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Guest Column: Of Deadlines and Headlines-B N Kumar

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Guest Column: Of Deadlines and Headlines-B N Kumar

It is important for clients to understand the functioning of media which has been rapidly changing. Cut throat competition and the race for TRPs and breaking news have made the lives of journalists miserable. They function out of fear, always – the fear of missing their deadlines and the fear of competition scoring, writes B N Kumar, Executive Director -Concept PR. 

Legendary cricketer Sunil Gavaskar says about cricket, it’s not over until it’s over! This applies even to a PR consultancy today. Exaggeration it may sound, but the fact is that a PR professional’s job is not over until he does not hear from a journalist for a quote of one of the former’s clients.

Even as we start packing for the day, we invariably get a text message or an email asking for an urgent quote on some issue or the other.

Every professional has a deadline and journalists seem to have worse deadlines. While many journalists do give reasonable time, say 24 hours, for a client to respond, some have developed the habit of coming with pressing deadlines – sometimes even less than couple of hours. For a journalist, the question might appear to be simple, but from our client’s perspective, the issue would need deep thinking, long consultation with lawyers and then the compliance issues.

Client might as well ask: “Why can’t the damn journalist wait for a day, what’s the tearing hurry?” And the journalist would insist: “I want the response now. My story can’t wait.”

The result: PR consultant is caught between the proverbial devil and the deep sea.

If the response does not go within the deadline, the journalist has all the freedom to write, “Despite emails and repeated phone calls, the company or its spokesperson did not comment.” And a clarification, if any, that is sent the next day may appear in an obscure corner.

Funny it may appear, certain TV journalists have learnt the knack of sending queries late in the evening following up a story that appeared in the day’s morning newspaper. Like Rip Wan Winkle, they seem to wake up after 12 hours and dash out an urgent mail.

Isn’t there a solution to such tricky situations? Do clients and PR agencies have to keep on suffering?

Like an adage that as old as the hills goes, if there is a problem, there is a solution. It is important for clients to understand the functioning of media which has been rapidly changing. Cut throat competition and the race for TRPs and breaking news have made the lives of journalists miserable. They function out of fear, always – the fear of missing their deadlines and the fear of competition scoring.

Since I have been a journalist, I can imagine their predicament. The news is the most perishable commodity and journalists, in most cases, cannot afford to wait till the next day if they get a whiff of a development. This is because the same whiff could also be felt by others in the field.

Managements, on their part, have to understand the changing styles of media functioning. PR consultants or corpcom managers ought to keep updating their managements.

One may well argue that ‘Ghar Ki Murgi Daal Barabar’ and some managements may not take in-house talent very seriously. In that one can go for outsourcing and invite senior journalists over a cup of coffee to discuss the latest trends. We can also take the help of senior-journalists-turned media trainers

I have another solution for tackling the last minute queries and pressing deadlines. We as PR consultants need to understand the history of crisis in a company and check what corrective measures have been taken earlier. Managements have to do their bit by walking-the-talk. For instance, as a construction company if you have promised to improve safety systems, you ought to do that. You can’t afford another service lift accident and blame it on the contractor.

A set of crisis related FAQs will also come handy to tackle media queries. All that a PR consultant has to do is to just intelligently tweak the response and make a draft for the client.  It is much easier to get approvals of readymade responses than waiting endlessly for the response.

Meet media deadlines to get your headline.

All these may appear simple, but to implement them is a herculean task.

Our typical marketing budget is usually 10 per cent of the topline spend

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