PR is a Three Card Game – Chawm Ganguly

DSC_0231aEverything you always wanted to know about PR – but didn’t know whom to ask

(Basav Bhattachayya, the Chairperson of PRCAI (East) and the Senior Adviser at Integral PR was adamant. I will have to make a presentation about Corporate Communications / PR – that too as someone who has felt the PR and the Media Sun from both ends – to the outgoing students of Bhavan’s Asutosh College of Mass Communications and Management, Kolkata. Before the appointed date, I dutifully sent him a copy of the Power Point I had made for the occasion to be loaded in the projection system only to meet his crestfallen self – he was skeptical and thought that I had made the entire subject frivolous. That I would actually be sending out the wrong signals to the students.

Surprisingly, the students (and the other dignitaries from the profession who were present) had lapped up the presentation and I have since been inundated with requests for the transcript. Something that I am attempting now, even if it is just to prove, that we PR Guys are mature enough to direct the laughter towards us.)

This then is the Story of the Three Cards – The King, the Queen and the Joker.

In a Corporate Kingdom, far, far away, there lived a King. A brilliant PR Guy, who having secured his spurs in academic PR thought he knew all the jargon that was needed to covert his knowledge into success – internal communications, external engagements, social media, branding, top of the mind recall, media relations …

Armed with this supreme confidence, he thought h could woo the Queen to be and went out in right earnest. He was sure that he could help the Queen – the media – spin her yarns better with his value inputs. That he could metamorphose into a Spin Doctor, a Sultan of the Swing, a maker of Masks extraordinary – the Perfect PR Guy.

But like all fairy tales, here too, between the King and the Queen was the Joker – the Client, whose only purpose in life seems to call the King’s bluff and ensure that the path of least resistance becomes the one that is the least seldom tread on.

Now my friends, the Joker Is the most experienced and erudite among the “performers” in the “Circus of Life”. He is in fact the “Ring Master” and the “Business Owner” rolled into one. He foots the bill and, as, he pays the piper, he calls the tune. This then, is the first lesson in PR. The client is always right, which (we think) he never is and the trick is in telling him (that he is right) all the while as you lead him up the garden path to your communication goals.

Our young, upright King to be went on and made the “Pitch”. Only, to face the first devastation of an average PR Guy’s everyday life.

“What value will you add to my business” asked the Joker asked nonchalantly? “How will PR affect the bottom line?” “Will you help me produce better? Cut Costs? Evade Taxes? Earn More? Increase market Share? Make me look more beautiful?”

This is where the dreams of becoming Spin Doctors die of most of the young minds with 5 star dreams in their eyes that drift into the industry. Only a few persist, who move on to the next gaming level.

They spend sleepless nights trying to fathom the intricacies of the client’s industry, study the nuances of the business, understand the USP’s of the client’s enterprise, identify the right pegs and go on to write the Mother of all Press Releases.

And the Joker gives it to his 13 year old niece to “correct”. Only to be “re-corrected” by a lackey with an enviable record as a failure in all known walks of life. Finally, the client steps in with all his magnanimity to give the “final touches” himself (read vainglorious sermons on ethicality – copy pasted from a competitor’s website). This is where the next batch leaves in disgust.

Those that remain, a handful that is, go on to the next level of evolution – to meet and impress on the Media as to why the “Three Rape’s and a Wedding” story should be dropped to make place for the Client’s hyperbole. Yes, this is the stage where we PR Guys learn what it means to be a “lesser mortal”.

“Ah, the fat slob has a new PR guy” will be the usual response as they unceremoniously dump in the litter box, the Release that meant 17 days of hard work to you (that was corrected by the Client’s niece and “refurbished” by the hand that you think will feed you.) Others will be more forthright and say “if you have time to waste, please don’t waste it here”. The most common, however will be barked:  “Go to Hell and take your **** client with you”. The most sympathetic, will give you a patient hearing and shrug you off like a female anopheles mosquito with “Try an Advertorial”.

Those that still chug along will be required to go through the next higher level, aptly named “The Dungeons of Hell”, that is, collecting the clippings. After about 37 visits, 200 e-mails, 593 SMS, 182 calls and endless groveling before the media, all three glorious pieces of 5 by 1 in size (2 of which won’t even mention the client’s name) – footnotes in the sands of time, tucked innocuously between ads of lubricants and soothsayers, will be collected, compiled, pasted in Agency Letterheads, filed and presented before the Client as if they were nothing sort of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Phew!

“Where’ the Hell is my photograph” the client will demand to know (if looks could kill). “No Cover Story in the Time Magazine” he will continue looking bored and irritated at the same time? “You expect me to pay for this?” (as if he’s paying you a King’s Ransom).“My Ad agency gives me better coverage … FREE!” (yes, that’s the lackey). “You could have sought my help; I would have told the Newspaper people who are always at the door!” (the AD guys, buddy). God, what did I do to deserve this, you will aptly think? But this too, is not the end.

“Take the Reporters out for a drink” he will say. “Yeah, entertain them” will interject the lackey, and wink at you, whispering “fun” knowingly. “Shower Gifts on them”. “Have you seen Sunil babu’s picture in the Pink Papers today? Yes, the one where he was taking an Award from the Minister? I’m sure he has spent a lot less than this” they will inevitably interject. And then they will say something that kills the PR guys in all of us “First you make your own PR functional!” waving the sad bunch of clippings menacingly!

Euthanasia? Hara-kiri? Suicide? The options flash through at this point in time, when we think how, even shoe store attendants and Sewer cleaners are entitled to more Self-Respect, wanting to sink into oblivion!

When you reach this stage in your life as a PR guy, remember what I have always told myself in similar situations. Don’t lose heart, for there are only Two Jokers in the pack of Life – and Twice as many Ace’s. “Corporate Communications” murmur under your breath – “I have arrived”!

Follow me in Twitter: