Conversations at the Intersection of PR, Traditional & New Media

Media Relations – a Boon or a Bane






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It is often said and expected as a critical requirement from a PR professional that he/she should have strong media relations. This actually means that a PR professional should know journalists on a personal level so that they can plant/stop stories in the media on behalf of their client or company. I believe that it is this expectation from us has become the core cause of all the negative reputation we have earned over the period of time. It is only because of such demands from our clients; we have been tagged as fixers, spin masters and middlemen. Because of the so called media relations, clients get their job done through us but at the hind side they just see us as liaising officers. On the other hand, I don’t want to get into to specifying what reputation we enjoy amongst most journalists as well.

The above may sound a bit too exaggerated but just think about it: weren’t you asked in your interview – How good is your relationship with the media? How many journalists do you know personally? In fact, in one of my interviews I was told to give list of the journalists who I know personally. I can understand if the agency bosses or marketing heads want to check your media understanding and knowledge. But if that was so, then the questions would have been: which is the top regional publication in Jharkhand? Or who is the Editor of the top language publication in the Uttarakhand? I don’t want to generalize as I also know of a few agency heads who do ask these questions as well in the interview, but these are one of those very rare breed of people who truly understand how PR works. But in most cases you will come across people who have only known how PR has been working till date in this country.

I am not saying that having a good rapport with a particular journalist is wrong, but it should be purely professional where the journalist recognizes you as a professional and you, in return, don’t ask for any personal favours on behalf of your client.

We all love to talk about strategy, creating and generating ideas that will make media chase you, but frankly this rarely happens. We may create a good story idea, but we will first go and pitch to those journalists whom we know personally. There are also many junior kids, who don’t have any media relationships but still they will be handed over a long media list and made to followup on the pitch/press note sent. What they end up doing is nothing but a tele-caller’s job of calling the journalists and trying to sell a story or an idea. You can actually match the tone of a Credit Card tele caller and the poor PR professional calling the journalists. Most of the time, almost all PR agency professionals up to the level of Account Managers go through this daily. Some end up getting ridiculed by the media guys and some do manage to break the ice and start their journey of building relationships.

The expectation to get the job done based on relationships is so deep rooted that client will never hesitate to force you to get the story done via xyz journalist who had been your ex-colleague and so forth. It is so much within us that even after spending so many years in the business, and after giving tons of gyan on professionalism, we end up pressurizing our poor agency partners or our juniors to get the stories done on the basis of relationships.

The reasons to this can be many, some of which I can think of are listed below, you can also feel free to add more based on your personal experiences

1)    There is one journalist, covering a particular beat and 100 PR professionals running behind his life to get his attention. So whatever works helps; right from a good story idea, your friendship with him, your charm, to your begging, pleading or plain persuasion skills.

2)    Traditionally, we have been working in the same manner. In the very initial stage we were simply liaising officers, greasing palms of journalists on behalf of large corporates. Hence the tradition still continues but now with some sophistication and in pockets. (I am not generalizing and claiming that all of us dive so deep down)

Until this attitude continues, we will always be termed as Spin Masters or terms similar to this. We need to leave this stigma behind and behave as professionals. We should stop entertaining such requests from our clients and bosses and help them understand the true value of our profession. We have to grow our understanding of the client’s business to a level where we become their senses and make them aware of the dangers facing their business by effectively scanning the business environment, learning the industry trends, and forecasting what action of the client may harm or benefit the business.

On the other hand, we need to work along with the media as their business partners. Convince them to work on the story on basis of the merit of the story suggested, basis the knowledge and forecasting capabilities that you demonstrate to the journalist. We need to think like them to be able to professionally work with them.

I understand it is easier said than done; there will be a section of media who would expect you to deal with them in the same manner, but some day we need to change so that we get the respect we deserve. PR professionals are not idiots but are smart professionals who are much more capable than any other intellectual professionals working in advertising, business consultancy or research. They are very qualified and now even MBAs from top institutions look at the profession as their future career. I have met many PR professionals who are much smarter than any Editor of a large publication but, sadly, all our equated in the same manner. We (that includes even me) need to change and this should start today for a better and respected tomorrow.

I wish I had the courage to tell my interviewer that you needn’t worry about my rapport with journalists because I will get your company featured based on the merit of the story idea I will generate. Wish I can gather the courage to refuse to push for stories without any merit and stand with my agency partners to work and come up with the best possible solution for my client. Because when I will change, I will see the change happening around me.

Would love to hear from here on what you feel and what should be done build our own reputation as professionals. Next week, we will dwell more into how we can work towards getting associated with media as knowledge partners. Drop me a line on your feed on my blog or on Twitter @vikramkharvi


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Categorised in: Public Relations, Vikypedia Exclusives

14 Responses »

  1. Hi Vikram, Nice article. Couldn’t agree with you more…!

  2. That’s bang on Vikram. You have nailed it. We are professionals and that’s the way we should behave and expect to be treated!

  3. Dear Vikram,

    This is so true. I think what the PR professional job should know what story to pitch in what publication. Media Relation is important but if story do not have strength then no journalist will take it however our relation might be personal. One time they might take it but not always. They will do story on the strength of the story .

    Most PR professional or fraternity does not focus on these things on story idea, pitching story to journos. This should be the focus. In my experience, i have felt that if the story has strength they will automatically do it. But if it doesnt, then its difficult even for journos to go-ahead with the story

  4. Hi Vikram,

    Perfect article, especially i like this line, a perfect quote!

    “I wish I had the courage to tell my interviewer that you needn’t worry about my rapport with journalists because I will get your company featured based on the merit of the story idea I will generate”

    I had written an similar article, please share your views. Below is the link to the article.

  5. Hi Vikram,

    Whatever u have written is a fact,feeling heart to discussion.As i was planning the same kind of a article sometime back.

  6. Hi there,

    If one successfully cultivate ‘good medial relations’ with mutual respect and interest, it can certainly help long way in PR Profession.

    Throughout my over 30 years of PR Professional service, I was never a member of Press Club. Nor I have spent ‘bottles of money’ to entertain journalists. As a matter of fact, when I was in serious trouble at Bhubaneshwar, during a press conference (yet to start) the young journalists threatened me to walk out, if I did not serve them hard liquor. At that time, there was official Gvt. order for Public sector Banks, not to serve hot drinks and I was keen to implement it. But. a senior Journalist saved me in time, as my earlier ‘medial relations’ had come to my rescue. You can read more about this in my book ‘More Ad-ventures of a PR Man’. The cover page illustration itself is explanatory.

    To save cost of Press Conference, I advised my Bank to have it in Bank’s Board room and not in a 5 star hotel. Further just over high-tea and not with drinks/dinner.

    It was well attended, as I ensured that those who wanted to have a word with CMD directly, I helped them. After the conference and high tea,as curtsey, offered a small token gift – which only one journalist ‘Arun Sadhu’ politely refused. But the the biggest surprise was, the man behind, not only took his, he wanted to grab Arun’s share also.

    One particular year, our Bank’s performance was not up the mark.But our bank had done excellent in Export credit, for which Bank was honoured by Export promotion council.

    Here I used my ‘medial relations ‘ to ensure that in the review of banks performance, Export credit was highlighted in headline and not the declining profits.

    Remember, Journalists too have their their limitations, and we PR Guys should respect that and then they too will have respect for you.

    One day, the News Editor of IE called me to come over quickly, and he wanted me to sanction him rs.5.00 lacs loan at 4% interest under DIR. – a special scheme under Govt. assistance to those below poverty line. to be self employed. The limit then was rs.50,000/- no margin no Guarantor.

    I instantly said, yes, you can have the loan collected on 30th Feb. in a very casual manner, as in the past, I had helped him, at his request granted several small loan to reporters, with his Guarantee.

    It took him some time to catch the hidden truth in my offer. Then I asked the News Editor, suppose I bring some item which is ‘no news’ and insist on your publishing on front page, will you do it ? Then he realised the seriousness of what I sai.

    Though I have retired 19 years back still few top journalists call me to say hello and ask for stories’ related to Banking industry.

    Therefore, Media Relations, if nurtured well and not only for selfish interest, pays in longer run

  7. my immediate response, not reaction, is that vikram kharvi has put
    forth the issue in the right perspective – what we feel, how are we
    perceived, what are expectations from us, to what extent expectations
    are right, our need, their (media persons) role, responsibilities and
    mindset (no generalising), etc. etc. my compliments to him.

    notwithstanding all that has said, i still maintain proof of the
    pudding lies in the eating. a PR professional has to be up and going
    in his quest for building relationships based on helpfulness to the
    media persons and certainly not for getting inconvenient stories
    stopped and only flowery ones published. yes, coverage about the
    organization one works for/in should be positive and should help build
    favourable image among the readers/viewers.

    there are bound to be occasions when stories, absolutely based on
    facts, are carried in the media which create a dent about the
    organization in the readers’ mind. irony is that in some cases the top
    man will not just listen and remark ‘what for have i (as if it is his
    personal organization) kept you and what the hell are you doing or
    have done as PR Head.’ some bosses just don’t listen – not their
    fault but since they occupy a very exalted chair from where they can
    command thousands of persons. even so, the PR Head has to keep his
    chin up, keep a smile but get going with what has to be done
    immediately and what has to be done for future. he must not get
    demoralised because that will demoralisation in his entire PR
    department and resultant bad performance in future too.

    so, my dear PR professionals, keep your chin up, work intelligently
    and professionally and keep developing good media relations. they are
    surely important. how we do that is our business? good luck.

    i suggest every respondent should give his Mobile No also for quick
    contact and PR among PR persons themselves.

  8. Appreciate the post – agree for the most part and like what you’re saying – what I would say is that media relationships are great, but journalists have a job to do.

    That’s why the question of what contacts you have is rather secondary in my opinion to your approach – it is but a foot in the door, which can alternatively always be forced through by a stranger if the content is stronger (horrible analogy but works).

    Journalists answer to their boss but most importantly their readers’ engagement (not you as a contact when it comes to the bottom line).

    Such relationships in the online world will go down to the content you offer and the angle you provide (in other words how easy and well they do their job as a result of your efforts, which is why you would have the relationships in the first place).

    As a PR professional, you’re only as good as your last pitch.

  9. Well said, Vikram. I guess it’s a global practice. PR professionals, whether they work for an agency, a corporate environment or stand alone professionals, are under- appreciated. Many purely associate PR translate media coverage. I worked for a very professional multinational on industry based PR tasks before, and they go to great length to balance between PR tasks with realistic industry expectations. They measure well, they allow the freedom to contribute ideas, vision, direct participation, and hugely appreciative of the multi tasking efforts you contribute. To PR professionals out there, don’t be afraid to show your real skills and work for noteworthy organizations (not many though), to realize your potentials and work from there.

  10. Hi so ‘true’ – we face this situation all the time, but have been handling with firmness and have managed well so far! Good to know that it’s not only us but others too face
    the same!

  11. Hi Vikram, you are spot on. What i found to be disturbing is the fact that portfolio like PR in most companies is regarded as a cost centre. This means that it is not regarded as a strategic function that could be used to create a pipeline for business or build brand equity of the company. I cannot agree more with you on the issue where as a practitioner you referred as having contacts in the news room. Basically, we are being used as fire extenguishers in times of crises. I would argue that this portfolio should be close to office of the CE, until then it would be regarded as a cost centre and irrelevant.

  12. Hi Vikram
    I’m a PR consultant based in the UK but working for clients who use me to gain international coverage – mostly in the Middle East and USA. I personally know very few journalists, and have directly spoken to even less. However, as an ex-journalist, I don’t honestly believe that matters today. What is important is the quality of information you send to a journalist. Over many years, the media I deal with know that when I send them something, it’s worth reading. In other words, it’s about personal reputation, rather than anything. The problem, I suspect, is that there are too many PR people sending out not-much-good material!

  13. Vikram, this is a very interesting topic. In my opinion/experience, you are correct that clients expect you to have a “hotline” to key media contacts in order to place or control a story. On the other side, the media contacts get so many calls that many have put up a “wall” against PR professionals.

    Another challenge in keeping a big list of contacts is that media contacts change regularly – people move on, and you may enter a new industry (with new “important” publications). The distinction I try to make to clients is that someone who has a large list of media contacts and is good at placing stories, is really a publicist – a very specialized sub-set of PR, and very useful at times. But it is rare that I have found these people to be tied in to the company long-term strategy… the thing that drives them is pitching tomorrow’s news.

    What I have found to be most effective with the media is to try and build relationships outside of placing a story, before you need them for your pitches. For example, meet with media people at industry events, trade shows, etc., and engage in a conversation (about the trends they are seeing, for example) to learn what is interesting/important to them and try to make a personal connection. If the publication hosts luncheons or seminars it may be a worthwhile investment to attend. Also, if there is someone in your network who may be able to help them with a story (whether in your company or not), try to connect them! If you become a resource for them, they will be more likely to take your call when you do have a story to place.

    Good luck in your efforts — I am interested to see others’ comments on this topic.

  14. Well said, Vikram. I’ll be reading the entire article a little later today after client meetings, but I do agree with your observations about media relationships vs. knowledge of media. Thank you for sharing and starting this conversation.

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Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed by me in this blog are my personal views and do not represent the views of my employer or the organizations I have been associated with. I believe in the principle of sharing information. Feel free to link to any of the posts in this blog.
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