Has it not been debated before? Yes, it has been. Have we not wasted enough cups of coffee arguing over it? Yes, we have. So, are we ready to bury and tombstone the topic? No, not in the near future.
The debate over what a client says he wants and what he really wants will live for as long as the marketing communications and, more specifically, the PR industry lives and thrives. The briefs will always be brief and the expectations will mean ‘under promise, over deliver’ (the mantra that all PR managers chant around their mentees). I would have never brought this up but for an incident that spewed out the rotting question – should I believe what the client wants or am I looking in the wrong direction?
Picture this – the Chairman of a large and well-respected real-estate major briefs a PR team about what is expected from the PR campaign. Brand image, reputations, lineage, forthcoming IPO: almost everything is discussed. The expectations are clear – the company is to be projected as the leading real estate player in India. Everything sounds positive. The agency has bagged the account and is eager, satisfied and very comfortable in the extra soft, leather sofa. The old man seems a decent bloke. “No sweat, Mr. Chairman; your will be done.”
The team steps out of the suite on the 10th floor and is immediately ensconced by the till-now reticent Corp Comm manager. Two things are made clear. The cheque will be signed after the press coverage report is received. Whatever the Chairman said was gas. The success of the campaign would be directly proportional to the thickness of the media coverage report, which should start thickening as soon as the team leaves the client’s office.
Now, wait a minute! Where exactly do brand strategy, image management, PR policy figure in this dry and very hollow scheme of things?
We can’t deny that there are more opportunities for PR professionals in India than ever before. Companies have started valuing the importance of public relations for their business. But when it comes to measuring its success it is still how thick a press coverage report looks. Building relationships with the target audience, nurturing a public image, paying attention to the demands of that ever important ingredient to your success called Press – these concepts will still take some time to bloom. So when a new luxury store is opened, the thrust is not on the years the brand will spend in India and how it should be perceived by the niche consumers. Sadly it’s on how many video cameras are seen at the launch and how many press clips appear after the hackneyed P3 party.
But we should not be complaining too much. There was a time when PR meant going on media rounds with bad photocopies and even worse media lists. Press coverage was really about cutting every single newspaper snippet and admiring it with the zest of a mother looking at a new-born baby. Things have changed a bit and the same things are now done with much more style…
In hind sight, the days when more and more companies would expect agencies to walk the talk and do some real PR wizardry are round the corner. A few of us need to get out of the complacent mode and be willing to do things differently. If the ‘MNC culture’ (another cliché awaiting burial) has survived and thrived, we can be sure that more professional understanding between PR agencies and companies can’t be far behind. Till then the debate will continue and many more words will be wasted. But only briefly…