The Public Punching-bag Professional

I recently bumped into a fellow PR professional who was visibly upset after walking out of a media house. While walking towards me he gave such a disappointed look that his smile almost faltered. We exchanged pleasant hellos as we passed each other but didn’t stop for a brief conversation. I wanted to ask him what went wrong, but instead I tried answering the question myself by analyzing what possibly could have happened:

Being a Public Relations professional, this guy was smartly dressed. He carried a neat folder that contained press releases and other documents and held a blackberry smart phone. I believe his company was out with a new product, quarterly results or a CSR initiative and this guy was there to get the news published. By the look on his face it seemed as if he was not able to sell the story to the journalist and now had very few options left. He was apprehensive at the thought of going back to office and informing his boss about the development. Probably he would have gone back to his car to think of a brilliant excuse.

Some publications are very critical to crack as majority of its readers are your target audience. Not getting coverage in them means you are in deep trouble and soon you will be doing a lot of explanation to your boss (if working in Corp Comm) or your boss along with the client (if working in a PR Agency). Whose fault would it be? Obviously yours, the journalist will never come in the picture even if they had agreed to do the story earlier but backed out at the very last moment.

Life of a public relations executive is at times similar to that of a punching bag or a rookie in the ring with the likes of Mike Tyson or David Haye, here’s how:

Firstly PR Executives get a combination of jabs and sucker punches from the journalist when they call them for coverage, send them spam mails or call them to confirm if they have received the press release and if it the news will be out tomorrow.

If the news is not carried by the media then there are some upper-cuts, hooks and head-butts by your boss (it would end here if you are in a Corporate)

Lastly (if with a PR Agency) your boss goes on to meet the client to give an explanation as to why the coverage didn’t appear. Without doubt the meeting was a disaster and your boss was taken for a ride. The boss would return (without doubt this would be the final round) to deliver a combination of power punches and then KO or KTFO’D

At the same time, life isn’t that bad. PR Executives are mostly able to successfully pitch new stories to journalists and get ample coverage even in a highly competitive environment where several agencies are vying for limited editorial space. Journalist also can’t do without them as they’re often a source for stories and ingenious press releases. Above all, Public Relations professionals generally get fat pay-cheques.

Kenneth Peter —

Have Cash? Get Media Coverage…

During my graduation years I read one of the world’s largest selling daily newspaper to get my dosage of news on latest business trends, current affairs and things happening around town. I felt enriched by my level of awareness and would often take part in discussions and debates. Years passed and I joined a PR agency where I learnt that most of the executives avoided the newspaper I read as they believed or it was a known fact that it carried paid news.

What exactly is Paid News?

Paid News is broadly:

  • Publishing or broadcasting advertisements masquerading as news
  • Paying the press money for publishing or broadcasting news in favour of a particular individual, organization or brand
  • Individuals, organization or brands  advertising in newspapers/ news channels in return for free articles/ airtime

Being in the profession I regularly hear rumours about political candidates, organizations, celebs etc paying money to a newspaper or news channel to elicit favourable news coverage. Browsing through newspapers I usually see a full-page advertisement of a brand, on turning the page I see an article of the same brand. Sometimes the article may appear in a day or two, or even after a week, but it does appear.

It feels like a waste of time reading an article that was actually an advertisement. It feels worse if you actually voted for a political candidate, bought shares of a company, applied to a university after reading and believing the positive article that was actually paid for.

Is the journalist to be blamed? Well, the journalist can say that he had succumbed to pressures from his seniors or from the people who play a major role in generating income for the media house, i.e., the marketing department and get out of the mucky situation.

On the other hand, many newspapers while publishing a favourable article that is paid for usually place a visible header that reads – Advertisement, Advertorial, or Media Marketing Initiative, which is the legitimate way of selling space.

There is no way one could distinguish which newspaper or news channel is carrying paid news and which isn’t. No one knows the extent to which this is happening; even the smartest in the industry cannot spot and claim that this channel or publication carries paid news.

It’s sad and critical for the dozens of media houses that don’t sell their editorial space as they get dragged along with the rest when such a topic arises. The best brains in the industry need to congregate to think this through carefully.

Kenneth Peter —