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.

My language, My rules: Integrating Vernacular Languages in Public Relations in India

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’

Nelson Mandela

With 23 major languages in India, written in 13 different scripts, with over 720 dialects, linguistic diversity has never been a bigger challenge for public relations professionals anywhere in the world.

There are sound reasons for the existence of such diverse languages, yet most public relations companies appear to be intimidated by the complexity of the socio-demographic landscape.

Public relations executives swear by taking the safe route and cater for majority understanding, creating all campaigns and communications in English, only to realise that perhaps they should also be valuing the vernacular, creating content in mother-tongue and cashing in on the ensuing return-on-investment (ROI).

Value of vernacular communications

Whether it is writing a press release or a pitch note, authored articles or trend stories, use of effective vernacular communication in public relations helps inculcate cultural insight, nuance, and context. It helps a PR manager show that their client and the brand understand and resonate with their consumers.

Vernacular public relations can help build long-lasting and profitable relationships of trust with their market. Vernacular communication has the potential to add huge value to a brand. Global brands can successfully localise, and local brands can become more relevant to their target market if they talk in the language their customers can relate to.

Using local language helps in ensuring a high level of engagement, respect, and understanding of the targeted customer. The emotional connect that vernacular comments, quotes bring has a positive impact on the overall brand equity.

Readers place extra value on native advertising and place trust in it in a way that they may not necessarily feel about an English campaign, as most people in the country still converse and often think, in their mother-tongue. Talking in their mother tongue instils a sense of pride and ownership which far outweighs the initial investment of creating a vernacular campaign.

Innovation in Public Relations in the era of globalisation

Vernacular public relations offers an opportunity to view a PR campaign from a new angle and provides a lot of scope for true innovations in the way communications are handled.

The world is becoming a global market for companies who have a common goal- to sell their products or services to as many consumers as possible. Globalisation also means that companies are now addressing an incredibly diverse target, with many different languages, and more importantly- cultures. International Public relations in the new millennium is about understanding, accommodating and harnessing the cultural differences for global brand building.

Telecommunication (Telcos) , consumer durable companies as well as FMCG companies today engage with the consumer speaking a language of the masses.

K2 communications recently achieved noteworthy success for a healthcare client by refocusing the PR strategy with a focus on vernacular media. By retargeting the release with regional translated press releases, the client witnessed astounding ROI on their PR efforts in a short period of time.

Vernacular Public Relations- a must have across all mediums

Native public relations is significant because the target audience is given eh content they want to consume. The challenge on content creation for vernacular language is on the written side, especially for native quotes, comments, and press releases. From the cost perspective as well, it is easier and cheaper to create vernacular language content. Your target audience no longer wants just to read, they want to watch contextual, real-time, user-generated content.

In a country where only 10% of total population interacts in English, and only 74% are literate, the message from a PR desk needs to jump through several hoops of communication distortion- illiteracy, lack of connecting, contextual misunderstanding or pure ignorance. The challenge is to remain impactful, relevant and cross the language barrier to reach the target audience without distorting the core values of a brand.

Vernacular content is also becoming a big mantra for successful digital marketing. Traditional PR methods neither expect nor ask the audience to think. However, they do want the public to respond- a feeling, an impression, a desire, and finally a commitment to take some action but ironically, unless all the fodder conveyed in a language the target understands, it does not result in any thought.

To effectively influence attitudes,  and outcomes in the public domain, including the crucial public opinion and reputation management, PR executives must keep a tab on the local pulse.

According to a 2017 report by KPMG and Google, “Indian Languages — Defining India’s Internet,” there were 234 million Indian-language internet users and 175 million English users in 2016. By 2021, the gap between the two groups is expected to widen. Users of Indian languages are expected to more than double to 536 million, while English users will increase to only 199 million. Nine out of 10 new internet users between 2016 and 2021 will use local languages, said the report. (Source)

As the Indian technology industry builds the internet for the next 1 billion non-English users friendlier public relations communication strategies are the only way forward for the brands looking to reach out.

It, therefore, makes business sense for Public relations companies to encourage their clients to become pan-Indian, linguistically.

  • Additional Resource: Ordinary People Can Reason: A Rhetorical Case for including Vernacular Voices in Ethical Public Relations Practice, Calvin L. Troup Journal of Business Ethics Vol. 87, No. 4 (Jul. 2009), pp. 441-453

  • Image source: Mashable India

    About the Author:

    Bulbul Satsangi – She is a Digital Strategy Consultant at K2 Communications Pvt. Ltd. A Finance professional in her previous avatar, Bulbul, entered the arena of content writing to soothe her creative energy. In the past 5 years, she has worked on all the aspects of the internet and helped many businesses establish their online identity.

How social media and big data are changing the game of Indian politics

Standing by Jim Morrison’s words, “Whoever controls the media controls the mind,”

We have been witnessing a drastic evolution in the way political campaigns have changed rapidly in the digital world.
India accounts for one of the largest social media markets in the world. A handful of tech-savvy politicians are adeptly taking social media by the storm to have the edge over others as technology, social media, and big data are playing a pivotal role in connecting with the voters.
Gone are the days, when a politician could live from one election to the next without bothering to engage the citizenry of his constituency. An increasingly demanding citizen population seeks a more responsive and transparent representation from the elected representatives. This necessitates constant participation of the electorate, being sensitive to their sentiments and acting accordingly in parliament – to deliver their expectations.
Today, you can not expect your fan base to follow you blindly. Citizens prefer social media over traditional media as the latter lacks active engagement.
When the whole world is moving towards digitalization for creating a better brand for themselves can any political party, however famous or powerful it may be, afford to harm its image? No, not even unintentionally!
The situation is such that any political party, irrespective of its size could be shown the door if there is no accountability and transparency in their work.
World over, the ‘political power’ of the digital media was first realized and harnessed almost a decade ago by politicians like Barack Obama, Narendra Modi and David Cameron (through their official accounts).
Closer home, Shashi Tharoor was one of the first politicians of India who started tweeting and got his share of ridicule for being active on a public forum despite holding an office.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has taken over Twitter by addressing grievances, rescuing Indians in distress abroad, impressing her foreign counterparts with prompt replies and luring Twitter fans with her witty, humorous and personalized tweets.
Trump’s victory in American elections is a reminder of how things can be turned around through digital messaging, data mining and public perception. It is the inherent desire of every single candidate to repeat this mysterious win of Donald Trump and his election campaigning.
Technology has reshaped the way the world communicates. So, while the use of digital communication channels or social media to reach the electorate is now commonplace – citizens are now turning back and using the same technology to demand accountability & drive transparency in governance.
From crises management to figuring reactions of the public, the new-age digital tools are fast replacing age-old door-to-door campaigns, questionnaires, and tele-surveys. Social media has created an ecosystem where voters, candidates, communities and party workers are all inter-connected. Serious debates or political disputes, reactions and opinions expressed online can help to build a digital footprint successfully indicating public perception. Additionally, politicians in India have also come a long way to create personal brands through personalized public communication.
Now a new era in “electioneering” is here that promises to change the way elections are fought from here on which uses scientific data analytics to real-time monitor people’s reactions in policy, politics, and crises to turn the wind around before it’s too late. Barack Obama was among the first to adopt big data as a differentiator in the elections during his campaign in 2012.
Data is exploding rapidly all around you. The trick lies in converting it from scattered formats to refined goals. Political pundits being well aware of the immense potentialities of this media in shaping public perception are making maximum use of the platform to give wings to their dreams. With the humungous growth in internet penetration and the growing evidence of recent electoral victories being shaped by effective social media campaigns, it will not be wrong to say that the digital footprint and social media conversations would potentially play a significant role in driving the shape of our politics and predict the future of our country.

About the author:

Sumit Jain -He has been associated with K2 communications for more than 11 years to date. A PGDBA from Christ University, his passion for everything related to PR has been instrumental in K2’s growth. He is a multi-tasker who spearheaded the servicing team while working on multiple accounts.

Framing- a double-edged sword in PR content strategizing?

A study by Pratt, Ha, and Pratt (2002) of the representation of diseases in the media in Africa showed that the media often used negative and derogatory descriptions when reporting on diseases such as HIV/AIDS. In contrast, they used no negative terms or examples and no derogatory language in reporting on diseases such as tuberculosis. As a consequence of the way in which the media framed the topic in a negative light, it is likely that people with HIV/AIDS were seen in a negative way by people who heard or read the reports. Tuberculosis patients were more likely to have received sympathy from those same people.

We have all seen examples of how framing works – most recently, the killing of a man-eating tigress which hurtled the government-appointed father-son hunter duo in an unwarranted media frenzy. The animal rescue groups applied framing, and the two reputed rescuers and experts unknowingly slid down in public perception as villains.

Or how certain advertisements almost always end up showing a woman as a doctor wearing a white coat and talking about how a product is safe for her own children, is a classic example of how framing works as people can relate to these images and their perception changes to suit the marketer’s goal. (No doctor would lie when it comes to her own children!)

The power of language as a tool in effective communication has long been prized in effective PR. Whether it is rhetoric, argument, or persuasion, words have always helped shape mindsets. When it comes to communicating the value of a brand or a company’s image, an excellent copy helps create the right picture.

OR so we thought.

New developments in cognitive science show that the human brain may not be as receptive to information as we have always thought. In his noted book ” Don’t Think of an Elephant,” noted neuroscientist George Lakoff, explains that human brains create embedded neural structures, which he calls “frames” which are nothing but neurons that trigger our thoughts as responses to stimuli. These “frames” are mainly a person’s worldview, their perception of reality.

The implication of all this is that “IDEAS are of primary importance, and humans often respond to language that lines up with their preconceived principles.”

As per Lakoff, communication is not necessarily about trying to sway someone over to “your side” of viewpoint or coerce them to get convinced of your message. The key, as per Lakoff, to effective communication is to identify the framed perspective of whomever your target customer is, what kinds of values that frame leads those people to use when they process the information.

How does PR applies framing?

Framing manifests in thought or interpersonal communication. Depending on the audience and what kind of information is being presented, framing in communication can be positive as well as negative.

Press-releases- In mass-media, a frame defines the packaging of an element of rhetoric in such a way as to encourage certain interpretations and to discourage others. Sometimes framing is used in the form of presenting facts in such a way that implicates a problem that is in need of a solution. In communications, framing defines how news media coverage shapes mass opinion.

Events- While sharing information about an event, for example, the understanding often depends on the frame referred to. But you cannot just apply a “frame” to an event. Every individual would try to project to the world the interpretive frames that allowed them to make sense of the event. Therefore, to show an event in the “light” that you wish the target audience to see or ignore and move on, you may need to work on their frames and try and align it so they can look at your perspective.

Framing Techniques in PR-An Example

PR agencies are often seen encouraging some stories and interpretations while discouraging the others.  This is not to say that most PR is about lying or consciously distorting the truth. More so, that by highlighting particular stories, using specific sources from a particular news angle, public relations agencies are constructing reality through a selective process. What is presented is often influenced by work practices, resource constraints, and sensitivity of the matter to shareholders as well as management.

When an event is explained and understood by the comparison of the frame with other frames, gradually a frameshift happens. Framing is like a mental shortcut and is often the exact opposite to the rational choice theory in psychology.

 

A classic example of framing is the pollution- look at how this issue has been framed:

Pollution as a law and order frame- Most vehicle owners are callous about going for regular PUC (pollution under control) checks. The present infrastructure does not support so many vehicles during peak hours leading to traffic snarls. The need for public transport has not been answered efficiently. The journalist on this beat could involve social, political and government and even police representatives for opinions, sound bites, and more.

Pollution as a health issue- The keyframing is how the increasing pollution is affecting the health of commuters or causing health concerns in broader society. A pulmonologist may be interviewed to discuss the health issues and courses of treatment; health minister might be asked to comment on the subject and ways and measures by the government to tackle them.

Pollution as a social problem- Here, pollution may be framed as a social issue connected with class, and dysfunctional society. How households now have 3 or more cars, sometimes one vehicle per family member – pointing towards the substantial rich-poor divide. How the low diesel prices have affected the sale of diesel cars in the past and how these have contributed more to the pollution. Car manufacturers, customers, and even economists and town planners could be brought in to influence public perception and create the right framing.

 

Pollution in a positive light- this is a less common frame, but an unconventional way to project something that is perceived as extremely dangerous and harmful by the public in a different frame. How the pollution motivated people to burst fewer firecrackers on Deepavali, or how the car rental aggregators came up with ideas like car-pooling or sharing the cabs. The ‘harm reduction’ efforts by the corporate could be emphasized here.

 

 

Key lessons for the PR industry:

Framing is strongly impacted by the language that is used to describe given events or critical features of a given story. Language serves as the cognitive framework through which we understand and make sense of the world around us, and apply the same to make sense of the news about a given event or a story.

Using the correct language is the key- a headline, in a reputed national daily about how a plane, flown by an Indian pilot crashed soon after takeoff raised a considerable furor in social media as well as other platforms. Every word could have huge implications in shaping public perceptions, inciting stereotypes, and validating or marginalizing a particular character of the story.

Corporate media has to be more vigilant- In a corporate media environment; consumers of news cannot rely solely on the packaging of news stories. Considering the state of the media landscape today, PR firms should be prepared to ask probing questions such as what are the reasons behind how a story is being packaged or presented and rule out hidden or disguised biases and even stereotypes.

Staying away from negative framing- Putting a negative spin on the news because otherwise, it wouldn’t be newsworthy is a dangerous way of applying PR principles. If PR agencies resort to “If it bleeds, it reads” public perception may be influenced at initial stages, but sooner than later, people would see through the negative frame and would shun the news and beliefs altogether.

Typology of Seven Models of Framing Applicable to Public Relations*

 

What is framed    Description
Situations Relationships between individuals in situations found in everyday living and literature. Framing of situations provides a structure for examining communication. Applies to discourse analysis, negotiation, and other interactions.
Attributes Characteristics of objects and people are accentuated, whereas others are ignored, thus biasing the processing of information in terms of focal attributes.
Choices Posing alternative decisions in either negative (loss) or positive (gain) terms can bias choices in situations involving uncertainty. Prospect theory suggests people will take greater risks to avoid losses than to obtain

gains.

Actions In persuasive contexts, the probability that a person will act to attain the desired goal is influenced by whether alternatives are stated in positive or negative terms.
Issues Social problems and disputes can be explained in alternative terms by different parties who vie for their preferred definition a problem or situation to prevail
Responsibility Individuals tend to attribute the cause of events to either internal or external factors, based on levels of stability and control. People portray their role in events consistent with their self-image in ways that maximize benefits and minimize culpability. People attribute causes to personal actions rather than systemic problems in society.
News Media reports use familiar, culturally resonating themes to relay information about events. Sources vie for their preferred framing to be featured through frame enterprise and frame sponsorship.

Adapted from Seven Models of Framing: Implications for Public Relations by Kirk Hallahan, Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University  JOURNAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH, 11(3), 205–242 Copyright © 1999, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Framing is an effective strategy that helps public relations agencies determine where the audience puts its attention. The key to reaching others is not a great press copy or an amazing advertisement- but knowing the language that speaks to their frame, and using those exact same words to activate their frame and then allow them to see the issue from your perspective.

About the author:

Shiv Shankar – He is the Executive Director & Founder of K2 Communications. Under his astute leadership, K2 Communications has developed into a frontrunner among PR agencies that incessantly delivers excellent regional and national PR support to clients belonging to various sectors including government, IT, education, consumer, and healthcare.

Indian Millennial—Challenges for Digital PR

Indian millennial—born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s—will become the largest of any country by 2021. They will become 64 percent of the Indian population in the working-age group of 20-35, according to the 2013-14 Economic Survey. That makes more than the 503 million populace of the European Union and twice that of the US.

How different are they?  How unlike in the past, this generation is radically different: they’re the best-educated generation in independent India, and they remain always connected. Technology, media, and telecommunications (the TMT grouping) attract them more than any other industry. For Gen Y, Digital is a way of life.

Indian PR needs to respond to these changes fast. That’s where Digital PR for millennials must evolve. And digital PR executives must evolve too or get left out.PR needs of this era must be tuned to suit this generation. That brings you to ‘Millennial PR’.

How do we engage in PR for a generation that would rather scroll through Facebook than flip through a newspaper? How do we reach out to an audience that can never leave their smartphones? Well, if you can’t beat them, then join them. Take your PR to their platforms. Focus on getting your message across Facebook, Twitter, Buzzfeed, etc.

Millennials have a strong appetite for consuming media—they spend on average 54 hours a week, compared to a non- millennial’s average of 56. But not all these hours are spent on traditional media.

A report by LEK Consulting says that the millennials spend two-thirds of this time on smartphones, tablets, and laptops. That means this generation spends the least amount of time on traditional media than any other generation. Now, this is what challenges the Digital Media most.

The major source of news for today’s largest audience –the millennial, is social media. Millennial devour news from Facebook, Twitter, and whatnot. A study by Media Insight Project says more than 60% of the millennials use social media as the sole source of their news. Social Media has overtaken Print, Television, and Radio. So, today’s PR executive must have a firm grip on these platforms. They must go after what draws the millennial from these platforms.

A survey by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Research says 51% of millennials access the news via social media. This is not good news for traditional PR methods. Across 26 countries, 44% of Facebook users go onto the site, via the app or website, for their news. This is followed by 19% for YouTube. Are you tuned into these trends?

These millennial — 62 percent of them agree that they will look favorably at a brand or business if they engaged with them on social media. So a Digital PR executive must convince his or her client of the importance of social media. Millennials hold the enormous spending power in their hands. Bring this fact to your client.

Of course, traditional PR will always remain relevant. Any mention in a mainstream media brings instant recognition of a brand. So you better find a perfect balance of traditional and digital PR.

Digital PR Executive must remember that opening a Facebook page or tweeting your client’s regular updates will not enthuse the millennial. To reach this increasingly important demographic, Digital PR must follow a few strategies to keep up their attention.

“Influencers”

The best brands don’t just push out content across social media. The effective brands reach out to Millennial by relying on “influencers”—user-generated content which influences their view of a brand. Posting content is not an issue anymore—it’s influencing others to publish about your client’s brand.

Click here to know how influencers can help keep brands relevant during a crisis.

Engage in Communication

Millennials hate one-way communication. They want to reply or respond instantly to something that engaged their attention. They’re also flattered if they received a prompt response from companies about their concern. So reach out to them through Facebook, Twitter, or through discussion threads of any popular news site.

Reach out to Millennial in Different Ways

Millennials rely on technology by using various devices like mobile, computers, and anything they can lay their hands on. They also appreciate it if you engage with them through various platforms like apps, e-mail, or Whatsapp. A Digital PR executive must publish alongside press releases infographics, blogs, vlogs, YouTube videos, and much more. Check with third party measurement sites to grasp the effect of the campaign.

Digital PR to the Millennial is not another strategy. It’s the most important game plan to stay relevant in today’s challenging PR campaigns.

About the agency:

K2 Communications Pvt Ltd – is India’s leading Public Relations agency headquartered at Bengaluru. Now in its 15th year of successful PR, K2 has registered its presence in more than 45 locations across the country as a public relations company rooted in India but with a global outlook. K2 has an enviable list of clients to its credit- Wipro Limited is the leader of our client brigade for more than a decade. The other names that we can boast of having a long-term association are Azim Premji University, BASE Education, Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting (FMCG), House of Hiranandani, Columbia Asia Hospitals, AO Smith and Trio World Academy, to name a few.

Click here to check out our work.