Imagine you are in a PR agency. Considering most readers of this blog, you may actually be in a PR agency!

Ok, consider it, if you’re not.

How will you go about doing ‘PR’ for the client? The actual act of doing PR? Let me simplify it for you.

You’d speak to the client and see if there’s anything newsworthy. If yes, you’d craft content around that newsworthy item. Then you’d look at appropriate media to ‘sell’ (pitch, in PR parlance) that story. Then, you look for ‘coverage’, to put it crudely and report it to the client. This, in short, is the nuts and bolts of PR, to explain in a crude way. (This is just about the newsy, news release’ish way – I’m not including so many other useful things an agency does for a client, for a purpose)

Let me dig deeper here, for a bit. When you create the content for the client, what do you do? In my example above, you pitch it to appropriate media.

But, you also know that with the advent of social media and digital publishing, everybody is a media producer and a media outlet. So, why don’t you see PR agencies publishing client content on their own channels?

Confused? Let me explain.

A PR agency creates content, but looks to get it published it on a neutral, 3rd party website – not on its own website. It could be a media website (or media print publication; PR agencies don’t own print publications anyway), or it could be a newswire service etc. The point is, you don’t see a PR agency publishing a client’s news in online platforms owned by them.

Sure, agency folks cross-promote client news on their Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles, but such promotion is of news that has been published elsewhere…and it usually is in a news publication, blog or some other source not connected with the PR agency.

Consider the other angle – one of the things many PR veterans are asking PR agency folks to do is to create more video content. We are advised to create a lot of video using smartphones and make such videos available online, for PR purposes.

A nitty-gritty question – so, you the PR agency guy, has shot a video on your phone, of your client talking about his product. You have the 3 minute video ready – where do you publish it online? YouTube, right – but who owns the channel in which it is published? Your YouTube channel or the client’s? Chances are, most PR folks would upload the video in the latter, or at least look to share that video with someone in the media.

After that lengthy, testing introduction, here’s something remarkably different.

Indian film industry PR is usually considered a murky affair. I don’t know much about it and I won’t venture into the good or bad of it – let me just say that it is a lot unorganized. Dale Bhagwagar is one of the better known guys, in Bollywood and Nikhil Murugan is his Tamil film industry equivalent. The strange thing is that these two gentlemen are turning PR, as we know it, on its head!

Dale has a blog where he posts items as if they are written by a 3rd party – it even addresses himself in the 3rd person! In many cases, much of these posts are carried as-is in many online blogs and sites. Sample this.

Sunny Leone is in the business of exposure and awareness. Entertainment and hype are her tools and ammunition,â? remarks celebrity publicist Dale Bhagwagar; a specialist with Bigg Boss, having handled the media for the maximum number of controversial celebrities on reality shows including Shilpa Shetty (during Big Brother), Rakhi Sawant…

Nikhil Murugan has taken the game to a new level. He has his own YouTube channel and even his own TV-channel style logo! In the YouTube channel, Nikhil publishes videos of his client’s work – a film’s audio launch, an interview…a muhurat shot and so on.

Sample a post from Nikhil’s blog.

Muppozhuthum Un Karpanaigal (MUK) movie team, after had been receiving praises for the breezy manner in which they conducted the launch of the filmâ??s album has released an awesome Trailer of the movie. Young hero Atharvaa plays the role of Ram and Chirpy â??Mynaaâ?? girl Amala Paul plays his ladylove while Santhanam ablaze the screens with his comedy tracks. G.V. Prakash has composed some mellisonant melodies in foreign country. The film directed by Elred Kumar is produced by RS Infotainment (co-producer of Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya and KO). With such a poetic title of â??Muppozuthum un karpanaikalâ??, itâ??s obvious that the romance will be embellished with a difference

Now, I’m not trying to judge the work of these gentlemen – they are doing what works best for them. But let me ask this simple question – why don’t you see even a single, professionally run PR firm publishing their client’s news themselves, in an online media channel owned by the agency?

Let me list my thought process here, for an answer.

1. Credibility – PR, by nature, is 3rd party endorsement and validation. It is the art of getting seemingly unconnected people (usually media) to write or talk about a client. That’s when the client gains credibility. If an agency publishes a client’s news in a online channel owned by themselves, however insignificant that act may be, it may not be credible. You could argue that an agency can publish a raw press release in a channel owned by them (say, on Scribd or a blog) just for the purpose of sharing it with media (and not send it as an attachment on email, for example). But then, how many agencies do it?

2. Search Engine love – Just like a newswire service, why can’t an agency own a press release dissemination portal and share news releases online? The more the keywords, the more the chances of people stumbling on these releases when they are searching in relevant lines.

3. Monetary relationship between a client and an agency – Continuing from the earlier point – there’s perhaps a reason why agencies don’t publish their client’s news on their own platforms – such SEO is still not credible since the source is owned by a party that has been paid to promote the client. Result – assumption of lack of objectivity. An agency will act on the client’s best interests and the content it creates is a result of a financial deal between the client and the agency. It is not written in an objective style. The brand can say anything about itself and publish its own press release in its official website, but the agency still can’t do it or risk eroding its credibility.

4. Corporate brands are different from movie stars – Ideally, everything is a brand. A film star is a brand as much as a corporate. Many film stars have their own websites too. So, why don’t publicists like Dale and Nikhil publish content created by them, on behalf of their star clients, in the respective official websites? Dissemination is a problem, I understand. A film/star publicist is supposed to be the conduit between the star and relevant media and when there’s only one spokesperson (the star himself), adding a note that address the star in the 3rd person, in the star’s own website will look mighty corny.

Going by this kind of PR by Dale and Nikhil, do you think there is a gap worth exploring, for professionally run agencies? How about an agency-owned news portal online where they publish client news, segregated by topic, vertical or industry? Why can’t they create separate RSS feeds for each of the sections so that appropriate journalists can subscribe to it, either on RSS or a Twitter feed, perhaps. This could work in 2 ways – one, the content stays online and helps in Google juice, as against it residing in the mail boxes of PR professionals and journalists. Two, agency folks may stop pestering journalists when a press release has been sent and journalists can finally get a passive channel to get news from, instead of active emails and phone follow-ups!

If the agency mentions the nature of relationship between itself and the client in the website prominently (for which a release has published online), the credibility issue could also be taken care of. In essence, what the agency is doing is to create a aggregated digital newsroom. Many agencies manage content in the client’s own digital newsroom – this idea turns that idea around and aggregates multiple client’s news in a PR agency-owned digital newsroom!

What do you think?

Update: After a Twitter chat with relevant industry folks, on this subject, I can see at least one example where a PR agency owns the platform where it publishes client news – IPAN Hill & Knowlton-owned Businesswire India. But, while IPAN’s website mentions the connection with Businesswire India, Businesswire India’s website does not mention the IPAN connection. That may be to make Businesswire an agency-agnostic service, I assume.

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