Monday, April 19, 2010

The Public Relations Machinery

As a journalist, I deal with public relations (PR) people day in and day out. When I started my career around 10 years back, I used to get calls from PRs around once a week. 10 years later, I find that not a single day goes without getting atleast one call.

The PR industry has arrived; it's alive and kicking. They have become sassy, street smart and more polish. Young boys and girls do look at PR as a career opportunity now. On the flipside, they have become very aggressive. Looking at the number of calls I get in a day, it looks to me as a flourishing industry, pay scales notwithstanding and I am not aware of. The reality is, we've got to deal with it.

PRs have become sophisticated. But at the heart of every PR even today is this hunger to get maximum publicity for his / her client. The way they push their agendas have gone for a serious makeover, though. Earlier, PRs used to ask us openly "so when are you going to publish all this?" One PR women had the gall to ask me if a discussion that had just got over with a fund official in her presence would make it to my erstwhile magazine's cover!

Today, they are more polished in the way they talk to you. I have seen more polished PR people than journalists. They are driven by ambition. They are not ashamed to pick up the phone and striking up a conversation with journos they've never spoken to or seen before, but they talk as if they've known you for decades.

They don't leave you. Not that we want them to leave us all the time or anything, but a little bit of privacy in some of our meetings could be warranted. Increasingly, I find PR people arranging interviews or one-on-one meetings, if you like. Nothing wrong with that, but I don't appreciate if they are present in the meeting room. The ambiance of an informal catching up with industry people just gets lost there. Some even write voraciously whatever is being discussed. I wonder what they write so furiously. I would like to see some of those notes.

Some PR are genuinely cooperative. Like this one PR who told me frankly to deal with this mutual fund house (MF; since I cover the MF industry) to speak directly to its corporate communication because, guess what, even the PR is not spared of the usual garb "He's in a meeting" or "He's travelling bullshit" excuses. Or a handful of PRs who do not mind giving us the mobile numbers of fund managers or whoever they want us to talk to and take comments. This is a rare breed. Most don't give and prefer us to go through them. I can understand their reason; sometimes this bodes well for us, other times it does't.

Do they help? Yes and no. Most of them know where each journalist works, what beat s/he tracks and how they function. Some smart ones get accustomed to, quickly, the way each journo works and knows what sort of answers s/he looks for, the modus operandi and so on and are quick to deliver, accordingly. But there are also those irritating ones who have no idea of which journo is working where and covering what beat. They pick up the phone, call us and ask us our office's landline number and other such stupid questions. I hate stupid questions.

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