Covid 19 and need for factual news|K2 Communications

COVID-19-the virus that brought back the era of factual news

The audiences across the country and demographics have tuned out due to sheer exhaustion. Here’s how a journalist turned PR pro looks at the journey for media coverage and how Covid-19 has brought the need for factual news in India to the forefront.

This is my 3rd year as a media and public relations strategist, offering my expertise to several brands including healthcare brands. Neither in my present nor in my previous journalist Avatar, I was testimony to a world that’s been turned over on its axis. The abnormality has only generated a revived appetite – a ravenous urge to feed on facts.

 

When I started as a journalist in 1997, we barely had internet, and smartphones were a distant dream. News and fact-based reporting were deeply valued across the country, and Twitterati didn’t even exist. Our world expanded beyond the mandatory 280 characters, and we were able to fit in our thoughts and opinions in a more elaborate, expressive manner.

 

My Views on News

It gave me immense pride to work in the news business. I was chasing real stories that mattered. It was when I decided to shift my career from news to public relations, the lines of journalism and marketing began to blur. I couldn’t ignore the mushrooming media platforms popping up around me, each having a different way of communicating to its audience. The content suddenly became king, but also a pauper since it had to be stretched, pulled, hashed, and hashtagged to make its presence felt in the feeding frenzy.

 

To add to my confoundment, the digital age and the “clickbait” side of business suddenly started taking priority over authentic, factual information. Graphics and videos started replacing words and editorialized programming took precedence over hard news. In the era of extensive graphic consumption, people can now see what they want to see, customized, and packaged to align with their individual personal values and beliefs.

 

Fast forward to 2020, and Covid-19 suddenly revamped the media landscape.

 

People sat up and started looking for the most relevant, accurate, and current information to protect themselves and their families. Be it the fear factor or fatigue, audiences no longer want the noise, they have again begun to prefer science over sensationalism, facts over fiction.

From the healthcare segment perspective, never before has healthcare communications and PR been so important. The humane sides of stories of real people, from corona warriors, frontline workers to the average Indian, the stories have made a comeback.

 

Also see: Corporate Communications Guidebook for navigating Coronavirus Crisis

The recent episode of Ayurveda major, Patanjali is a case in point where we are truly experiencing not just an unprecedented awareness and hunger for truth, the government has also been extremely quick in responding and allaying any kind of fears related to misinformation. The brand had to backtrack not just its claims, but it will also need to rethink on building its reputation and authenticity for its future product launches and campaigns.

 

The revitalized need for creating a conducive news environment has been augmented by the deluge and speed of information about the virus. It was overwhelming and confusing to the extent that newsrooms have an added burden of getting it right the first time, to avoid classic foot-in-mouth situations later.

 

So, how do I see it all unfolding for healthcare public relations? In my opinion, it means that if healthcare organizations are looking to continue being a trusted resource, our responsibility is to help them get it right to disseminate information to the press. We should stick with medical expertise, authentic and corroborated data, and patient stories. The bottom line is to maintain the honesty and integrity of all the information going out of our desks while ensuring that we can meet the basic tenets of “old school” journalism. Healthcare pitches need to be humble, gentle with as little propaganda as possible, and should resonate with the public emotions.

 

As a journalist turned PR professional, the past three months have been our moment to rise to the occasion and to help the real healthcare heroes shine. Never before have I seen such a wonderful synergy between newsrooms and newsmakers. The theme – to provide correct information at all possible costs has been valued and respected across the stakeholders. The partnership between healthcare organizations, PR teams, and news and media channels has been heartening and satisfying.

 

This being said, I feel that we may have reached the peak of the coronavirus coverage curve. Unlocking has ensured that COVID-19 fatigue is blatantly visible in news coverage. The time has come for all of us to respond to the call of returning to normal life as we knew it in 2019. The demand for entertaining, lighter, feel-good stories is rising, giving a break from the data induced dark and gloomy news.

 

Limited Attention Spans and the New Normal

If I could take one silver lining from the past few months it would be the return of my first love – “journalism”. This phase has also shaken me and reminded several of my peers to stick to our mission as a healthcare PR content strategists. We cannot deviate from the larger picture and must give the “normal” a fair chance to return in the era of limited attention spans. Across the channel of communication, from the organizations to PR companies and news and media companies, we have all happily agreed to slow down, cut through the noise, seek the truth, and stick to stories that truly matter!

 

This hunger for authentic and factual news is a good sign as it enables PR professionals and journalists to stick to accuracy in the context of fake news that has gripped the vast social media including the WhatsApp messaging service. Though fake news is rampant, there are also quick rebuttals of erroneous data and information. This is absolutely essential in the context of a blurred distinction between real news and fake news. There are journalists who have taken the responsibility upon themselves as ‘fact-checkers’ and built agencies and organizations to curb fake news on the social media and web. In print, unlike social media, as there is limited space to carry news and information, there is a natural tendency to carry only news that matters and news that is truthful. While web and social media have taken over news disengagement, it would be prudent to still believe in the old values of Print Media, which is seen as the source of trust on public matters, while the fact-checking on social media goes on. This combination of trust of the old world and the fact-checking of the new world will go a long way in building a new service that is authentic.

 

 

What’s a Journo doing in a PR agency?

What’s a Journo doing in a PR agency?

My experience as a journalist in a PR agency has been interesting. While I have learned many things about PR, there are a few things that the PR person can imbibe from a journalist. The central and most important concern for a journalist is the critical, questioning role that he or she plays, something broadly missing in a PR set up.

A journalist questions many “given and established truths”, while a PR person has to present a positive picture of an issue at hand. There is a fundamental difference between the journalist and PR person when it comes to a story – a journalist asks scores of questions of an issue and might not easily accept a standard position, while a PR person presents “neutral” or “positive” facts. The PR person describes the “critical questioning” as a “negative mindset” and the resultant story as a “negative story”, while the PR person would produce positive aspects of a given story or truth and handover a “positive story”.

This I will describe as the pivotal difference between journalism and PR – “critical-negative” versus “uncritical-positive”. This difference produces two very different versions of the same story – while the journalist will be described as a professional who cannot see the good side of things in society, the PR person will be described as a one-sided professional who cannot see the critical side of things.

In both cases though, the overall picture of a story may be missing. A broad concoction and mix of the two is perhaps the truthful and complete version of the story. Both journalists and PR persons will have to be humble to accept both vantage points for a good story to be out in public. I remember an academic who described negative views as news and positive views as Corporate Public relations. Bridging the one-sidedness on both sides is a challenge to both a journalist and a PR person. A journalist can play an advisory role in a PR agency and guide the PR craft to draft stories that will in some way balance the two perspectives – the critical and the positive.

An issue that would cause some unease in the relationship between journalists and PR persons is ghost-writing. Here again, a journo can play a crucial role. Typically, I find that authored articles or quotes for an industry story or even press releases written in advance of an event on behalf of clients is again in a positive mode.

What comes from a CEO’s desk cannot have critical elements. The authored article is written by the PR person on behalf of the client and only facts that reflect the client’s interest. A journalist on the other hand, if he or she is especially a columnist, can reflect both the critical and positive aspects to a column or an article. An authored article cannot do this. A Journo would once again ask many questions of the article or the quote composed, and bring a holistic touch to it.

The PR person is shackled by the client, while a journalist is not. This is not the personal mistake of a PR person, the nature of the PR industry itself is such. The media is free to question, while the PR set-up is an unfree microcosm of the client. There would naturally be a conflict of interest if the PR agency were to project anything else other than what a client wants.

You may ask what a journo then is doing in a PR place?

I would answer the same by saying that a journo can bring a more complete view of the work of a PR person. This is possible. In my experience, I have been able to question clients whenever we have had meetings and interviews with them prior to the preparation of an authored article or press release. I have asked questions of the client exactly like I would when I was a journo. I have asked questions that may also be uncomfortable for the client. The client would then tumble out with facts that would otherwise not have come out, thus lending a more comprehensive touch to the interview. All-roundedness is something that a journo can bring to the PR’s table. The resultant product would then be closer to a 360-degree view.

In the course of these interviews, I have met clients who can pound you with their attitude and those who are soft and polite. I happened to meet a real estate client from Mumbai, who interacted with us in a manner as though we didn’t even know a bit of what they were talking. They taunted us and pressured us with their “Mumbai attitude”, with not a care for decency and even made faces with some peculiar and crude eye expressions, dismissing us entirely.

When I and my colleagues started asking fundamental questions of their work and projects, they tended to either be defensive or even more aggressive. What I gathered from this experience was that if you are well informed and have knowledge about the subject, you can turn things around and even put them off. Towards the middle of the interview, I realised that nothing of their project had commenced in Bangalore nor did they have adequate basic facts about their own project. I came away with a lesson – if you are fairly knowledgeable and have a journalist sense in you, you can take on anybody. Coming from a journo background, you tend not to be defensive, you tend to be on the offensive. The clients had to withdraw from their offensive once it became clear that they did not have much to reveal while having loads of attitude to share.

Going gaga over the client and praising them sky-high would not be fair. A journalist would ground this kind of reporting by frontalising facts rather than praise. Whenever I have come across undue positive reports, I have made it a point to factualise the report more and remove the unnecessary adulation. This comes from the journalistic instinct that one carries into PR. This kind of difference or tussle is welcome at K2, which has given me the freedom to exercise my opinion freely and fairly. When you filter a report full of adjectives with facts, a journalist tends to project a more objective view of the issue or story at hand. This would be fair to the reader or viewer. When clients have been told of the need to be fair, there have been instances when they too have been nice to us and have acceded to such a stand.

I joined PR to see the other side of journalism – to understand the backend of journalism. I had apprehensions about whether I could survive as a journalist, but allaying all the fears, K2 has given me space to openly question many issues and offer a contrarian view to things. A journalist’s journey in PR is not wasted. You learn the art of balancing the critical (negative) and the uncritical (positive) and come away in the end with your convictions intact.

The author’s views expressed here are personal and do not reflect the views of the associated organisation.

About the author:

Prashanth – He brings on-board his enriched journalistic perspective to K2 communications. Armed with a Degree in Sociology and a Masters in Philosophy Research from the University of Hyderabad, where his thesis was on Human Rights, his vast experience in the field of writing, reporting and editing in print media is highly valued and appreciated by our clients.

Consumer PR- No, it’s not Marketing!

How Consumer PR is different from marketing. By K2 Communications.
Public Relations is the missing piece of the puzzle to marketing efforts in reaching out to consumers.

Public relations revolve around the use of news and content to put forth a message about a product, a business, an organization or an endeavour using an effective medium to reach out to consumers. Over the years, PR has taken a lot of faces depending on the effectiveness of the communication channels. Public relations are all about storytelling and shaping a company’s image. But with technological advancements interfering and reshaping every aspect of communications and interaction, it is only fair to ask whether PR is really storytelling, non-advertising, image-shaping tool that we have known it to be?

For consumers, as well as for companies, the influence of effective public relations has been able to withstand the test of time. As companies aim for more ambitious depths in reaching out to the customers, more and more focus is shifting towards building and gaining an audience.

Public relations provide a fascinating and opportunistic landscape for building a brand. 

A consumer relations program is not a marketing initiative. Consumer relations program aims at developing positive relationships with consumers rather than selling a certain number of products. The loyalty won may help in higher sales; consumer relations is more of a public relations job than that of marketing.

The line between Marketing and Public Relations often gets blurred. Public relations and marketing do share some basic concepts like research methodology, finding the right target audiences, communication, and action plans as well as evaluation of various outcomes. Despite these similarities, the two have a fundamental difference, and that is while marketing is all about the product and is highly field-specific, PR is much broader.

PR takes into account aspects overlooked by marketing, like internal relations, surrounding environment and non-consumers in it, and overall consumer behaviour. Public relations require a deep understanding of the role each of these aspects plays within an organization. Public relations and marketing need to realign themselves and attempt to create a whole new field – “relationship marketing.” 

Relationship Marketing:

Relationship marketing is all about understanding that consumers make buying decisions based on their habit. The underlying principle is that customers want to be served, not sold. Usually, while making a purchase decision, consumers look for the following things:

  • Quality
  • Handling customer complaints
  • Crisis management
  • Safety of the product
  • Trading and business practices

Relationship marketing must work in the direction of delighting customers, so they become regular, repeat and loyal consumers. If you promise a consumer some benefits, they must meet consumer’s expectations and also maintain the customer base and handle service requests.

In today’s competitive environment, a company’s success depends on understanding your customers and exceeding their demands for service. With the internet, the world is shrinking, and it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate products. Profitability of a business depends on its ability to find, expand and retain valuable customers.

Everyone knows that it is far more cost-effective to build loyalty than to keep replacing existing customers. Valuing customers and making consumer relations a vital part of an organization’s PR strategy is extremely important as it helps tackle consumer issues effectively and create positive company perceptions.

Public relations involve communicating with the public, and your business will be subjected to a range of ethical and legal considerations. Every message released influences consumers’ opinions about you. Therefore, the public statements should be consistent with your brand and key messages.

If your PR efforts are focussed on crisis communications, you will be required to managing your reputation because of the situation or the issue. Effective consumer relations will help you tide over even the trickiest of the situations with ease.

How to launch an effective consumer PR campaign?

Staying true to your ethics and yet reasonably satisfy all consumers sounds like a tightrope walk. Maintaining one’s credibility while reducing the risks for potential damages to your reputation is very critical. Here are some tips:

  • Staying honest and consistent with your messages. Consumers today can easily make out double standards, distorted facts, and hypocritical statements.
  • Steer clear from paid media coverage. Effective consumer PR thrives on independent, third-party reports, stories and information. If you have to pay for good press, which means something is wrong at the very fundamental level with your product or service.
  • Maintain graceful composure with your competitors. Keeping your criticisms and disagreements with your competitors out of the spotlight is a great PR tactic.
  • Create platforms to interact with consumers. Consumers today want companies to be more proactive and keep up with their demands, or be left behind. As customers are turning to social media to communicate, it is imperative the companies reach out to them there.
  • Prepare a detailed digital PR plan- Today’s consumer engages with companies to give feedback, ask questions and discuss features, affecting their buying decisions. You can use this information that you gain during interactions and build relationships rather than just talking online. Growing relationships and attracting customers should be a part of the digital strategy of any PR effort.
  • Get influencers on board. Reliable third parties, backing the brand is a valuable function of consumer PR. It could be through a paid or unpaid agreement. Getting a brand an honourable mention or good reviews is the hallmark of effective digital PR.

Consumer PR is all about translating what the company wants to say and relay it in a manner that it becomes what consumers want to hear. Consumer PR is a company’s most valuable asset in today’s market. It helps a company position itself for success and weather the storms in the future.

Background photo created by mindandi – www.freepik.com<a href=”http://Designed by mindandi / Freepik“>http://<a href=”http://www.freepik.com”>Designed by mindandi / Freepik</a>

About the author:

Prashanth – He brings on-board his enriched journalistic perspective to K2 communications. Armed with a Degree in Sociology and a Masters in Philosophy Research from the University of Hyderabad, where his thesis was on Human Rights, his vast experience in the field of writing, reporting and editing in print media is highly valued and appreciated by our clients.