PR should stand up to scribes – Column in DNA

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Found this column in DNA. Felt it’s worth sharing.. Read on :D

Surekha Pillai: PR should stand up to scribes

Surekha Pillai | Sunday, August 28, 2011

One of the most exciting — and sometimes nerve wracking — events in the life of a PR fresher is when s/he is first assigned to an outstation project. I got my break a year after I joined a PR agency, when I was sent to Calcutta to coordinate three media interviews for an overseas client. I prepared well for the project, and the media outlets I had pitched to readily agreed to the interviews. I sent extensive briefing material to the journalists, reconfirmed the meetings, and finally reached Calcutta after enjoying what was my first flight experience.

After meeting the client, I reached the first media outlet — a leading newspaper in Calcutta — to pick up the journalist. I walked into the bustling business bureau where I was taken to the correspondent who was busy tapping away at the keyboard. I flashed a big smile, introduced myself and told him that the car was waiting outside. He looked up at me and casually said: “Oh I can’t make it. I’m busy, something has come up.” I froze for several seconds while he went back to his tapping.

After what seemed like an eternity, I managed a weak smile and reminded him that I had reconfirmed the interview the previous evening and the client who was waiting to meet him at the hotel had travelled from the US just for these meetings. Nothing happened. In a last-ditch effort, I requested him to send a colleague. “No one is free.” I walked out, sat on a bench and wept, battling visions of a furious client and a boss morphed into one fire-breathing dragon enveloping me in flames. I am not sure what made me do what I did next — perhaps it was fear — but I walked into the chief of bureau’s room and, in between tears, narrated what had happened and pleaded with him to assign someone. Luckily he did and the day was saved.

I experienced different versions of this event throughout my PR career. Once a trainee reporter was sent as a replacement to a business magazine editor to interview a global CEO, and asked him questions about competitor brands, assuming them to be from his company’s portfolio. A reporter once showed up over 90 minutes late for an interview with a company chairman after assuring me every five minutes that he would be reaching in the next five.

Then there was this time a TV journalist, after confirming the show she wanted to interview my client for, walked in without the camera crew and said she just wanted an informal chat. On another occasion, a show producer repeatedly assured me a journalist was on her way to meet my client — an Ambassador — as I continued to wilt under his glare. The journalist didn’t show up and I saved those SMSes for years as a reminder of how some journalists could deliberately mislead.

Another memorable incident comes from a time when a reporter from India’s top news daily demanded I leave the room in which the interview I helped set up (with a much-in-demand music director who hadn’t yet won an Academy Award) was being held. I refused to leave my client’s side. The interview took place and was soon followed up with a call from a shrieking editor of the entertainment supplement to my boss with an order that I call her up and apologise within the next 10 minutes. My boss was kind enough to pass on the message and leave the decision to me. I didn’t make the call mostly out of anger and partly from fear — the editor was known to be a terror.

The PR industry is replete with stories about journalists’ appalling levels of arrogance and unprofessionalism. While a large part of it could be attributed to their cocky assumption that the PR community needs them more than the other way round, much of it is also a result of PR professionals taking this impudence without protest. If no solution comes to mind, dear PR industry, a hunger strike to get media to accord due respect to PR might not be a bad idea. Anybody?

Pallavi Palan
Blogger at The Color Purple
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