08 September 2017 12:04:48 IST

How much public relations does a brand need?

Companies need to be smart about their positioning in the way they handle media relations

As I write this piece, a public relations adage that comes to mind is “Any news coverage is good”.

In this column, I am going to focus some of my observations on what recently transpired at Infosys and the hit its image took as a result of ineffective media management. Before that, I must state upfront that I have benefited both personally and professionally from the company. I was fortunate to own a few hundred shares in the company and to have spent time with the founders, for whom I have great regard; they have featured in my books and classes as role models in not only managing media but also in transparency and ethics.

But now, uncomfortable questions on corporate governance and ethics are raising their heads, causing some of the people in question to look elsewhere as the media focusses its attention primarily on the company, its founders and its erstwhile CEO.

Media relations

In this background, let us look at the possible learnings for other companies, especially those seriously looking at public relations as a means to communicate with the external world.

Let’s be very clear about one thing: public relations works. And the principal reason is that it generally has a greater source of credibility than paid advertising. Infosys, in the early years, used this ploy to great effect, as it had a better strategy than its competitors and was actually able to change its positioning over the years through astute media relations.

This is normally done by the traditional companies that adopt more expensive, but largely controllable, routes of advertising. Infosys has been following the media route over the years, even if it has come to grief with the most recent fiasco.

So let’s look at what other companies can do if they’re looking at media relations seriously.

Does being an eager beaver help?

There are enough people ready to offer their opinions and advice on a variety of topics, some of which may even be outside their areas of competence. While this is a great strategy for start-ups and even standalone consultants, this is something you will need to revisit as you grow in size. Be selective in offering your point of view. And, when dealing with the media, keep in mind that you are perfectly within your right to walk away from story opportunities that you are not comfortable with.

What are your own value systems?

I have a great friend in the corporate world who runs one of the most successful marketing companies in India and has a clear guideline on the sort of media that he wants to be part of — “I will agree to any story on the company, but no personal profiling. I don’t want to talk about my holidays, my hobbies, my clothes or my interests”.

That clearly means no low-hanging fruit for the PR company, and it also establishes the company culture, as far as the media is concerned.

What’s the company’s life cycle?

Clearly, start-ups and nascent companies are hungry for coverage, any coverage, and we don’t blame them for that. For who knows where the next round of funding will come from? But as companies grow in visibility and stature, they need to do some serious introspection as to whether the company or its executives are too ‘in your face’ in the media.

The same applies to social media as well. I have stopped following CEOs who tweet several times a day. Clearly, the activity is outsourced and lacks the personal touch. So review your entire offline and online strategies periodically.

CSR should not be personal profiling

Today, many companies support causes, some of which may seem frivolous rather than a serious purpose. It may be quite tempting to say cheese in front of those popping flash bulbs, but do you really need to be there or can someone else step in for a change? It’s not an easy call, but think about it.

Can less be more?

So what are we saying at the end of all this? That there is no catch-all media strategy that companies can follow irrespective of their size and current standing. The old objective of column centimetres has to give way to quality of coverage. Companies need to look beyond traditional media to influencers and opinion-makers in the online space.

There is a crisis lurking around every corner, and the smarter companies are prepared for most eventualities.

Are you ready with your media strategy?