When I was a teenager, an uncle suggested that I should take up PR as a profession. I asked him: “What is PR?” My uncle quipped: “Wining and dining with famous people, wooing handsome clients, attending exotic dinner meetings, travelling, and talking — lots of talking!” I never forgot his suggestion and I did make talking — lots of talking — my profession.
Not that it has been easy. A recent study by CNBC/CareerCast ranked PR as the second-most stressful job of 2011 (airline pilots took top honours). So, yes, PR can be stressful. After all, the right pitch has to be timed just right for the right reporter if you want to see your story placed in the right medium. But isn’t life all about meeting challenges?
PR, let me make it clear, is a mixed bag of goodies: in addition to containing many things you love, that goodie bag might also hold chocolates you hate in the form of a few annoying clients, some stuck-up journalists, and two or three articles in which your client has been misquoted or where the wrong words have been put in your mouth. But when you get to travel to beautiful places, live in fancy hotels, “hang out” with famous celebrities, get articles published regularly in the best of publications, and you are showered with praise aplenty from the people who really matter, believe me, it’s worth it.
For me, PR is not only about getting media coverage, though it is one of the most important aspects; PR is strategic communications, as Sai Sir has always explained it to me. It’s about creating different strategies for different clients depending on their needs. For example, if your client is a start-up, you should plan a PR burst that will mainly concentrate on building media relations and getting media coverage. Introduce your client to the media and your target audience with a bang. Say, “We have arrived!”
And that should be the key message delivered.
But when your client is a restaurant which, having been in the market for a few years, is now seeking brand recognition and brand recall, the plan can have PR events and coverage around them to create a buzz. You might want to create special nights on weekdays to drive more traffic, and organise special property events on weekends to attract new customers.
Innovation, creativity, passion, and persistence are a few things that help you to stand out in the PR industry. But be warned: there’s hardly any method to this madness. It’s a battlefield where there are many others trying to hunt down the same accounts you want.
PR FOR A NON-PROFIT ORGANISATION
I started my career two-and-a-half years ago with the Bangalore-based India Foundation for the Arts (IFA). India’s only arts foundation, IFA gives individual grants to artists, scholars, and researchers. It was my first dream job! And I will be forever indebted to IFA for what I learnt and for the exposure I got.
Handling PR for IFA was interesting — and extremely challenging. When you work as the in-house PR Officer, you focus only on your organisation; you don’t have to work for different clients, which is what you would do at a PR agency. For me the challenge at IFA lay in the fact that I was working for an organisation that is one of the most reputed, one-of-a-kind foundations in India — maintaining that reputation was quite a job for a fresher.
When I was new at IFA, I was plagued by one thought: “How the hell am I going to build and maintain relations with so many journalists? HOW?” But I did it. It sounds impossible but it wasn’t. Because when you love what you do, you almost unknowingly push yourself to achieve excellence. And you become addicted to success.
|FOR SAMARPITA, WORKING WITH IFA WAS A TERRIFIC EXPERIENCE.|
I did PR for my passion at IFA: theatre, documentaries, contemporary arts practices, research on literature, visual arts, and performing arts. Among other things I learnt that meeting celebrities is one thing but handling PR for celebrities is a completely different ball game, especially when they are Bollywood’s most respected veterans, actors even your dad reveres and admires.
Sitting right next to Anupam Kher in the car and literally begging him to mention IFA during his live chat on Radio One; sitting down in a hotel lobby to discuss a press conference with a few Bollywood stalwarts and some of our best stage actors; Naseeruddin Shah bestowing a nickname on me; Lillete Dubey showering praise; Benjamin Gilani writing regularly to keep in touch — such things were not just awesome; they were dream-come-true moments when I’d feel sick with happiness and giddy with satisfaction, satisfaction that comes with success achieved after a lot of hard work.
More than 22 cities, districts, and towns; 1,200 journalists (print, broadcast, and radio); more than 800 media notices; multiple media partnerships; nearly 300 grants; five big fundraisers (celebrity plays, art exhibitions); 16 grantee presentations and four film and theatre festivals across India (where grantees showcase the work IFA supports); a dozen media tours to meet journalists in different parts of the country twice a quarter: to sum up, THAT was IFA for me.
|IT'S ALL ABOUT COVERAGE: SAMARPITA AT A MUSIC EVENT.|
A few things that I think are extremely important in this profession:
Every publicist must be good at making friends. A few of the journalists I have worked with have become very good friends of mine now. Pitching a story to them is a little easier than pitching to a journalist who doesn’t know you at all. You can brainstorm for longer with them and if you’re lucky they will give you better news pegs. As RP Sir always says, “If your story is newsworthy, journalists will definitely write about them.” Very true! When you have interesting stories that you know your audience would want to read, you won’t have to call, push, or beg; the media will call you. And if you do have to pitch a dull story, spend quality time with your journo-friends!
NO ALTERNATIVE TO GOOD CONTACTS
No matter how much you dislike a person you just met at a party or at a press conference or while you went out shopping at a mall, keep your contacts intact. Never ever cut off anyone — you never know who will be of use when and how. For that matter, be “just friends” even with your ex-boyfriends or ex-girlfriends, if you think they can be of any help.
MAKE NO MISTAKE: I DON’T DO ANYTHING FOR FREE AND
I KEEP MY ENEMIES CLOSER THAN MY MIRROR EVER GETS TO ME
Know your competition; where your competitor’s strategy ends, your game should begin. Know enough about the market and the industry in which your client is involved. And for that you need to do a lot of research. There’s no shortcut to success. To beat someone at their own game, you have to know the game yourself — and be better at it. Go a step ahead while you strategise and make the plan.
BE A CHARMER
Ever wondered why there are more women than men in the PR industry? Simple, we have better instincts, we are more charming, and we are better at convincing (no offence to the fabulous men out there). Be polite yet firm with clients who want you to grab stars from the sky and hang them in their closet. Be precise and coherent with the ones who want you to make them famous in a wink. Let’s be honest: we only have one life to earn a fortune, and in that one life we have to live long enough to actually enjoy that fortune. With targets and deadlines hanging on your head all the time, time is more precious than diamonds and expensive shoes and the most coveted designer couture.
Believe in what you think and love what you do. Keep reminding yourself, “Nothing in this world is impossible.” You’re worth it! :-)
- What PR professionals should not do to journalists, and what journalists should not do to PR professionals