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!

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