Amith Prabhu: Media relationships will get increasingly complex in a cluttered world

10 Nov,2014

By Amith Prabhu


I had lunch with an interesting journalist who had no objection to be being named in this column but I will choose to let him be anonymous. A month the many things we talked about in the thirty minutes working lunch were two incidents he narrated that stand out. Both involve the Indian corporate communications and Public relations set-up of two US West Coast headquartered iconic companies.


In both instances, the global CEOs were visiting India in quick succession, exactly a month ago. This journalist was asked by the corporate communications head of Company A to send a couple of questions that they would use in a transparent town hall where the corporate communications head would pick out a few questions from a fish bowl randomly for the global CEO to answer. But to the surprise of this journalist and others gathered the corporate communications chief had already made a list of questions and read them out from a sheet of newspaper thus putting transparency under the carpet in one push.


In the other incident, the PR consultant called the journalist to invite him to interview the global CEO from Company B and insisted to know in advance what questions he planned to ask. To most journalists this can be annoying for multiple reasons. But the worse was yet to come. As his time to interview the global CEO came close, the journalist was advised to change the interview into more of a round up because he was the last in a series of nearly a dozen interviews. His bone of contention was that his ability to have absolutely different questions was being doubted.


Now let’s move to the view from the other side. I have two stories to share from personal experience that I personally witnessed while dealing with a large global event last week. The event is managed by a mix of international professionals who are mostly American, British and Swiss and have been holding an average of 10 such events annually for the last three decades. Their media accreditation system is one of the strictest. On the morning of the event, a senior journalist who knows very well that he has not been nominated by his Editor to cover the event shows up at the venue claiming he has registered and wants entry. On being gently told that this is not possible he insists that he has covered the event in the past while working at another business daily and needs to be let in this time round. In the end he had to walk away disheartened but the sense of entitlement he was showing was unfortunate.


In another instance, a specific media group known for masking brand names if there has been no payment made for the service, attends press conferences when they are invited and then in their city-specific supplement will only carry the photograph of the celebrity without mentioning the brand name of the product the celebrity is endorsing. To my mind and to that of several other marketers, this is outright unethical. You have a choice to not accept an invitation. You also have a choice to attend the press conference and not carry any part of it. But to selectively carry the image of the endorser from the event without giving it due credit is shameful.


So there are four instances out of many that journalists and PR professionals face when encountering each other on a daily basis. These are not trivial problems. These need to be solved. As media relations gets trickier each day a system needs to be in place or the price will be too high to pay. There cannot be a free for all and there cannot be unfair PR professionals too.


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