THE PATHETIC STATE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS

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THE PATHETIC STATE OF PUBLIC RELATIONS

“Good morning, Sekhar! Is this a good time to talk?”

For one thing, it’s not morning – it’s 3 p.m, the middle of my siesta which, I’ve told every PR person I know, is from 1 to 3. For another, we have never met: what gives this bubbly infant the right to call me by my first name? Whatever happened to good old ‘Sir’ or at least ‘Mr Seshan’?! Or even ‘Uncle’, as the shopkeepers and auto-rickshaw drivers call me – on second thoughts, maybe not that much familiarity either…

Ok, I grunt. You have called, so tell me.

“Sekhar, my name is Anu, from Expert PR. This is about my client Zip Inc. Would you like to meet them and do a story?”

What, I ask patiently, does Zip Inc. do? Ah, what a fool this senior business journalist is! Obviously, they make zips.

Are they based in Pune, where I live? No, they are in Jhumritalia – but no problem, we can arrange a telecon. I don’t like telecons with people whom I’ve never met face to face at least once; but I let that pass – I can always travel if the story is interesting enough.

How many do they produce? Are they a listed company? What is their turnover?

“Um, I’ll have to get back to you on that, Sekhar. If you are interested in the story, I’ll send you all the details.”

Now let’s get this straight: She, Anu from Expert PR, has called me – not the other way round, with me seeking information about her client about whom I want to write. She has done NO homework, none at all?

No, thank you! I’m not interested.

Unfazed, Anu: “Okay, Sekhar – another time! Have good day!” And I try to go back to my nap.

Anyway, she sends me an e-mail: with my ID spelt correctly, but my name spelt wrong: “Hi, Shekhar!” Now how do you manage to do that? If you can get it right once, what happens the second time? Why don’t you understand that my name is my only real possession? Not my job, my house, my money – however little that may be? And I’m really very sorry that my father decided to spell it the way it is – but accept it! Actually, I’d even offered someone once that I’d officially change the spelling, and get a Government Gazette notification to the effect – but they backed off and began spelling it right…

Cut to a grand 10th anniversary conference of a major association of PR professionals (that’s what they call themselves, anyway). There’s a classily produced invitation card that runs to four pages, an impressive list of speakers, and a good hotel where the hall hired is big enough for 2,000-odd guests – and is overflowing. Big success? Of course!

Behind the scenes: the keynote speaker, whom the association has invited, arrives outside. He is greeted outside the hall by a senior office-bearer of the host body, who takes him aside for a quick word. Unfortunately (or do they care?) a fly on the wall is privy to the conversation.

“Good morning, Mr David! Good of you to accept our invitation and come.” His name is David Martin; but there are no surnames in South India – so why should the official bother about the fact that the celebrity speaker is known as ‘Mr Martin’ in the rest of the world? Let that pass – what follows is hilarious, or tragic depending on how you look at it.

“Mr David, can you please tell me something about yourself so that I can pass it on to our President when she is introducing you?”

David Martin rolls his eyes, talks about his beginnings in journalism and his big scoop. He has to spell the word ‘scoop’ three times, slowly, so that the official can write it down.

“And I also believe you wrote a book?”

‘Believe’? If you didn’t know that little fact, why did you call him in the first place?

Anyway: “Yes, actually I’ve written four books. The first, Holes in the System, was on my big journalistic scoop – S, C, O, O, P. The second, Plugging the Holes, was a follow-up, a sequel. And…”

“Thank you, Mr David – that is enough. I’ll just write this neatly and pass it on to Madam.”

Cut again, to PR ‘follow-up’ calls. “Just a gentle reminder, Mr Seshan (wow, now we are being formal, are we?), about our press conference over lunch today. We sent you the invitation last night.”

Today? Last night? Did you seriously think that your client is important enough for a senior editor of a leading business magazine to drop everything else and rush over for a free lunch? Oh, I understand – you got the information late! Do you expect me to believe that the five-star hotel where you are holding the press conference is so starved for business that it gave you or your client a booking when you called last night to ask for a hall this morning?

“Sorry it is such short notice, but we’ll provide transport. There’s a car picking up Akhila, Deepak and Ejaz. But you are the farthest away, so we’ll send the vehicle to you first, and then you can pick them up and come to the venue.” No thank you! I know Akhila and Ejaz are always on time, but Deepak? We’ll have to wait outside his apartment building, going back and forth because there is no parking on that crowded road, till he finally comes down.

After the event – ‘one-on-one’ meeting, or press conference: “Hi, can you tell me when the story will appear? My client wants to know.” If your client has a schedule, he should take – and pay for – an ad. With below-the-line activity like PR, things happen when they happen, if they happen.

Even worse: “Can you send us a copy when it appears?” Look I don’t know if I’m going to even write the story. If I do, I don’t know if it will be carried. And if it is carried, I am NOT going to send you a copy. It’s your job to monitor the media and report to your client – that’s what you are paid for, na?

PR? The ‘P’ seems to stand for ‘Poor’ – or, as my heading says, ‘Pathetic’!

Sekhar Seshan

Author & Journalist at LARGE
Consulting Editor, BUSINESS INDIA
Consulting Editor, CORPORATE TYCOONS
Member, Editorial Board, BUSINESS FOR ALL
Co-author, HUMAN RESOURCE MANAGEMENT – THE HUMAN FACE
Co-author, NO HOLY COWS IN BUSINESS – 9 PRINCIPLES OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP


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