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 —

Are you Pitching or Spamming?

Brand launches, quarterly results, joint-venture, tie-ups, promotions etc, there is always something or the other happening in your organization that requires immediate media attention. For the same you have your Pitch Note ready, drafted a fancy email with an appealing subject line, attached all the relevant documents, copied all the email id’s of journalists and bloggers on the bcc list and are ready to hit the send tab. (More like: In your face! like it or not)

Many Public Relations Professionals often forget that the people they are pitching the news item to, might be working on something more important. Whether they are journalists, bloggers or someone at the news desk we need to respect them and their precious time. While pitching to the media you need to establish who will welcome your pitches and also understand your target audience in order to have the best results.

Sending repeated mails or ‘spamming’ journalists is not the best way to get your news published. The trick is to understand what the journalist or blogger usually writes about so that you may have a better chance of sending them something that would grab their attention. Here are a few steps that might help:

  • Read as much as you can: Pick up all the papers and try reading all the news related to your industry, while browsing through the rest. Maintain an excel sheet to note down the names of the journalist who cover your particular sector.

  • Do some research online: Make a list of blogs and bloggers covering your sector. Also subscribe to their blog to receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Pick-up the phone to get answers: Try calling media houses directly and ask for the journalist who covers your topic as this will make the pitching process simpler for both the parties. This can save you a lot of time.

  • Go meet them: While on the phone, try to set up an appointment and go meet them personally to build a connection.

Several journalist I have met usually point out that PR professionals keep on pitching like there’s no tomorrow. They refer to our pitch notes as ‘spam mails’ and say the pitch usually ends up in the recycle bin. The point here is many PR professionals blindly select journalists to pitch without knowing the beat they cover, thus their pitches are treated as unwanted emails.

Think before you pitch and don’t end up being referred to as a PR spammer by journalists.

Kenneth Peter —

Can Social Media replace Traditional Media?

It’s being said everywhere that social media if used wisely can replace traditional media. By now, most of us will have the benefits of social media at our fingertips – it is cost effective with high returns, helps build relationship through customer service and feedback, increases visibility, builds awareness etc

With all the hype, I hear many saying that they are gradually shifting focus towards social media. But I believe that there are still many limitations and challenges. Social media marketing is still not fully understood, is a little risky and is not that cheap.

If we focus only on social media we miss out the powerful combination of social media marketing and traditional media marketing. Both of them can work together to strengthen a brand. The point is that everyone can benefit from social media and it should be a part of the marketing or public relations strategy. However, it should not be the only focus as we cannot afford to ignore traditional media completely.

Kenneth Peter —

Public Relations Interview Techniques: Dodging Uncomfortable Questions

I started off my PR career as Executive Strategy and Planning with a well-known PR agency. My department conducted 2-3 media trainings per month and I was responsible for preparing the module, simulation and mock interview questions, researching information relevant to the industry etc. During my tenure, I attended almost all the trainings that were conducted by the agency.

I observed that you may be the CEO of the company, an expert in your field but when it comes to facing the media you will consider hiring a media trainer.

After entering Corporate Communication, I experimented with the module a bit, customized it as per my organization and started conducting media training workshops.

There are many write-ups on preparing for a television, print or telephonic interview. They tell us to find out about the interview topic, agenda and the format; be prepared with your messages, company information – the business, achievements, awards and recognitions; they also tell us to keep the answers short; what to wear and of course to brush our teeth.

Keeping all the above in mind, the spokesperson goes to the interview all prepared and confident, ready with the company messages. Now the journalist is someone you cannot take for granted, they might have shared details of the topics to be covered during the interview, but they have their own agenda and already have their story visualized. They know exactly what to extract from the company spokesperson.

You may have your points or set of company specific messages ready but you will observe the journalist moving away from them to more controversial and uncomfortable topics. You obviously cannot answer those questions as they may open further questions that you may not be allowed to disclose.

Now dodging those questions may get a little difficult in front of the camera. Below are some statements that can be used to safely move away from those painful topics to the talk points you came prepared with:

“You are raising a very important issue here BUT you must first consider….”

“To some degree, but the point here is…”

“Not really and even more important…”

“There’s another part of the mix you must look at…”

“I really don’t see that as an issue, but what I do see…”

“I don’t know. But what I do know is…”

“However the real concern is…”

“That’s not my area of expertise, but I think the audience would be more interested to kow…”

“Let me answer you by saying that…”

“The solution here is…”

Kenneth Peter —

How New Media will change Public Relations

With the advent of new media including social networks, there is a question I keep asking myself, especially after writing a Press Release…

Then I start comparing them…

The advantage of internet as source of news has been well documented over the last couple of years. However, if you have chosen new media for your Press Release your work does not stop there. There are over hundred billion websites out there, and you have to ensure that your news reaches your target audience.

Search engines are used for finding news, our job further is to use the right key words, external links and other internet tools to narrowcast the news to the right audience (SEO). Many successful company websites and PR agencies also use AdWords and AdSense to lure traffic to their releases.

PR Agencies and PR Professionals should know both Old and New Media like from the back of their hand and should know how to jointly use them. It is also important to figure out which medium will be more suitable – as this would be of critical importance to the success of any public relations strategy.

Kenneth Peter —

Social Media – A Marketing Activity, Who owns it?

As a student, I remember drawing diagrams instead of writing lengthy notes to understand a particular topic as it made things simpler.  I have used the same practice to point out my views on the above topic.

As social media is a non-paid activity, it should be considered under PR

Although marketing largely owns SEO and email marketing, Public Relations owns the responsibility for making an online strategy plan that covers blogging, social networking, podcasting, micro-blogging etc

What bothers me is the fact that many PR Professionals do not pay much attention towards social media and focus primarily on media relations, press releases etc.

My suggestion to all the public relations and marketing professionals is that they should be well equipped to handle social media for future jobs in the industry.