Be a pro if you are a P-R-O

IN Opinion | 03/01/2013
Don't call Outlook and ask for Vinod Mehra when you want to speak to Vinod Mehta. And it doesn't help to get Rajdeep Sardesai's personal number and ask for arch rival Arnab Goswami.
AJITH PILLAI has advice in the new year for bumbling PROs.

Dipped in Witriol


We all know the Press Council of India (PCI) has been pro-active and vocal ever since Justice Markandey Katju took over as its chairman in October 2011. And in the New Year (at a time when PR execs go on an overdrive) the Council under his stewardship has lived up to its tough reputation by delivering a blow on behalf of the fourth estate. This time, at the receiving end were public relations agencies guilty of harassing overworked journalists. In fact, an advisory has already been dispatched spelling out several ground rules that PR practitioners must follow. 

While it is not known if Justice Katju was personally involved in the drafting of the note, sources point out that two calls he received in December may have prompted the action. One was a young, flustered woman who mistook the PCI chairman to be the chief reporter of PTI and wanted him to send someone to attend the opening of a new automobile showroom. Almost as if to rub salt to the wound, the following day the venerable judge was asked if he covered the hospitality sector. A frustrated Katju is said to have snapped this one liner before banging the phone: “Send me lots of brown paper and I will have it well covered!”

The advisory was soon put together although we are still waiting for clinching evidence to prove a Katju hand behind it. To complicate matters, the document is not signed in a conventional manner. Whoever penned it chose to end it with a thumb impression and a cryptic post script—“The first impression is the thumb impression.” This has led some intelligence officials to conclude that it must be the work of a person with immense faith in thumbprints.

Anyway, that apart, here are the key guidelines in the advisory:

GET THE NAME RIGHT: Don’t call Outlook and ask for Vinod Mehra when you want to speak to Vinod Mehta. Or, for that matter, it doesn’t help to get Rajdeep Sardesai’s personal number and ask for arch rival Arnab Goswami or vice versa. Similarly, Sagarika Ghose cannot be Prannoy Roy or Navika Kumar, Shekhar Gupta. And you can’t get away by saying- `What’s in a name? Those whom we call Roy, Gupta or Mehta by any other name would just be the same.’

Also, don’t call The Times of India and ask for someone in Hindustan Times. On the same count remember that the PCI is not The Pioneer, PTI and most certainly not the Press Club.

PARTY ANIMALS DON’T COVER PARTIES: Every news organization has reporters whose life revolves around political parties. Referred to as party animals they get all excited when a press briefing is called at the BJP or Congress headquarters, but are untouched by an invite to a bash where Ranbir Kapoor and Deepika Padukone  unveil the happy ending of their next film. And, yes, investigative journalists do like snooping but won’t attend a press conference organized by the tap and fittings industry unless `tap’ refers to secret recordings of phone calls from arms dealers to defence ministry officials. Finally, the PCI doesn’t, repeat doesn’t, cover I&B ministry or the Congress party.

THE DOWNSIDE OF NAME DROPPING: Our studies reveal that PR professionals do themselves more harm than good by intimidating journos by claiming that they have already spoken to their editors. Unfortunately, more often than not they drop the wrong names! In one typical example a correspondent of The Financial Express was told by a pushy PR exec that his boss Siddharth Varadarajan (who edits The Hindu) had been contacted!  The net result of such a faux pas can well be imagined. To make matters worse someone else from the same PR outfit mistook a senior staffer from The Indian Express to be the editor of The Hindustan Times!

The Press Council hereby advises all PR professionals to commit to memory (just like a child memorises mathematical tables) the names of journalists, what they cover and the organisations they work for. In case you are memory challenged –the kind who is confused if nine times eight is 72 or 84—then maintain a list on your laptop or in the memory card of your mobile. Studies have shown that in the last decade 2000 hours (83 days and 11 hours) have been lost through misdirected calls.

MEDIA ENQUIRES BUT IS NO ENQUIRY COUNTER: No scribe worth his laptop or Blackberry likes a PR exec asking who is his/her editor or the identity of the person who covers realty. Such queries could raise existentialist questions--“who am I, why am I, where do I belong and who is my editor’s editor?” The PCI hereby declares that it is totally opposed to such mindless queries and will act against erring PR professionals as and when it gets legal teeth (or dentures) to act.

DON”T BECOME A WAKE UP CALL: Let it be known that when the world wakes it’s sleeping time for most scribes. So don’t call before the crack of noon to invite them for a press con at 5 pm. The old jungle saying in Fleet Street is that the wrath of a journalist woken up is akin to a politician scorned by the media. 

 MAKE IT SIMPLE:  With PR and communication agencies sprouting like wheat in Punjab after the Green Revolution, opting for complicated names has become the rage. But the christening process and the desire to be different has made it difficult to remember names of agencies. So when Anju , Sanju and Joshua  from ‘Animated Collective - Media Inversions and Innovations’, send Diwali greetings to all and sundry, only close relatives can recall who they are. Also ‘Sweety Pai’s Media’ may sound like a pastry shop.

The PCI, which is always out to help and would like to control and regulate everything ---from TV and Internet to PR agencies-- will only be happy to chip in with innovative names.

PR HAS A FUTURE: With paid news tightening its grip over the media, PR professional have a big role to play in the days ahead. This is why one has to prepare for a world in which all news becomes a negotiable instrument.  So, let us start by putting an end to phony calls to journalists. Instead, ask for the ad manager and ask him how much the client will have to shell out to cover a press meet on fashion forecasts.

Incidentally, the PCI advisory has created a buzz in the higher echelons of the public relations business. It has for starters led to a surge in demand for ink pads. Apparently, taking a cue from the Council, senior managers have started affixing thumb impressions to official correspondence to give it a personal touch. Others feel it is the sign of the times…   



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