Wednesday, November 14, 2007

One-on-ones OR press conferences for all?

Press conferences repeatedly hijacked by TV channels

This is a question I find myself asking time and again when I land up at press conferences (PC) of mutual fund (MF) houses. Let me explain.

MFs usually invite media people from newspapers, magazines as well as TV for their PCs when they launch a new product or make an announcement. The usual practice is that the PC opens with a welcome note, big talks about their MF being one of the best, smartest, and how they do not launch many NFOs unlike everyone else (what bull!), etc etc. Then follows a presentation. After the PC, there is a brief Q&A session lasting about 10 minutes, followed by either lunch, dinner or high-tea, depending on the time of the PC.

I usually wait for the Q&A to get over and then go over to them to ask them questions. I prefer exclusivity of the answers to my questions. However, MFs have a bad habit. In an attempt to get that extra publicity, they go in for a series of one-on-one interviews, AFTER the PC & Q&A are over, with various TV channels present there. The TV channel cordons off the area surrounding the MF official and the interviewer so that press journalists cannot go there. As many TV channels are present there, that many MF officials get cornered. As a result, print journalists, like me, end up twiddling our thumbs starring at walls and large banquet rooms or worse, speaking to the PR people who wouldn't have much idea about the product (though that's not their fault).

I attended three PCs - two today (Franklin Templeton launching thier Asia equity fund, ICICI Prudential MF launching their real estate securities fund, and one yesterday (Sundaram BNP Paribas launching thier Energy thematic equity fund). Almost all prominent business channels had come too. Now, in Sundaram's PC, there were three fund officials who represented the MF; Ramkumar K, Debasish Chatterjee, and S Krishnakumar. Soon after the PC got over and the formality of exchanges visiting cards had just begun, when two of the above three were hijacked by TV channels. Even in Templeton's PC, their ever-reclusive fund manager R. Sukumar, who by the way NEVER speaks to the print journalists over telephone, was also unavailable to print journalists soon after the PC got over, but was all over the TV channels. He didn't even exchange his own visiting cards, he had his public relations person do that with us because apparently a TV channel was waiting for him to get ready.

I object to this practice. Agreed that sometimes TV channels have a slot in a show that is going to be telecasted minutes after that PC gets over, hence the need to go LIVE. MFs take this opportunity as they get to go LIVE on TV, as soon as the PC is over and the new product gets officially unveiled. But, if they are interested in going LIVE on TV, why call print journalists to the PC at all in the first place? Don't we have a right to seek answers from fund managers and the company? Are PCs meant only for TV channels? Pretty ladies from business TV channels walk up right to the CEO or fund manager at the dais, soon after the PC gets over and the informal interaction between MFs and media gets underway, and shamelessly seduce and lure them away to desolate corners of the banquet rooms to interview them on TV, while print journalists keep looking on.

It is high time that MFs stop this nonsense. Either call all journalists (print and TV) for a PC THAT IS OPEN TO ALL, or have just individual meetings with each publication if you want magazines and newspapers to cover your products. Please do not call everyone at your PCs and then choose to talk selectively. It's a waste of our time.

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