!

And last but not the ;least: Please do not crib about roads, heat, power failure, lack of amenities, etc... Remember, there is some nice thing to say about the worst of places and while you are just visitors, these people are residents...

We have had successful stints in most of the places that we have been to, based on only these four tenets and so can all of you!!!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RaGa's First TV Interview

What a Coup!!! Both for the PR agency which managed to convince Rahul Gandhi to do a one on one TV interview in front of the whole world and for the News Anchor – Arnab Goswami. 

But was it really a coup for the PR agency???

There are serious lessons to be learnt here - politically as well as from the Public Relations (PR) perspective.

Let us talk about the PR perspective first. Being now a PR practitioner for more than a decade, let me try and explain how the one on one interviews are structured. 

Before you put your client for a one on one and especially on TV, you first try and get a brief from the journalist as to the areas of discussion on which the client is supposed to be speaking. I am sure given the importance of this interview, the media team of Rahul Gandhi must have got a brief.

Once you know the areas  on which the journalist is supposed to be questioning the client, you do a client briefing. The briefing involves trying to come up with all the questions in the area that can probably be raised and answering those so that the client is well prepared. With these in place, the chances of the Client being surprised are slim, provided the homework has been well done.

Also the client is told to stick to the answers as briefed. If the journalist goes beyond the "brief",  then the trick lies in trying to bring the journalist back to the area of interest.

Before dissecting the interview and how Rahul Gandhi fared, we must admit that from a PR briefing perspective Rahul did a remarkable job – he stuck to four practiced and briefed issues: RTI, Women Empowerment, Bringing youth into the political system and political reforms. He tried to bring Arnab Goswami back to these four topics, going so far as to even ask Arnab why he wasn’t asking him questions on these four topics. Arnab’s cheeky response was that if I do then I will be hearing the political speech of Rahul Gandhi.

So where did the script go wrong??? I am sure there was a script. Was is that Arnab told Rahul’s team something else and posed different questions? Or was it that he just told the RaGa team that he would talk about general topics and the RaGa’s high profile team were so gullible that they fell for it. 

I call the team high profile because the poor Man is spending close to Rs.500 crores(rumoured) and for this amount he has, I am sure, been guided to the so called best.

Even if the journalist exceeded the brief, Rahul and his team should have been well prepared. Arnab, after all, has a reputation of being a sharp journalist and everybody knows he will go to any length to protect that. Then why is it that Rahul appeared as a Sacrificial Lamb in front of Arnab. 

If Rahul was not prepared to address issues and topics other than the four topics, then why have him on TV? This was a an unpardonable mistake on part of Rahul’s handlers.

The biggest asset till date for Rahul was that people felt that he is sincere, "Reluctant Prince" is how Arnab put it. Yesterday that facet was completely ripped apart. Rahul appeared evasive and despite what anybody might say was literally squirming in the chair. 

If you observed his stance during the interview, he was sitting almost at the edge of the chair and appeared to be tense. The posture was not relaxed at all. And the fact that he was sweating was clearly visible to all viewers. 

What the hell were Rahul’s handlers doing? Didn’t they train him on how to conduct himself in the interview? Rahul has got a beautiful dimpled smile – where was the smile yesterday??? If only had the handlers told Rahul to smile whatever be the circumstances, I am sure he would have got a lot more female followers.

I feel sorry for Rahul and my sympathies really lie with him. 

If I were him, I would immediately replace my Media handlers. For PR practitioners there is an important lesson: Just to justify your fee and get media coverage, Never, ever sacrifice your client!!!

If there is even an iota of doubt in your mind that the media coverage could well boomerang on your client, then despite whatever the client might want, stick to your guns and do not expose the chinks in your clients' armour.

Politically, the lesson that the politicians need to learn is that a Media interview on TV is not a monologue but a dialogue. One should never jump into the limelight without being prepared. After all “Newshour by Arnab Goswami” is one of the most watched programmes on TV and one should have had prior experience of handling tough questions to have even thought of being there. 

I will give you an example – Arnab pointedly asked Rahul again and again as to why the Congress leaders accused of 1984 Sikh riots not been prosecuted as yet? Rahul was fumbling and sweating. He could have answered very easily that he had full faith in the Indian judicial system and believed that eventually the guilty will not go unpunished. If further probed as to the delay he could have taken shelter saying that the matter was sub-judice and he would not like to comment on this and could have agreed that we require judicial reforms to hasten justice. This would have sounded so much better and would have made him appear confident.

He was asked as to would he apologize for the Sikh riots of 1984 and his response after repeated questioning was "I was not there". What a stupid answer is that and that too from the leader of one of the oldest political parties in India and a Prime Ministerial Candidate, no less? 

He could have easily said that I believe the Congress party stands for being non-communal and this can be seen from the fact that we have a Sikh Prime Minister. How can  you then accuse us of being anti – Sikh?? He could have also gracefully added that the 1984 riots were wrong as are any other riots. He could have said that the PM has already apologized for the 1984 riots. And he is the head of the Country so what more can you want?

Politicians should learn not to blindly trust their handlers and use there public life acumen to conclude what is right for them. As for Arnab, it was a feather in his cap as a journalist. He has reinforced his image as a tough journalist! Alas if he can only let others speak as he did with Rahul yesterday, he could become a great journalist!!! As they say, give them enough rope to hang themselves!!!