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PR & Media in India

June 8, 2013

I usually do not write about my other activities, apart from photography. That is the sole focus often. 

But I do work as a PR Associate as well at a firm in India. And recent experiences left me wondering if the scene of journalism has changed much since I quit the field, or if it always had been like this and I was just blind to see it.

The city I work in isn’t yet considered a big ‘business’ center, despite having grown multifold and housing the top IT and defence companies, big brands and the like. Therefore, the number of publications allotting considerable space for Bangalore news in their columns is minimal. Despite decades of growth, we are yet a ‘small’ business town. 

So, when you are doing a business event, you hear the constant excuse of the content not being ‘newsworthy’. Even if the event involves several eminent people to whom you can pose other questions about current happenings. 

As a PR, when I saw the event  mandate, the first thought that popped into my head wasn’t as a PR exec. It was as a reporter. I thought I could get some input about the current happenings in Indian business and leadership confusions. And there have been a few. Infosys and iGate, to name a few. 

You have to wonder as a reporter and even among the public, why a company like Infosys wasn’t able to groom a new leader and would be required to bring back its founder at the head. It sends a horrible message to shareholders. You have to wonder (and some have) why someone who has it all would repeat the same mistake twice – Phaneesh Murthy. And who better to give inputs on this than someone who is known to be an expert in the field.

But the responses we got was that they weren’t interested.

And these responses were got after several attempts at asking if they were, in fact, interested. 

As communication gets faster and easier, we seem to be forgetting the basics of communication etiquette. We know a lot of it but we refuse to follow it. 

For instance, it is rude to be talking on your cellphone at a restaurant or bus station, let alone talk loudly. It is rude to use all caps in your email as that is equivalent to shouting. Similarly, as a reporter, though we were taught this in class, we were taught (and some of it came naturally) to return calls and respond to emails. As a reporter, I made it a point to respond to as many pitch emails as possible. That grew less as the volume of spam increased, but everytime there was an inquiry for an authentic PR firm / person, I tried to politely tell them that I wasn’t interested.

It made my job easier as a reporter as I did not want repeated calls from them. 

I expect the same kind of courtesy when I’m  on other side of the fence. How hard is it to type “No” in a mail. That’s all I ask for. Not a detailed explanation about why you aren’t interested. Just if you would like to participate or not. According to one reporter I spoke to, that one word can be considered offensive to many.

That could be true. We have PR professionals who do not understand their client and the publication fully. They are under extreme pressure by their superiors, who have perhaps overpromised to the client. So the junior associate is forced to run around stories that are perhaps not PR-able. So when even the reporter is polite enough to say no, they chase them with possible story ideas. 

Recently, a gentleman who claims to have over two decades of experience in PR, said “try different angles. If a reporter says no to one angle, come up with new angles and call him back in an hour or so.” 

This kind of PR is just plain harmful to all involved. I hated receiving multiple calls as a reporter, and I hate making such calls as a PR person. I cringe when I hear the tone of the other person’s voice of “Oh it is you again”. If you absolutely must re-pitch, then just use email. You still have a fighting chance.

The PR industry in India is quite young and most people are yet to understand “public relations”. They often confuse it with marketing and advertising. It is the job of a PR Exec to educate their client about what PR can and cannot do. They simply cannot promise everything the client wants.

For instance, if you are a lifestyle company or a small tech firm, Economic Times is highly unlikely to do a story on you till you’ve achieved a certain stature. If you are a serious corporate company, you need to do some fun events to be featured in the lifestyle section. If you make bags and shoes and such, you need to know how expensive your product is to be featured in a Vogue or a local newspaper. And no where, absolutely no where, would that translate to sales.

Yes, it does happen. But I refuse to promise you that you are going to generate 50 grand of sales through that little snippet in the listings column. If you the sort who are selling special cakes or having a gourmet session at your restaurant, your clientele is obviously someone who can afford to spend a few grand in a single evening. How many of these people make their plans by reading the newspaper listings column? You require social media.

If you are an event, perhaps you have a slight chance of grabbing a couple of people through a listings column. Then again, if you expect people to pay anything more than a grand or two for your event…….

Why is the scene in Bangalore the way it is? That would perhaps require someone much senior than me to answer. To me, I just think we need to start off with the basics first so the mutual antagonism between PR and media reduces. 

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