I’ve known Radhika Bhirani for ten years now, and respect her for not only being one of the best journalists in entertainment, but also an excellent human being. Radhika heads entertainment at Indo-Asian News Service (IANS), which is India’s largest Independent News Service, and where each day she receives multiple calls and pitches from public relations people across the country.
I was speaking with her about a month back, and the conversation somehow veered to how keen and driven PR executives today are, in the manner and insistence with which they pitch their stories and press releases to journalists like her. And that conversation yielded some wonderful tips for young PR people. Delivered simply, with the candour that I admire Radhika for.
Here are some nuggets of observation and advice for PR professionals from Radhika Bhirani, head of the entertainment beat at IANS, New Delhi.
Advice For PR professional from Radhika Bhirani, IANS
Give a journalist time to assimilate! Within just minutes after having mailed us a story pitch or a press release, you start calling, messaging, emailing, trying to find out if it will be carried. Wait! Give the journalist some time.
One thing that infuriates me is when a PR person says, ‘Please cover this. I’ll surely send you the product!’ Another is expecting journalists to carry promotional stories, while the good newsworthy stories are given to the MediaNets of the world! Please, take your press releases there, too.
A story that a journalist receives is PR; a story that a journalist gets after chasing it and going to lengths for it is a good journalistic news story. So please remember – a PR pitch cannot be taken up every time.
Please evaluate what you as a PR person are offering to a journalist: develop a news sense. Evaluate the clarity of thought, clarity of pitch; the newsworthiness of the story. Develop an understanding of what will sell, as a good story to take up, to a journalist. And while I am on the topic, in fact, even in terms of picking clients, choose one that has a story to tell!
For heaven’s sake, shaam mein hi kyon yaad karte ho!? Why do you call me only in the evening? I was reading somewhere that my job as a journalist isn’t a 9 to 5 one; it is from the time I open my eyes in the morning to the time I close my eyes to go to bed.
The best time to call me to make a pitch is around noon or immediately thereafter. If there’s something really major, please go ahead and message or call me any time; but please make sure it is really big. If it’s something very important, well, I’ve done an interview at 1 am too.
PR people try to get friendly and get connected through social media. I can understand that; they’re only trying to do their jobs. But it does get too much for someone who doesn’t know you at all, to keep reaching out to you on social media. It is more of an informal platform, and I’m more comfortable with my friends and people I know reaching out to me there.
The (PR and other) people I have remained in touch with were those I got in touch with at the beginning of my career — 9 or 10 years ago. Person to person conversation always helps. Subconsciously, one then tries to see if the story being pitched can be done. And if I cannot do a story, I would suggest pitch it to x y or z. That happens due to an existing relationship. But it is never right to take it for granted.
This happened with my colleague, whom a PR person called, saying, ‘tujhe meri dosti ka vaasta…’ (I implore you in the name of our friendship!) People who are older in the PR profession will understand that if she is refusing (to do a story), she has a point, so don’t push your case any further. But the youngsters will say, ‘Please kar deejiye!’ (Please do it [the story])
For lifestyle clients, don’t pitch a story on the 25th of the month. I’ve had people say, ‘Yaar 31stse pehle kar do, please!’ (Please file the story before the 31st of this month, please) because they have to show output for the month to clients. They will call in the nick of the month-end, saying, ‘Tum kar doge to har jagah aa jaayega!’ (If you file the story, it will appear everywhere!).
Call. Talk. Meet. Get to know how I function. That holds true for everybody in the PR industry. The whole problem is the new generation can be downright rude without perhaps intending to be… just the culture that rude or direct is cool. But this is not cool at all.
I had interned in PR before joining journalism. I interned at a small PR agency in Delhi. I realized immediately that it wasn’t for me. Then I resolved that when I become a journalist, I would be the sweetest possible person when a PR person calls me, because they are doing a job. But there is a limit to it. Being pestered to do something (a story)… it just erodes all patience! If something deserves to be done, it will happen organically.
And in the end, please let me say this once again – the job of PR people is not an easy one, and I respect that they work hard to get results. I am fortunate to count several good PR professionals among my friends. And I believe that our professional relationships and interactions are driven by knowledge and the awareness of what can and cannot work.
So that was some great advice from Radhika Bhirani. Do you have some more advice to share on the topic? Post in the comments below.