Friday, 30 May 2008

Shepherding Your Clients in Times of Manufactured Media Exclusives

The rapid expansion in the media space has done many good things for the nation. It has provided choice in beats across entertainment, movies, news and education that earlier was simply not ever thought of or envisioned. The proliferation has brought about waves of soaps, contests and now with the first IPL season shaking India, it has brought a gaggle of new anchors anxious to make their mark.

In a landscape dotted by hungry journalists, anchors, show producer, sometimes this breed, crosses the line of prudence and fair practice in the quest for exclusives, scoops and the most dramatic of them all; stings! In times of deadline overload and a lack of any tangible research, editorial balance becomes the first casualty to TRPs, popularity polls and advertising revenue.

How many times have you had a trick e-mail or a innocuous phone call translate into a bombshell in the press the next day, or even the same day in these times of broadcast and online media explosion? If you are out there working the space, then I am sure you do this more than you’d like to and while we all employ our own ways and means to deal with the scourge, maybe the time is right for a discussion. Keeping quiet is not an option so here are a few PR plays I’ve seen practiced:

  • No comment - This is the most basic defense of the scared communicator or resident PR punter in the establishment. It creates a doubt in the mind of the viewer or reader about the authenticity or veracity of the story but has the potential of making front page all the same or the lead story in the dozen or so television channels out there, business, news, and combinations thereof.
  • We do not speculate on market speculation - This or another variation of the same featuring words like ‘policy’ are yet another wet blanket in terms of media credibility, will they stop your brand image from get a contentious tag or even a black eye is arguable.
    Denial - This is the last reprieve of either the aggrieved or the very stupid, especially if its a lie. It will give a pause to the editor or the journalist, who will question their gut, chances of going to print or being aired, fifty per cent.
  • Half Agreement, Half Denial - This Molotov Cocktail is the most sophisticated of the ploys, and clearly agrees to all or some part of the allegation but uses the loop in technique to include crisis messaging. Sent as a quote and usually written, it forces the hack to use the statement in full. Only the most savvy can do this bespoke but chances of being quoted out of context or half quoted remain high.
  • Retraction or Rejoinder - These are mostly ego plasters to paper over bruised management egos, striking how the size of the retraction and rejoinder is in contrast to the placement, font size and prominence of the offending piece.
  • Confirming statement - This is the pushover statement, executed along with a sincere sorry note and a display of the belly in submission. These are very bad for the ego and best suited for real tragedies, fraud, accidents, calamities and other industrial or infrastructure and government type of communicators.

I am sure there are hilarious variations sitting out there in your very fertile and successful minds and would love to get any more classification here or a anonymous war story, do feel obliged to share your scary knowledge with the tribe.

These are some concerning times that need both awareness of the stakes and training, if it is your privilege to be charged as the guardian of your brand and company image. There are lots of ploys the feverish hack employs to in the get-rich-quick-or-get-fired-trying, exclusive hunt. You need to understand that it is their job to report, to analyze, to predict and to expose, the end is fine but the means are most questionable.

This pool is further muddied by competition and the dirty tricks department using friendly media for planting, seeding or plain obfuscating an issue. I will not use examples but the watchful here will see and read patterns in politics, industry and most media reporting, even that front page headline or the lead story on that television channel that looks innocent at first pass. Go figure…

If they know that you know, then you will receive their respect and maybe the show can continue down the road for all. Right now these are dangerous times for Image and Brand and all seems fair in the media war for exclusives. Next week sticking to a statement and dodging trick questions on the phone. Happy skirmishing!

Thursday, 29 May 2008

Game Changers-How IPL Changed Indian Marketing and PR Forever

Last night the Kings XI Punjab made another killing! Shaun Marsh produced what some would colloquially describe as giving a right walloping and Yuvraj Singh followed through with more arson on the pitch; the two are the cynosure of all eyes in the cricket world in India, the Commonwealth continents and many points further.

This wasn't always the case, suddenly a team that was for long an underdog is making huge waves. The IPL analogy is no different, it came from nowhere and took over the house, and those in the marketing and PR fraternity who were watching the wind speed and its direction are smiling, while the laggards are now wringing their hands in furious frustration at the massive opportunity loss.

A few months have passed since the marketing and PR landscape got hijacked by IPL, the usual heavy-lids marketing and PR veteran, already bored to death with the monotony of the hot summer, mistook it for a flash in the pan, many weeks later it was still there refusing to go away like a bad nightmare, rocketing TRPs and bringing in eyeballs by the truck load for competition; the ones who got on the band wagon are laughing to the brand bank, the ones that did not have conceded defeat. The 'serial shock' gave all channels a huge scare and the war moved from the pitch to the air waves as the IPL tsunami sucked all eyes to a single channel away from the staple 'soap and serial' diet!

Team sponsorships that went a begging are now worth their weight in gold and next season; by all means, do please expect to see the phenomenon of inflation translate to cricket sponsorship. In these incredulous times of USD 130 for a barrel of crude oil, why should inflation be confined to steel, onions and cement?

The fight for eye balls has been won by mobile companies, banks and FMCG companies being the usual suspect that also ran and got some successes. The losers were car and bike companies, ringed in first by the RBI triggered, inflation killer, CRR measures, that squeezed the already flat credit situation. Across packed stadium; the howls of delight and screams of incredulity submerged the Bloomberg story reporting how this had been the lowest growth in the last 10 quarters for India.

As crude oil price insanity triggered troubling visions of more tax and ‘cess-upon-more-cess’ crowded my radar, the oil companies were slowly sinking and losses were being reported first time in the current quarters of these public sector behemoths. As ministries quibbled over customs, excise, luxury tax and oil stabilisation funds, the screams of cricket hooliganism in stadiums kept growing louder, so much more dignified than the marauding Chelsea club fans in England that would shame Genghis Khan but the days are not far! Welcome to the Indian version of the superbowl!

As stories got pitched to the print, television and online spaces and the pickled brain of the now smiling senior PR types picked up the sweet stink of plugs a headline or byte away, agencies were being whipped to leverage the sponsorship investment and brand types were churning websites and campaigns by the dime across outdoor, print and online; search or ad word. Here in this very fertile climate unnoticed a bevy of writers, television anchors and producers were taking birth.

In the text message histrionics of Shah Rukh Khan and Vijay Mallya's tantrums, the hugs of Preity Zinta and the exploits of Ness Wadia with the Punjab Police hijacked dinner and tea time conversations across the homes and offices of the unsuspecting consumer in a heady brew, without alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. Healthy I thought!

In this entire din, the lessons have been many and things have changed forever in sports marketing and PR. The heady mix of entertainment, blaring team songs and not to forget the introduction of cheer leaders in a morality stricken nation, helped tone down changes that would have otherwise not gone down well.

I am talking about the erosion of nationality as the basis for cricket teams. Questions about how ex-team mates will reconcile their fury and belligerence once IPL is over and things are back to normal for the Indian, Sri Lankan, Australian and many other teams. Of course and then unlearning all that when the next IPL starts. In the confines of Wankhede, Eden Gardens, Mohali and many other cricket stadiums, the energy was electric and someone watching the same show on TV would never understand the fury of the music, the hysteria whipped up by the cheer leaders and the crowd as it chanted favourites or booed down others.

The good change that has again gone largely unnoticed like the bad is the new faces that have got the opportunity to play with the reigning cricket gods. Good for India and good for cricket and definitely good for brand endorsement, marketing and Public Relations!

As I wait for the semi-finals, I doff my hat to LK Modi and despite the large headline in a prominent Indian newspaper harking back to a real or imagined misdemeanor 20 years ago in a foreign country, life in India after IPL will never be the same! They are obviously trying to get back at his temerity in bringing in IPL Media Guidelines in the usual petty and spiteful style characteristic of the large egos of the rather spoilt Indian press fraternity. Long live IPL!

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