Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Policing The Media; Is Regulation Required Or Is It Another Retrograde Attempt To Muzzle The Freedom Of The Press?

At a time when the India Media is racing ahead and projected to growing faster than the Indian GDP, as much as twice in some recent reports, our world suddenly seems on fire with the news that Indian media stings may soon require oversight to determine if such a sting is indeed in public interest as well as being able to stand true on the test of entrapment.

The venerable Delhi High Court was rancid when it asked whether the media was carrying out sting operations or ‘stinking operations’.

The state of affairs has come to such a pass that in disposing off a petition on the now infamous sting telecast by private TV news channel in August, the court suggested that the information and broadcasting ministry constitute a three-member committee and all TV channels should seek permission from it before airing any sting operation. The suggested panel is proposed to have a retired high court judge and two officials with the ranks of additional secretary and additional commissioner of police. The dubious sting purportedly showing a New Delhi schoolteacher, Uma Khurana forcing a girl student into prostitution. Police investigations subsequently found that the footage was doctored and the teacher was innocent. The bench further gave its nod to Khurana to take action against the channel or claim compensation.

The Broadcasting Bill has been hanging fire for the longest time due to a lack of consensus between the position of the government and media houses. The Information and Broadcasting Minister has now set 2008 as the year for the finalisation of the Bill but not before taking a dig at the Media Industry at large for the state of affairs. "We have delayed the process of introducing the Bill as big corporate houses are opposing it. They (corporate houses) like to have court directives rather than listening to the government," the Minister said recently on the sidelines of an Assocham event. The truth is a grey line somewhere between large corporate media house interests and draconian socialism era censorship!

The accusations of polarised coverage across Tehelka, Nandigram, Gujarat and Modi, fly thick and fast day-in, day-out. Defense scams, Bofors, Quattrochi, the list goes on and on. The usual suspects who orchestrate this anarchy include favorites like political parties as seen in Nandigram, West Bengal, Gujarat Elections. Another large arena for inflicting this perfidy on the media is reserved for large business houses using the media in a no-holds barred skirmishing that goes on against business competition. The spectrum war in the Indian telecom industry and the reams of newsprint in its wake, the footage it has consumed on television, and cyberspace it has consumed online is mammoth by any standards.

With some perversity, I am sure that these translate to trophies that take the place of pride in many a spin doctors' hall-of-fame. It would be a coup some will gloat on if they could pull off such an act of effective spin and propaganda. Maybe I live in a world of conspiracies and I see too many films and interest groups that go by such affable terms such as a corporate affairs, advocacy, PR Firms are all benign upstanding citizens. While we can blame the corporates and politicians, where does the Media stand in all this blame game?

While there will always be competing interests who will try their luck and they should, the questions that sits uneasy in my head is where is the sense of editorial balance? Who decides what story can run and what value system underlies this often intangible and grey art of practicing editorial discretion?

How many times have we all witnessed the blatant lies and falsehoods, how many times have we seen one-minute 'microwave judgments' by anchors and reporters of questionable or no intellect and cringed in despair at issues slammed without hope of recourse or apology. The broadcast media has seen such cut throat competition that all but a few firmly grounded channels have turned to sensationalism and made a mockery of the news domain, similar trends have been seen in mainline publications and the online world too.

This is our world; a world made of many conflicting microcosms and yet the show must go and we must find a way, not the Putin way or the Western way, and certainly not the Pakistani way but an Indian way forward for the show must go on without aberrations where the media retains its place as a guardian of our democracy and a conscience in times of weakness and chaos.

What can you and I do in our own small way to aware and then maybe spread an awareness of the issue at hand so we as communicator and marketeers help support and build a better Media; a tomorrow built on a foundation of balance, integrity, justice and merit. Brick bats and accolades bring them on, all welcome!

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Buy side or sell side; Doer or Make Doer, where's the game?

The weather in Mumbai or Bombay as I tend to yet and maybe always will refer to it is amazing. For those interested in the weather, the best time to be here is from November through February.

As I look outside the window, around me the madness continues. No one has noticed the weather. When I moved back to Bombay, my adopted home from Bangalore earlier this year, the weather was the last thing on my mind. The excitement of the rubber hitting the road again in a sell side assignment is what was floating my boat. That the traffic in Bangalore is arguably and notionally more crap may have entered my mind.

Where am I taking you with this? Well, simply: Where would I rather work today, Agency or Client? For years, it has been the path of exodus from PR or Advertising or other MarComms agencies to Client or Buy side roles. Traditional wisdom seems to suggest that moving to a client role has been the staple ambition of most communications or marketing interns, a larger aspiration seemingly bordering on the infinite.

This traditional wisdom translated and still does to considering client side roles as better paying; better working conditions, standard industry best practices in HR and Benefits policy. Salary surveys and this image of the make-doer being higher up the food chain than the doer. Add to that legend, cult chatter and imagined greatness to make a heady mirage of desire and aspiration, to my mind the only other comparable oversold silver bullet solution to bliss is marriage!

So you made it to the buy side with an unbelievable hike. Congratulations. First move, I know what's best, this agency sucks; fire the Agency! One year and two agencies later, all agencies still suck. “My budget is crap, no one understands my vision, and the boss is an idiot". The cycle moves downstream from confusion; frustration; denial; pragmatism; cynical submission and points further. Slowly the cognitive realization of the existence of other traditional company functions like Finance, HR, Corporate Planning & Strategy, Sales, and Quality dawns, besides of course Marketing into which a traditional PR or Communications or MarComms function will report.

If I sense defiance and a few backs getting up already lets up the ante a bit; imagine reporting into Sales or its often interchangeable euphemism - Sales & Marketing or worse HR! Politics assumes a new meaning and such things as annual budgeting (read begging, negotiating, storming out of meetings and sometimes even threatening to leave are usual tricks). Empire building and head count become the corner stones of all calculation!

The news isn't all bad, happy things include a PR Firm to flog (depending on how fat this company is-let us add an advertising agency, a web agency, a media buyer, an investment relations firm and so on) on retainer who you usually never call before 7pm with new requirements to be delivered first thing in the morning. End-of-day (EOD) and close-of-business (COB) and other similar dire abbreviation start peppering your e-mail. The tyrant in you starts to surface and the latent evil becomes apparent. Alarming surveys and such non-issues at most agency jobs such as consumer media preferences in the internet age start factoring on your radar!

So you think you should be one down from the corner room and the place of Communications and PR is at the Board Table along side the CEO or MD, that's good, Bombay weather remains amazing, no one has noticed.

So what’s happened here? From being, ‘the Business’, you have suddenly been relegated to a “Support function”. Yes, you got paid better, probably drive a car now instead of the old faithful motorcycle or a better car if you already had one, and live in a slightly more up market location. You’ve acted wisely, have decided to get married, have a child or two, settled down and become and EMI lifer too, the hours are better, it’s all coming together!

What is this thing that makes agencies more passionate, creative power houses that function on the cutting edge of innovation? I took a call and moved back to the agency end of things, there are good days and there are bad days but I am having a lot of fun...so far that is!

There are arguments for and against and while the jury is out on that one.

I leave it there for you folks to start a debate with your views. I would love to hear what you people out there in the PR Agency or Sell Side/Client or Sell Side or combination thereof in cyberspace think about being a doer or a make doer!

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Employer Pet Peeves: An Indian PR Firm Perspective from the Corner Room

As a sequel to last week's article this week I want to showcase the view from the wrong end or right end of the shotgun barrel, depending on your status in the food chain.In a business, that is slowly maturing there is yet lots of road to travel down the professional path.

The resource crunch pandemic is becoming a reality, as is the case with all other businesses; PR Firm's too like every other enterprise are seeking to keep, up skill and attract new talent!

The above is a regular star in the everyday nightmare of a business leader in a PR Firm.

The other cast include Mergers, buyout led account re-alignment. The loss of people can mean a lost account, worse loss of reputation and making it further harder to retain and hire and get general traction.

Employer pet peeves further include offer letter terrorism. This is any interesting phenomenon that involves swimming the job market and stacking offers. While everyone wants to offer their services at the best price, the mechanics involved include lies and deception.

Confirming a joining date and not showing up isn't a rare occurrence any longer.

The scarcity of trained resources has meant a further acceptance of tantrums, inferior quality of work, poor or non-existent account management and a general atmosphere where tardiness is accepted under threat of separation. Dishonesty and fudging of travel claims, using company infrastructure for personal use including dubious phone calls and other scam mongering.

This means a sense of cynicism and a lack of trust from the employer in turn that finally results in bad culture. A culture where mentoring and employee training evaporates and employers hedge people against each other in expectation of attrition and employee turnover. This leads to a chain reaction where neither can build personal trust and the first casualty is productivity followed by excellence.

The infuriating and myopic inability of account executives and managers to focus on all things financial, including expense claims of agency funds spent for client engagements, project or retainer fee claim delinquency is another big peeve. This impacts cash flows and balance sheet anarchy usually follows. The ensuing chaos can be easily avoided with regular follow ups.

While this may be a two-way street, employees need to bring up their end of the bargain just like employers do if we have to evolve as businesses that can presume integrity and legitimacy.

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