Media Lists, a prized possession of every PR professional, which most often is the last thing he would want to share it with anyone, even his colleagues, let alone his clients. What could be the reasons for such a behavior? Insecurity; fear of losing clients, once they get hold of the media contacts; or fear of backlash from the media, who had trusted him and shared their personal mobile numbers with him.
To understand this, I had posted a query titled – ‘Refusing to share media contacts with clients’ on Indian PR Forum and few LinkedIn groups and the result was quite intriguing. The discussion took shape into a very interesting and a healthy debate, where three groups were formed, one which believed, no matter what, media list should not be shared at any cost, while the other group debated that there is no harm in sharing a media list as sharing contacts does not mean sharing relationships. On the other hand the third group took a neutral stand and argued that there should not be a thumb rule for sharing or not sharing the lists, it would depend on the kind of relationship and trust you share with your clients. Surprisingly the debate drew interests from very senior professionals from India and many other countries.
The reasons put forward by the first group (who are against sharing the list) had valid arguments to put forward and which certainly did not seem absurd and childish (as I had first thought). BN Kumar, from Concept PR, opines, “Media contacts are developed with a painstaking work over the years. The lists with personal numbers are properties of the agencies. The entire process of media relations depends on the contacts that the agency or client develops. Clients’ job becomes easier once they get the media lists with contact numbers. That’s where the sense of insecurity creeps in and in many cases clients do not renew their contracts with agencies once they get the lists from agencies.”
Tarunjeet from Nucleus PR, adds that “A lot of journalists trust the PR professionals with their cell numbers that are to be used only during emergencies and absolute desperate conditions. Somewhere, with aggressive clients this message, despite reiterations, is lost and they start getting calls for events for the CEOs son’s birthday, or to a press conference wherein the client is trying to make a personal connect. This not only spoils the relationship of the journalist with the client but more so with the PR professional and the entire agency as a whole for all their clients.” While Owuoche Elizabeth, Associate Account Director – Silver Bullet PR, Kenya, says, “As a PR consultant I would like to have the upper hand, I want the client to come to me! I want the journalist to call me to set up opportunities with the client; I need to protect my role as the middleman.” Abha Azad at Finese PR, New Delhi, asserts, “The issue is: why the list is required by a client at all if it is working with a consultancy? If you have several points of contact, the media relations activity by itself becomes a problem. If the client starts to approach the media on its own, which I presume is why he/she is asking for the list, then an external/independent Consultancy is seen as an extraneous body which will delay the “response time”. I mean “why approach them if I have direct contact!!!”, would be the typical thought process of the media.”
The second group (who believes that agency should by all means share the media contacts) questions the basic fundamentals of the agencies. Vikas Kamboj, Associate Director at Indian Staffing Federation, Noida, says, “It seems that some agencies are stuck in some sort of time warp, where lists were the prized possessions. It just shows utter lack of sound knowledge about Public Relations as a profession. A consultancy, is about ideas and the insights they bring on the table about the publics (where media holds the major share of the pie) who matter.” Chet Wade, MD, Dominion, Richmond, Virginia, believes, “The value is in the relationship — as well as understanding what each media member and outlet finds interesting / valuable. A media list is like a lump of clay. You can find them anywhere. What matters is how the artist works on it. Good communicators are artists at defining a good pitch. I am on the corporate side, but I would not have a problem sharing contact lists with a client if I were on the agency side.”
Harshendra Verdhan, Manager – PR at Indian Farmers Fertiliser Cooperative Limited, is of the view that, “Agencies need to understand that it’s not only contacts but the trust and bond with client is what matters. You have to be transparent with the client. If I am in the industry from many years than it is certain that, even I will have contacts, which will help me to procure the list if the agency denies. Agencies should understand the fact that they have a wider role to play.” While Kunal Karn is of the view that, “PR agencies have to grow a bit from being just a media agencies and playing a role of coordinator between client and journalist. There are many strategic roles that a PR agency can play for its clients.” Nayna Banerjee, Head Corporate Communications at Rabo India Finance Limited, had a straight answer, “If having a list is the only strength an agency has………..time my friend to look for the next one.”
But the most compelling and convincing arguments came from our third group of friends (the neutrals), who believed that there cannot be a blanket rule or agency policy for sharing or not sharing media coordinates. Aarif Malik, Vice President at Madison Public Relations, says “I’ve rarely refused to give away a media list, but before just giving out the list, I would like to seek two answers from the client, Why does the client want the media list? And what kind of details in the list? This helps me to understand the purpose behind the request. However, asking for contact details in the list is a different ballgame altogether. I’ve given such lists as well, but then they’ve turned out to be an indicator of an unpleasant situation building up between the client and the agency. If the agency is under-delivering, then the agency has to buck up. But if the client is doing that despite no fault of the agency, then I for one usually feel a little insulted. But again, that doesn’t stop me from giving contact details of media because I want the client to experiment himself / herself and realize that the agency has not been under-delivering. I’ve realized that once your client does this, you usually end up getting the client on your side.”
Sourav Das, Corporate Affairs & Communications, Cairn India, points to a scenario where the Corporate Communication team is built with Ex-Agency professionals. In such a scenario, if Agency declines – corp. cormm teams do it themselves – but at the end of it there is bad blood that remains. He says, “Database is not equal to relationships. So the agencies need to shed insecurity and focus on the core – building images (for clients and for themselves), but at the same time one needs to use judgment as to whom they are sharing their database. It should be shared with people who know the PR etiquettes, sensitivities and fine nuances of this profession. Tarunjeet from Nucleus, suggests a heart to heart chat, she says “You need to take the time to do this. After this if it does not work then by all means end the association. But if you cannot take the time to build the trust then maybe both you and the agency are not suited for each other.”
Anshuman Chakravarty, states that, “Every effort has a value and a price- even collecting media database”, from a client side if you ensure a “contract” which enables you to get media contacts, I think that’s the best way forward.” While Muyiwa Akande, Media Manager at Mediacraft Associates Limited from Nigeria, very beautifully explains, “I really don’t see anything odd in sharing media contacts with clients. The demon is always in the details, the popular saying goes. I believe media relations are an integral part of PR but it is not all of it. As PR consultants we need to constantly raise the bar in areas like strategy development, cutting-edge advisory services, creatively “disruptive” ideas, et al. Even if the client has all the media contacts, he will still need our services if we develop competencies in the above mentioned areas.”
The arguments can go on forever as each one of us will stand by our own understanding, but after dwelling into so much detail of the issue, I have come to a conclusion that a media list prepared by an agency is its proprietary possession and no one should force them to share, unless clarified through a contract at the beginning of the relationship. While at the same time, agencies should not see all clients from the same view point, if such a request does come from a client, then the agency’s decision should be based on their understanding, relationship and intentions of the client making such a request. If you do not see anything wrong, then there is no harm in sharing and expecting the client to reciprocate in the same manner.
Clients on the other hand also need to understand their responsibilities and know for a fact that competing with your partners will eventually only bring discontent and loss of opportunities for both sides. Clients should give due credit for the agency’s work and as far as possible communicate with the media through the agency.
I urge you to read through all the comments on http://vikypedia.in/2012/02/26/who-owns-the-media-list/ and check what the pulse of the industry is saying…
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