There are a couple of questions every media, advocacy professional is asked sooner or later.How many reporters can one guarantee at a press conference? What is the number of ‘hits’ AKA media coverage can guarantee?
Yes its war out there. Complete with ‘military terminology’ with public relations organisations in the middle, trying to find meeting ground between the clients and the media. It’s an exercise not for the faint-hearted. And just for fun, to make your task even more difficult, many clients and reporters, quite naturally, regard each other with mutual suspicion, both sides equally determined to win the war.
But the answer is still pending. Well, it’s something like this – there is no real way to guarantee 20, 30 or 40 hits for a client and unless you kidnap reporters, there is also no way to ensure, beyond all reasonable doubts, that they will pack your conference room. And even if you do get successful in achieving that, it will only take another 26/11 to wipe you off the page the next day.
In fact, this is the way it should be. You are not producing Maruti cars or coffee jars or packs of butter that ascertain you your daily production run. If that level of certainty is what you want then there is always advertising. Once you buy into the number game and PR professionals are under tremendous pressure to deliver on this parameter, it’s like rolling down the hill knowing you will only stop once you reach the bottom.
So, in all of this, is there any good news for clients and advocacy professionals? Why should one take the PR route? Because while you cannot guarantee numbers, if you make sure your story is well pitched and credible and you take the trouble to understand the workings of the media, you will get coverage for sure.
Secondly, rupee for rupee, PR gives you great results at a fraction of the cost. To give you an example, one of our clients working in the field of TB, HIV –AIDS and Malaria got extensive coverage over a period of three years for these public health issues .If he had taken ads for that amount of coverage it would have cost him 75 lakh rupees. His investment in PR to get this coverage cost him less than 10 percent of that amount.
Besides, advocacy is a long-term process where you have to spend time in educating your clients. Over this decade, because of television news, the mainstream media has now expanded to include in its news agenda, many so called non-mainstream topics like women, public health and environment.
At the end of the day, it’s up to the advocacy professional, who balances this delicate relationship, to stand firm on issues like the number guarantee game and media dismissing an issue just because its not mainstream.
If the Satyam story has taught us anything at all, it is this: ethics are valuable and can, at the end of the day, make or break your organisation.
Next Week: The entrepreneur checklist - 5 things every small entrepreneur should know.
- Paarul Chand
The guest columnist is a communications entrepreneur, specializing in social advocacy and research, writing and life skills training.