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Posts Tagged ‘Vikram Kharvi’

PR for the Hospitality Sector

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

hotelEvery hotel has one goal in common: to satisfy their guests’ requests no matter how odd, peculiar or demanding. If you re a luxury hotel, the number of requests increases and their nature becomes even more complex.

In the midst of daily operations like preparation for arrivals, room inspections, hosting private events, and countless other details, there is a small department that devotes its efforts solely in establishing and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships between the hotel and all its publics. Within hospitality, examples of publics include course guests, VIPs, unions, activists, the government, community leaders and employees, only to name a few. The PR team or an individual professional leverages the hotel’s mission and goals to reflect its interests to these publics and acts as a communications liaison. But a PR manager’s time is more often than not occupied with a certain genre of people known as media.

Choosing the right people to liaison with the press is crucial. Many hotels are torn between spending the extra thousands to hire agencies, which outsource their professional services or to employ a trained professional within the organisation.

PR Agencies are able to act as seasoned representatives for their clients in events, fundraisers, networking parties and can participate in all the glitz and media glamour in order to get their message out to everyone. Agencies also usually have all the tools necessary to create appropriate messages. Typically, they have a graphic designer on staff responsible for updating and maintaining the client’s website, designing collateral material such as brochures, fliers, promotions and advertisements, among other things. Agencies are also experts in preparing general managers and/or executives to handle reporters in public appearances, press conferences and other types of interviews.

But this elite service will cost you plenty, as most agencies work on a monthly retainer fee. Depending on the nature of the hotel, there are some months that are ‘dead’ from a press perspective. For example, Mumbai is very slow in the rainy season, which makes publicity during those months highly competitive. Agencies will still charge the retainer fee during those months, since they are tapping their media contacts regardless of results.

What is the difference between having your own gourmet kitchen and going to a fine dining restaurant? Along with price and service, there is another variable to consider: You can prepare meals in the kitchen, the way you want, whenever you need to and at any time. Most factors are flexible. A similar philosophy applies to in-house PR staff.

More often than not, especially for small hotels, this is a more economical alternative. The on-site PR professional works from an office in the hotel and manages media requests and pop-ups fast. While the agency handles multiple accounts, the in-house person has only one focus, and therefore outreach can be far greater and more customised. Also, there is more time to develop editorial relationships like the ones the agency has and focus on pitching various story ideas.

What is more, the in-house professional is always available to provide walk-in press tours (agencies work with appointments only), therefore maximising publicity potential. Since the on-site professionals are hotel employees, they tend to know the property and its functions in greater detail than an agency would. This fact provides an additional advantage when exploring new editorial angles. Simply because a relationship is established does not always guarantee placement in an issue. The pitch is definitely essential, but it is the quality and timing that need to match the outlet’s editorial focus and audience.

However, the image, reputation, and the foundation of all hotel relationships lie in the formulation of one key factor: the message. What are you telling the media that is newsworthy, and why should they talk about your hotel? What makes your establishment unique? These questions will be answered differently when you ask an agency, which is specialised, and a hotel employee who manages PR on-site. The main difference lies in the method of approach, strategy and tactics. And the tricky part is that both approaches may be equally effective.

Furthermore, the on-site manager most likely lacks the printing, design and web tools and has to work with freelance designers and printing houses to get the message properly planned and executed. Although this situation is not ideal, you may even get someone who is multi-skilled and can easily handle the above tools on his own, which will save the hotel a lot of money. The hotel will also gain from the fact that there is someone on staff, who can handle media-related episodes, which arise quite often.

If anything, a communications plan is non-existent without a clear and concise crisis plan. Few questions that should be asked when outlining a crisis plan are: How does the hotel respond when a story is leaked? How is executive management handling the crisis? Is there a complete statement drafted? Have you prepared a list of media outlets that need to be contacted first? Who is the point of contact for updated information? What tools will be used, and how will they prove to be effective to contain the media?

The agency is experienced to writing strategy plans, although some may lack the inclusion of internal response during a crisis, for example, ‘How will the employees be notified? What will they be allowed to discuss?’ Regardless, agencies can be beneficial in pinpointing the right avenues to take during a media response. They may have a better edge in identifying speaker opportunities and may be more effective in leveraging the media during a crisis. Meanwhile, for an on-site manager, this amount of responsibility may become overwhelming in spite of how well prepared and proactive they may be.

Here are some factors to consider before hiring an in-house professional or choosing to outsource:

  • Size – The smaller the property, the more branding and relationship-building it requires. You should evaluate if you need someone who is willing to take the project on-site and put in 100 percent effort, or if you should trust your property into the hands of an experienced agency who will agree to convey the image what you are looking for.
  • Time and money – Cutting costs is essential but maintaining quality is always the challenge. Find a balanced solution that will not set back your outreach efforts, but not exaggerate them either.
  • Quality of people – As per our earlier analogy, investing in a gourmet kitchen versus always going to a fine dining restaurant certainly has advantages. Searching for the right people is imperative and directly affects your bottom line.
  • Inside Out: A balanced approach – Even with all this advice, some properties may still find themselves caught in the middle. In many cases, it is healthy to have a strong in-house presence that directs all public relations and simultaneously have an agency on a project-based fee, ‘on call’, to supplement outreach efforts, issues and crisis management and assist with media person who may at times not return calls or respond to emails. Over time, you might find one or the other to be more cost-effective and choose the best alternative.

Finally, it is essential to recognise the importance of this specialised group of professionals whose success lies in making everyone else look good and thrive by working in the background. All else cast aside, these are the people who have experienced and appreciate the unparalleled feeling of earning positive publicity for their organisations and smile when their executive’s name makes it in print or on TV. Knowing that their name will not be in the credits.

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Posted in Articles, Sector Talk, September 2009 | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Journalism to PR – Is it a right choice?

Posted by prnext on September 6, 2009

2599hatA recent survey conducted by PR Week highlighted that over 50% of media professionals are now considering a career outside of journalism (Maybe even on the “dark side,” as PR is commonly referred to in the journalism industry). It seems as an epidemic of job swaps among the senior journalists, has sparked fears of a vacuum of experienced journalists at the top of the profession.

Interestingly, it’s not just reporters who are crossing over to PR, even mass communication students are opting to study PR over journalism as well, because they feel the opportunities will be better for them in PR. based on what’s happening with print newspapers and other [media], that [journalism] might not be as feasible of a career for them right now.

Speaking informally to some of these ex-journalists who turned to the world of PR, when asked what made them switch. The common explanation given for the migration is money. It is a well known fact that PR pays more than journalism. Then you may ask, how about the passion, making a difference and being part of the ‘fourth estate’. Is the big salary enough reason to just leave this noble career to go the ‘other’ side? Most of these ex-journalists-cum-PR practitioners will tell you that passion cannot pay your bills at the end of the month; they say ‘reality’ has got to them, that is why they crossed over to PR.

PR is evolving and it looks more opportune than journalism. It comes with a big salary together with attractive perks. There are more career opportunities in PR, contrary to journalism which has very thin ranks to move up the ladder. PR practitioners have an opportunity to attend the meeting with the Board of Directors of companies and also sit in some of the lavish offices.

Despite the fact that PR seems to be so much better and monetarily rewarding, it doesn’t mean it’s easy for journalists to make the switch to the other side.

For ex-journalists who become PR people (and I am one of them), there are a lot of new skills to learn. If you’re an ex-journalist-turned-PR person, or an executive who hired one, here are some tips, that would help you to make the transition:

  • Look at PR as corporate journalism: As soon as you become’ a PR consultant, you will find yourself in a highly credible position to advise MD & CEO’s of various companies on what constitutes legitimate news as opposed to marketing hype.
  • Bringing a fresh outlook to the job: Let’s start with the most fundamental element — who you are working for? In your previous job, you report to the editors. In PR, you service the client directly and many a times report to the MD & CEO of the company. The target audience for your client may be as diverse as customers, shareholders, employees, competitors, regulators and the media. And unlike in the media, the peculiarities of each of these audiences has to be factored into your strategies and materials — which is why so much PR information comes out like it was written by a committee.
  • Adopt Customer Service: Journalists are used to being brusque. They’ve got deadlines, they’ve got an audience, and they don’t have time for minutiae. That won’t fly in PR. Most people expect PR people to be nice, even obsequious to a fault. You are now a service provider, and will be expected to do things with a smile that in your previous job. In PR, everyone’s feathers need to be smoothed, and it’s usually your job to do it.
  • Think like a businessman: Many journalists have lived a sheltered existence, with careful separations maintained between editorial and advertising, insulating them from the realities of profit and loss. I know that the current difficulties in the media has been a wake-up call, but once you come over to PR, you’ll be fully immersed in the world of budgets, profits and competitors.
  • The buck stops with you: I was stunned when I got into PR to realize how carefully clients followed what was said about them in the media and how quickly they jumped to conclusions about the motivation of the media when something was said that they didn’t like, or when they were left out of stories. As the PR person, you will find that when this happens — when the media says something your client doesn’t like, or doesn’t cover you when you think you should have been covered — it’s your fault. You’re the bottom of the food chain, you’re the one touting your media relations skills and experience, YOU should have made sure this didn’t happen. Even if there was nothing you could have done.
  • Your friends in the media: Your media experience means a lot to your new clients. But your new clients don’t mean as much to your friends in the media. You’ll probably be able to leverage your connections for some stories but one can’t count on making your living asking your friends to do stories. Which brings us to:
  • Pitching: In all likelihood, you will find yourself emailing or calling journalists you don’t know asking them to do stories on your clients. I don’t mean to be too much of a downer, but let me say that this will be an eye-opening experience. You will now understand what it feels like to be on the other end of the line pitching what you think is a decent story, only to be ignored, hung-up-on, berated or belittled. And that’s if you can even get a response from the journalist you’re pitching, which often times, you won’t. I’ve been on both sides of these calls and I fully understand the frustration of the media getting pitched non-relevant stories by people who have no clue who they are pitching, but this has created an environment in which many journalists view all PR pitches with suspicion bordering on disgust.

There’s one bigger caveat for ex-journalists and the people who hire them: the need for marketing expertise. PR and media relations are subsets of the larger marketing function, and all PR activities are designed to support marketing and ultimately sales. Journalists whose training took place in journalism school and who experience is solely in the media have a great deal to learn about the discipline of marketing.

Just as I advise a would-be media relations expert in the PR field to read journalism books, take journalism courses and immerse themselves in the craft of journalism, so I would advise career-switching journalists making the effort to learn about the intricacies of marketing.

Posted in Articles, PR Insights, September 2009 | Tagged: | 8 Comments »

Working with a PR Agency

Posted by prnext on July 20, 2009

oday public relations is a fundamental tool for any marketing and communication strategy. It is central to brand and corporate reputation management programmes. In the last few years, too many organizations and their CEOs have learned the hard way that reputation can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. The reputation alert has been sounded, and most organizations have realized that corporate reputation stands on the two legs of compliance and public relations.
Unlike in the 1990s when it took a back seat, public relations today is getting a bigger slice of advertising and marketing budgets. This is because ad media costs have sharply increased, the size of media audiences have shrunk, and there is too much advertising clutter, especially on television.
While advertising represents the top-down authority figure selling the product, public relations has historically represented two-way communications. We want to engage our audiences to talk with us to ask questions and to have their say about our products. We want to deal with the audience close up. An ideal article in a newspaper or television or cable discussion from other experts or someone from the general public with another opinion doesn’t negate the positive story, but adds another dimension. It makes the communication genuine and not a message from the town barker.…
Certainly, a skillfully written PR feature article can communicate more product information than an abbreviated 30-second TV commercial.
Thus public relations is now recognized as a legitimate component of the marketing mix. For this reason, managing the news and creating an ambient mood around a product or a company has become an essential marketing strategy.
The goal of marketing PR is not to build a mass of news clippings but to win a market share. Integrating PR with advertising can support a specific marketing objective.
What should a client do to get the most from his PR agency? Here are a few pointers that an organization should adopt in dealing with the PR agencies.
1) Let the agency get its deserved retainer.
If you haggle with your agency over retainer, editorial and events management fees, you are making a big mistake. Agencies have costs, too, and salaries of creative people are not cheap.
A client, who values the importance of corporate reputation, would volunteer to pay extra for the best professional writers and strategic communicators and allow the agency to experiment in search of more creative ways of story-telling.
2) Don’t keep threatening your agency
Many clients have the habit of scaring the agency with intimations that they are always looking for a new agency. This is counterproductive. Agency executives who are terrorized are not in the best position to produce great PR programs.
The ideal client-agency relationship should have “permanence,” and in order to achieve permanence, it must be in the minds of both client and agency from the very beginning.
3) Don’t compete with your own agency
Some company PR managers are insecure backseat drivers. They want to do the writing of news releases and feature articles themselves. Some even go ahead fix media interactions on their own without even letting the agency know. Why? Just to impress the bosses that they are as good, if not better, than the agency. They order the agency to dispatch their news releases “as is,” not aware that there are style-book procedures and limitations. When the editors don’t pick up their brainchild, they make the agency a convenient scapegoat.
The client gets best results when the corporate communications team and the agency executives work as a team. The corporate communications team should put full trust in the professional competence of the agency pros and let them be responsible for creative communications, crisis & issue management and media training.
4) Do not always find faults; but instead help finding a remedy.
Many clients shower the agency with scathing insults if there are few media attendees during a product launch, but never pat the agency on the back when deliverables are exceeded. If you find that the agency has not performed well, you should of course speak your mind, but in a diplomatic way.
5) Brief the PR agency exhaustively.
The more you acquaint your agency with your company and products, policies and procedures, the better job it will do for you.
6) Leave the agency alone to come up with a strategy for you.
PR agencies have well-experienced strategic communicators. Over the years, they have handled various crisis along with the other PR situations and have established strong working relationships with the media. Allow them to do what they are best at.

Today public relations is a fundamental tool for any marketing and communication strategy. It is central to brand and corporate reputation management programmes. In the last few years, too many organizations and their CEOs have learned the hard way that reputation can be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways. The reputation alert has been sounded, and most organizations have realized that corporate reputation stands on the two legs of compliance and public relations.

Unlike in the 1990s when it took a back seat, public relations today is getting a bigger slice of advertising and marketing budgets. This is because ad media costs have sharply increased, the size of media audiences have shrunk, and there is too much advertising clutter, especially on television.

While advertising represents the top-down authority figure selling the product, public relations has historically represented two-way communications. We want to engage our audiences to talk with us to ask questions and to have their say about our products. We want to deal with the audience close up. An ideal article in a newspaper or television or cable discussion from other experts or someone from the general public with another opinion doesn’t negate the positive story, but adds another dimension. It makes the communication genuine and not a message from the town barker.…

Certainly, a skillfully written PR feature article can communicate more product information than an abbreviated 30-second TV commercial.

Thus public relations is now recognized as a legitimate component of the marketing mix. For this reason, managing the news and creating an ambient mood around a product or a company has become an essential marketing strategy.

The goal of marketing PR is not to build a mass of news clippings but to win a market share. Integrating PR with advertising can support a specific marketing objective.

What should a client do to get the most from his PR agency? Here are a few pointers that an organization should adopt in dealing with the PR agencies.

1) Let the agency get its deserved retainer.

If you haggle with your agency over retainer, editorial and events management fees, you are making a big mistake. Agencies have costs, too, and salaries of creative people are not cheap.

A client, who values the importance of corporate reputation, would volunteer to pay extra for the best professional writers and strategic communicators and allow the agency to experiment in search of more creative ways of story-telling.

2) Don’t keep threatening your agency

Many clients have the habit of scaring the agency with intimations that they are always looking for a new agency. This is counterproductive. Agency executives who are terrorized are not in the best position to produce great PR programs.

The ideal client-agency relationship should have “permanence,” and in order to achieve permanence, it must be in the minds of both client and agency from the very beginning.

3) Don’t compete with your own agency

Some company PR managers are insecure backseat drivers. They want to do the writing of news releases and feature articles themselves. Some even go ahead fix media interactions on their own without even letting the agency know. Why? Just to impress the bosses that they are as good, if not better, than the agency. They order the agency to dispatch their news releases “as is,” not aware that there are style-book procedures and limitations. When the editors don’t pick up their brainchild, they make the agency a convenient scapegoat.

The client gets best results when the corporate communications team and the agency executives work as a team. The corporate communications team should put full trust in the professional competence of the agency pros and let them be responsible for creative communications, crisis & issue management and media training.

4) Do not always find faults; but instead help finding a remedy.

Many clients shower the agency with scathing insults if there are few media attendees during a product launch, but never pat the agency on the back when deliverables are exceeded. If you find that the agency has not performed well, you should of course speak your mind, but in a diplomatic way.

5) Brief the PR agency exhaustively.

The more you acquaint your agency with your company and products, policies and procedures, the better job it will do for you.

6) Leave the agency alone to come up with a strategy for you.

PR agencies have well-experienced strategic communicators. Over the years, they have handled various crisis along with the other PR situations and have established strong working relationships with the media. Allow them to do what they are best at.

Posted in PR Insights | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Who can be a PR Pro?

Posted by prnext on June 16, 2009

… Vikram Kharvi

A year ago a communications professional decided to do a short survey on the importance of PR professionals in the eyes of top corporate bosses. He did it by asking one simple question to over 500 professionals via a professional networking portal, the question was “Does the PR executives in your organization have valuable knowledge that you don’t have?”

51per cent said they either disagreed or strongly disagreed with that statement. Of those polled, 19 per cent represented corporate owners, upper level executives and management, and of that number, between 25-38 per cent “strongly disagreed” with the notion that their PR people knew something they didn’t.

What may be the reason for this? We in PR have been hearing for years that the days of PR people being considered glorified corporate doorstops were over. PR had finally earned its value in the communications industry. Wealthiest-geek-in-the-world, Bill Gates, said if he had only one dollar to spend, he’d spend it on public relations. Corporate presidents are welcoming PR people into the boardroom, their input is now greatly valued as more and more corporates have become aware of the incredible power of media and how it can make or break an institution. Even the recently conducted survey by a leading PR agency claimed that over 58 per cent of the global corporate communication officers now report to CEOs.

It is true that PR has made some big strides. In my own experience, I’ve been lucky to work for companies that have insightful, forward-thinking leadership that appreciate and recognize public relations as an important tool of communication.

But still the fact remains that many CEOs do not give much impetus to their PR people. With the global meltdown encompassing the entire economy, businesses decided to cut costs and the first ones to come under hammer were advertising, marketing and along with them even Public Relations. Only few corporates realize the importance of public relations in the times of financial crisis.

And why is that? If Edward Bernays, the “Father of Modern Public Relations,” was alive today, he might say it is because there is no required certification for public relations practitioners, unlike lawyers, doctors and other well respected professionals. Technically, anyone can practice PR and do, from call center executives to anyone who thinks for himself that he is a good communicator, people are “committing PR without a license.”

Part of the problem is, so many people don’t know what public relations truly is. If you go by how PR people are portrayed in TV and movies, you’d think PR is the practice of putting “positive spin” over negative doings, is without ethics and typically the province of marginal human beings who leave a slime trail behind them when they walk. Our very own Bollywood movies depict the similar picture, the recent one being ‘Laga Chunari Mein Daag’ in which Rani Mukherjee calls herself a PR professional, while playing a character of an escort. On the other hand a Hollywood movie HANCOCK, which at least offered a somewhat more sensitive and realistic depiction with Jason Bateman playing a PR man who takes bad guy superhero Hancock under his wing to improve his image, inside and out.

In the days of bloom, you’d see job openings in the newspapers for “public relations executives” that were nothing more than tele-marketing. PR seems to be one of those professions where people with ZERO experience in the field think they can just “wing,” right off the street. I recall few months back I had met a PR executive who was earlier, a telephone operator in one of the accountancy firm. I mean, does anyone walk into a hospital and say, “I think I’ll be a doctor today! Yeah, wanna give this whole surgery thing a whirl!”

So, are we fighting ignorance and stereotypes? Still, nothing sells like experience. It really doesn’t matter what profession you are in, corporate management isn’t going to put much faith in you until you prove you can pull your weight. You get the CEO on the cover of a widely circulated business magazine, you make a suggestion that helps keep your company out of a major media mess, your stock will rise, and sharp execs and VPs WILL listen.

Posted in Articles, June 2009, PR Insights | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »