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!

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!!!

1 comment: