Monday, April 12, 2010

The Role of Tracking and Clips in PR

I hadn't heard of public relations (PR) till the final year of MBA. It was only after Manoj, my classmate from school who then went on to become my senior at MBA had joined Genesis PR in Bangalore, when I first heard about Public Relations.

In 2000, after completing my MBA, I went on to join an ad agency. Couple of months later, Manoj changed his job and joined Integral PR in Chennai. Being a close friend, he didn't look beyond me, when it came to expanding his team. Since then I have spent little more than 7 years in the industry.

Besides faxing and following up with media for a press release or conference, if there was one thing which I really liked about PR was reading and tracking newspapers. I had been told since childhood that reading newspapers was a good habit and that it improves one's language and knowledge. Reading newspapers gave me loads of information which at times translated to knowledge, at times a tool for interactions and other times positioned me as someone knowledgeable. But most often newspapers give you information. It depends how one translates it into experience and knowledge.

Ok now my objective was not to propagate the habit of reading newspapers.

Manoj laid down two commandments:

1. To track every client clip
2. Ensure the clip is not misplaced and it goes on to become part of the docket

As a PR executive, the first duty as soon as I used to arrive into office was to track newspapers. The first hour of the working day was always invested on reading the newspapers. In my case, it would probably take two. No, not because I was slow. Instead of tracking, I would start reading.

Whenever there was a press conference or releases, I would get excited to see the coverage, the fruit of labor. And after all the tracking, we would make a brief report on the coverage with a covering note with highlights of the coverage. It was like a ceremony.

But then as I grew up the ladder and became an Account Manager, the need for tracking wasn’t there though I never left the habit of reading the papers. But then I also noticed that the activity which I devoured wasn't that popular with the new generation of PR executives.

Then I left the PR industry. And now after three years, I have reconnected with the industry.

To CK Prahlad's happiness, his core competency principle seems to be finding a place in PR industry. PR agencies seem to have taken a serious look at their business. Upon a review of the activities performed by a PR agency, the following seem to be the primary tasks performed:

1. Providing consultancy
2. Maintaining relationship with media and identifying opportunities for the clients
3. Create information packs and disseminate it to the media
4. Track and report the coverage in media

And I guess PR agencies have identified tracking and reporting as the activity that provides the least competitive advantage. Many know that PR industry is a knowledge industry and the biggest cost is the manpower. And since agencies don’t want expensive manpower to do petty tracking, it is being rightfully outsourced. This has also resulted in opportunities for specialist agencies that make a living from tracking and reporting services. I find mature agencies that offer tracking and reporting services. The online repository of clips does help retrieval and sharing. Also, reports have now been automated, making life easier for both agencies and clients. I work with Impact Measurement and find their services really good.

But then PR executive played a very composite role, very unlike ad agencies where the roles and responsibilities are quite specialized. Reading newspapers therefore I thought was very important as it helps tracking stories and journalists. Without the need to track paper, I guess executives now find different methods to do that activity.

Initially I was perturbed, but I have come to believe, now, that tracking is not a priority item for a PR executive. Breaking from the shackles of tracking paper does free up valuable time for the executives to focus on client interfacing activities.

Naru at 20:20 MEDIA had once commented that the hardcopy dockets remind client of the work a PR agency has done (or not done) and wasn't in favor of CDs of coverage being sent instead. CDs were not in their face, he felt. But, of course, he later went on the set up a separate tracking agency for the company!

So along with tracking of newspapers, the duty of preparing dockets might also see demise. Or on a positive note, it creates a revenue opportunity for agencies. So with that goes the practice of key message analysis, ABC categorization, Geographical exposure, competition analysis...

I remember spending an enormous amount of time with subordinates training them on the science of docket making, ‘in those days’.

Now, let's face it the basic unit a PR campaigns success is the clip. It is the result of the hard work and toil of an executive. It is the proof of the pudding (plan). It is the umbilical cord between the client and agency. What PR executive's detachment from the clip means is not clear to me? Maybe I am unduly bothered or have remained in the olden days.

I also wonder what is the next activity that agencies might outsource?
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