Brightlite : Shaping Effective Communication

Archive for the ‘Media Advocacy,PR,Ethics,Social Sector’ Category

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” –The White Queen: Alice in Wonderland

Launching a media campaign can sometimes feel may you feel like Alice in a confusing wonderland, where the results are not under your control. Unlike, say for example, you are producing 100 cars a day. You can say with large doses of certainty how much it will take to produce those cars, how long it will take to roll them out and the processes you need to follow for that.

While starting media advocacy, however the first thing to accept is that the results are not entirely under your control, the results react strongly to a swift changing news environment. If Dhirubhai Ambani famously said that the Government of India is the most important operative environment for any business organisation; then the news agenda or news environment is the most impactful operative environment for a media advocacy plan.

That’s the challenging news. The good news is that if you do your processes right and are prepared to develop the inner bandwidth to see the media engagement plan through, you will be able to achieve consistent and good results without resorting to any unethical practices. This requires a partnership approach between the clients and the PR professionals and a learning curve on both sides.

Some of the key processes can be defined as :

1) It’s the editorial stupid!

Every good media campaign starts off with a key question, what’s my story, where’s my newsy editorial. Simply put what is News or what is New and every media expert should be able to arrive at this key component. It does mean more hard work for the PR professional, to keep yourself updated with both the new developments in your field and keep abreast of what the news environment is reporting. A simple Who, What When, Where, Which ,What question grid should help you arrive at the story. Once you have the answers to this grid, link it to what the environment is saying . If the annual Union Budget is coming up is there an angle I can push? Is the ministry overseeing my field working on a relevant policy or does that policy needs to change. Do I have a white paper to talk about civil society recommendations? Am I having a conversation with reporters without expectations of a story and giving and receiving relevant feedback on my sector. There is no substitute for relevant editorial.

2) What’s my Plan ? Avoid Carpet Bombing PR
Once there is clarity on the core editorial, one can then take a call on whether it needs a press conference, a press release, an information note , a conference call or one to one interviews or a combination of all of these. Planned and sustained media engagement is smarter than carpet bombing PR. This means engaging in a strategic fashion riding the crest of good editorial rather than rushing out pell mell with confused editorial or stories that are not spaced properly.

3) Thompson with a P

The last but certainly not the least is the availability of a PR person or person who can develop the bandwidth to focus on media at the client end. Any organisation without this Thompson with a P is bound to get ad-hoc results .The PR Professional and the media advocacy in-charge at the client end ride the tandem bike together for great results, one can’t manage without the other.

Would love to receive feedback on key challenges while planning media engagement.

Next week: Building a world class vision from the Home Office

Paarul Chand, is the founder of Bright Lite Communications (www.brightlitecommunications.com) — a media advocacy firm in Gurgaon, India, with special focus on development issues. A film maker and writer, Paarul has worked as a television journalist for shows on CNBC India, BBC World, Economic Times Television and Asia Business News-Dow Jones. She can be contacted at paarulchand9@gmail.com.

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The bright red and pink cover with the embossed title, ‘The Professional’, drew me in. For a minute I wondered if it was one of those books about assassins in the Sidney Sheldon mould; also easily recognised as an action genre that Hollywood is so fond of producing with perhaps Harrison Ford/Bruce Willis/Tom Cruise.

But this book by Subroto Bagchi, co-founder of MindTree Ltd, is about being a good professional. He spells out three major parts in his book to consider: integrity, self awareness and qualities that define a professional. These qualities include learning to say no, taking a long view of time and connecting with mavens, connectors and professional evangelists. Quite rightly, Bagchi places integrity at the top of the matrix that makes up the true professional. Never has this quality been more relevant as in the post Radia tapes-2 G scam era .The Prime Minister himself has had to answer charges of corruption in his government in a rare press conference and senior ministers in UPA II have talked about an ethical and governance deficit. Having been both a television news reporter and now a media advocacy professional, I have hesitated to comment on the events splashed in the media over the last few months, wondering if I could ever be objective on this issue. There is no doubt that we are at a moral crossroads like never before, this affects not only the PR industry but the country at large.

Corruption at a large scale has a starting point with personal corruption. Media advocacy is about shaping public opinion, a situation tailor made for crossing lines of integrity. When you are the router of information between an organisation and the media, the pressure on personal integrity rises. The starting point of this lack of integrity in public relations, whether it’s for the corporate sector or for the social sector is a lack of clarity on the processes that a PR Professional needs to follow and perceptions about what constitutes good results. In my opinion, there are three root factors that contribute to bad practices in media advocacy: the insistence of clients on a minimum guarantee of hits per event /release, lack of understanding among PR professionals about the editorial pegs of their stories: a lack of ‘news sense’ and finally the presence of an all consuming news industry which is not investing enough in training, both on the job and in pre-job education, of their reporters .Adding to the challenges is the presence of freelance stringers who operate both as reporters and PR professionals.

As long as the approach to media advocacy remains quantitative, everybody down the line comes under pressure. Rare is the client who says I am interested in quality coverage; quite naturally every client wants his bang for the buck. It’s up to the PR professional to explain that opinion shaping is a qualitative process and reliance on number crunching is not the best way to measure results. It’s a call that every PR professional must take for himself/herself. I do not guarantee any minimum hits and make it clear that we will get coverage on the strength of our editorial, our story . This sometimes means not approaching the press when the story is not strong enough, a difficult call to take for both clients and media professionals. In the last ten years of being an independent media professional only once has a potential client walked away because of the non-guarantee of hits.

Sudha Sarin currently Senior Partner and COO, Sampark Public Relations( one of India’s top 5 PR agencies) says, “It may be fair to ascertain that our role as Public Relations practitioners is fraught with ethical dilemmas. While there exists wide spread awareness of PR ethics being a key issue not much provides a reference point by way of standard best practises or guidelines for practitioners. Clearly a key question is how we move from a spectrum of easily avoidable or ignored ethics to making ethics unavoidable in the public relations process. It is important for us to consider this shift from the realm of mere good intent to verifiable practise. There is no ‘cure all’ ethical policy which we can turn to or refer to; a variety of ethical approaches may be more likely the advisable way. For starters an internal barometer which makes us ask a few questions as we proceed to create and work through a campaign may be key…a strong moral compass which stimulates the moral imagination and considered ethical implications at every point and asks the fundamental question “ how ought a practitioner of integrity behave, act, think in this situation ?” . Further highlighting potential ethical issues in an upcoming campaign and stimulating debate on appropriate approaches may be another starting point for many of us. Simplistic may be, however in the lack of an established recognisable best practise our best bet may be to ask ourselves “ what do we need to do of which we can be or are proud” as a starting point. Having said that we must debate whether the “pride” question may suffice and absolute trust in intrinsic personal virtue seem somewhat optimistic. “

The Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI) advocates that PR firms get the Consultancy Management Standard (CMS) – the gold standard for good practices. There is also an elaborate code of conduct that includes integrity .This is a great industry initiative to begin with, I did however find some of the annual membership fees on the steep side for small PR organisations. And it is very essential that the smaller PR organisations are brought into the organised ambit and adhere to industry norms of ethical practices.

Gurcharan Das author of, “The Difficulty of being Good: The Subtle Art of Dharma”, says that we all have an inner moral intuition that tells us very clearly that we have crossed a line. This intuition is not grey but crystal clear. Perhaps it’s time for all of us to listen in.

PS: Would love to hear from readers, on how they have navigated situations where personal values clash with professional demands.

Next week: Solutions to planning an ethical and result oriented PR campaign for the social sector.

Before you begin calling up the media and screaming stop press or breaking news, because you have ‘THE’ development story of the year, put the phone down, stop yourself and answer one question: are you a 100 metres sprinter or a 42 kilometres marathon runner?

Now, what does athletic ability have to do with a media plan for the developmental sector, you may well wonder. Everything.

The first thing that one has to be very clear about, before drawing up any successful media plan, is that this is a long term commitment best suited for people who can stay the distance. An ad-hoc, short term media plan, will get you ad-hoc, short term results. After you have committed to this basic truth, here’s how to raise the profile for your issue:-

1) Begin at the beginning, the first thing one must one must do is to have a full media list in place. For the print media, include beat reporters (journalists who cover your area, it could be public health, water, poverty or infant mortality), metro editors, the editor and still photographers. For television, keep in touch with the reporters as well as the input desk.

2) Know thyself, the second thing is to really know your issue very well. Understand your subject, identify the news-peg and make sure that the story is rooted in real facts about real projects and there are pictures available. A reporter, senses an overstated story, faster than a politician senses an opportunity to gain votes.

3) Keep it simple, India has over 1 million NGOs. That’s right, over 1 million. So imagine the information load for the journalist if even half of those organisations contact her for a story. If you want to earn the respect of the reporter, give clear , short releases and background notes, two pages each is more than sufficient to tell your story. Therefore, sending district wise data of arsenic in drinking water will not help your cause; letting the reporter know that your latest India –wide study shows that arsenic levels are rising  because government policy has failed to prevent groundwater from being depleted, with pertinent figures on how many people are affected by this, will get you the media attention you deserve.

4) Use Page 3 Techniques for a Page 1 story , don’t dismiss the draw of page 3 . If a celebrity can get your cause attention, don’t be too proud. One of our clients got great coverage, by getting actor Rajeev Khandelwal (of Amir fame), who at that time was at the height of his popularity as a soap star, to inaugurate a World AIDS function.

5) Don’t Expect a Story Everytime, use The Secret, the best selling book, ‘The Secret’ advises you to be very clear about what you want and then to stop obsessing about it. So devise ways to keep in touch regularly:- use press releases, conference call, press conferences, policy papers, one to one meetings. But if the reporter is not able to do the story this time, no harm done. There is always a next time. So continue to meet up over coffee.

Here’s to a great relationship between you and the media.

http://www.brightlitecommunications.com/

 

The website is dead, long live social media! Here’s a quick question when was the last time you went to just the company website for information or went to it at all? Chances are that if you were buying a mobile phone or seeking help for the best laptop to buy, you may have also used Google, Facebook or Twitter to seek information from real users of the product you are trying to buy.

The neighbourhood has shrunk, if you need advise on a purchase, the world is available to chat with you about it. Businesses would ignore this at their own peril. Social media, can get your product feedback, help you do a quick dipstick survey, conduct social research and talk to your consumer one to one. Good stuff all for any business.

Cobwebs
Depending on what your business is, here are some key reasons why you may want to build a social media presence:-

1) Your customer is a consumer you can talk to in a narrowcast fashion, which means while an Airtel or a Vodafone may benefit from being in the social media space , a large luxury brand may not. Social media marketing is about building tribes of individuals who feel very special within the tribe and any product or service that speaks to these tribe individuals will be able to leverage social media well.
2) If you are in the mass lifestyle space. For example a lifestyle store, an art seller or an artist of any kind or a restaurant or a furniture store or a movie hall then micro media makes a lot of sense.
3) If you working in the development sector, social and micro media is a great way to gather research, create awareness and link with supporters. For example, there are supporter Malaria for example has supporter groups that ask you to replace your profile picture with one about malaria, this has an instant awareness effect.
4) Healthcare businesses can also make use of micro media to create awareness about diseases.

Some of the very basic social media platforms that can be used are :-

1) Facebook- it allows you to build a page separately for your business on the same lines as your own profile page and you can build fan pages. You get a great interactive page which is better than a website at zero cost.
2) Twitter- Instant communication and feedback on niche issues. Healthcare businesses have used twitter very well.( Please see this link for a great case study: http://www.slideshare.net/umhealthscienceslibraries/twitter-for-health-and-healthcare)
3) Blogs – You can use blogs to tell a story about your organisation, tackle crisis issues. Basically, it is an online dear diary, about your work. Customers read it because they are not being asked to buy directly but hear a story and are conducting a conversation .

Depending on what your business is , first take a good hard look at what will social media do for you , what do you want from this exercise and whether the two goals fit. If they do then do not ignore this medium of communication. The world , it is a changing and changing very fast and those who ride this new wave will emerge on the other side as winners.

Recommend: Check out http://www.pitchh.com/, Pitchh.com is an online platform that lets brands & organizations connect with the right communication and marketing partners.

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  • brightlitecommunications: Thank you for your feedbacck laura. YOu are right, discussions from the point of view of the editorial/news context of new developments on issues the
  • Laura: I'm new to India, but I get the impression that it's pretty rare for NGOs to hold editorial board meetings to discuss developments or new evidence rel
  • Sohini: So great to see this blog! I'm a communications professional in the US where the industry changes at blinding speed, as I imagine it does pretty much