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Of terror, color and communication!


Hyderabad, Charminar

Hyderabad, Charminar (Photo credit: Arian Zwegers)

Yet again, there has been a terror strike in the capital city of the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh – Hyderabad.

As always, the ruling government and its leaders have in their ‘usual’ language condemned the act of terror with the usual vocabulary meant for such occasions – a dastardly act, an act of terror, an attack on the Indian democracy etc.

For those who observe such incidents – now happening with an alarming regularity  in India – it’s a sad and tragic sense of deja vu, that comes to haunt this country and its people again, and always.

Terrorism by the extremist elements who are against resolution of their grievances through democratic ways and means, is no less a grave problem that faces a country like India, given its history, and geo-political fit.

But more than that, what may continue to inspire such elements in continuing their thirst for blood and such inhuman acts is not just the actions by those in power.

It is equally inspired (with hesitation, one could use the world emboldened) by the confusion in communication or communication strategy by those who hold power.

The moment the unequivocal message from the ruling class is – we will not tolerate (the words in their truest sense) such acts, by whomsoever doing this – there will be a strong deterrent by the terror outfits – making them think that their ‘jehadi’ acts will not work.

Contrary to that, the communication strategy by the government is being carefully ambiguous – more keen to assuage the feeling of some sections of the society where some of these elements may belong to.

Add  to that, the new tendency of the rulers to use colors to depict the kind of terror – red, blue, green and what not.  Lack of assertiveness and conviction in articulating – with the message “irrespective of who, belonging to where” attack people in the name of religion, had clearly given more courage to such attackers, their supporters, the communities in question, and whoever give those people safe haven.

Terrorism breeds in a climate where the right words – not just verbal condemnation and routine drab statements – are used by the government and state/central administration.

Add to this the coloring attempts based on vote bank convenience – if your terror is of a certain color, then there are a hundred other factors to be seen before the right punishment is meted out…  and you keep making a perennial cocktail in which innocents lose life, and the perpetrators continue to do so at will.

In handling terrorism, and the terror elements, the choice of words matter as much as the deeds, by those holding office.

Here is a simple yet powerful example – post 9/11, President Bush said “We will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who harbor them.. we will hunt them down, in whichever corner of the world they may be”.

In contrast, immediately after the attacks yesterday evening in Hyderabad, India, Dr Singh Indian PM said “”The guilty will not go unpunished.”

Its so much different from “the guilty, whomsoever, will be punished quickly.” What plays in the choice of words is not the conviction to act, but what fallout usage of tough words will cause.

To take terror and its roots head on, the country and its administration first need to communicate with power and conviction.

The right actions by all concerned will be a natural fall-out.

Ambiguity in whether to really deal with such acts (color depending) will be a good recipe for empowering rogue elements.

News-jacking…. right or wrong?


Hurricane Sandy Aftermath

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath (Photo credit: FlightDreamz2012)

In the armor of public relations professionals all across the globe, news-jacking has indeed arrived.

By now there are a handful of examples, as to how the alert and agile communications professionals can plug in his brand with any real-time news to get a viral visibility – in a sense, an exponential brand visibility which no other conventional tool in the PR armor can ever bring in. This lucid post by PR thought leader David Meerman Scott informs about the what, where, how and when of news-jacking. For any aspiring news-jacker, Davids latest book on the subject is a must read.

To quote from a popular post – you news-jack on virality… that’s what any smart communications pro does – take something that’s already gone viral, and piggyback on its success by creating your own awesome spin on it. There are several companies out there who have done it — and done it well.

Move on now to the debate on what is right and wrong in news jacking. Some of the most popular brands in the US have now started to gain a tangible brand-lift by news-jacking the presidential elections. But, what is beginning to generate a debate now on the virtues and vices of news-jacking is Hurricane Sandy, that has battered the east coast of USA, causing huge damage to people and property.

Brands – as diverse as from careers to cosmetics, and essential supply services lost no time in jumping into the news-jacking band-wagon!

But is it right for brands to look at promoting themselves, by plugging them in the visibility that a monstrous disaster like Sandy gets in the social world? The answer for this can be – yes, only when your brand is placed well to serve the essentials for the people who have been tormented by the storm. And no, if your brand intention is to just exploit the visibility, but has nothing to do with the aftermath of the event!

Extending that, its fine if you are a utility or essential service provider for your brand to be plugged in. But if you are a hair-do company, or a cosmetic (like the one suggesting to spend your home time trying a new product of theirs!), then news-jacking will be a fail in the long run.  What are your views? You think a hair do company must news-jack Hurricane Sandy?

Media briefings… some greatly useful notes for communicators


Communication professionals in any organization constantly have to face the media, on a litany of ongoing issues. They could be at any level – be it the Corp Comm executive, right up-to the CEO. Media briefings are regular pressers are just a couple of communication tools that have yet retained the charm, despite the arrival of a barrage of social media tools, which are at the disposal of any right thinking public relations professional.

If one looks around, its it such media briefings and pressers that communication professional are at the risk of exposing themselves and in turn make their organizations image vulnerable – not by mistakes in facts, but by failing to address questions in the right manner.

More so, in times when crisis hits at the heart of an organizations PR armor. Under pressure, its very natural that the communications professional however well equipped, reacts to the situation, as the media event goes astray by the volley questions lobbed in by the media. Faced with this barrage, even the best communicators wilt under pressure, reacting with their emotion laden language – all leading to a perfect recipe for an ‘image disaster’.

Yet, such situations can be better handled, more deftly, and to the complete ‘image advantage’ of their organization.

  • Lay down ground rules – At the beginning of the presser, make sure you lay the ground rules – state it  in clear terms that the intent of the briefing is to address such and such specific issue, and any question shall be around that issue only. Any query that does not pertain to the issue on hand would be taken to be answered later.
  • Better, begin with a written statement – The simple step of circulating a well written media note, detailing the views and facts on the topic would serve well as a pre-cursor in setting the agenda for the right kind of questions. Make sure the facts that need to be taken to the media are mentioned with utmost clarity, and mention that questions can be around the statement. By making such a statement, you also possibly tend to take the steam away for any digressions that are planned by some members of the media fraternity.
  • Plan for complementary statements – You have in hand a written statement; but if there are some questions that can be responded to with more facts, it would be a great idea to respond verbally, and also tell the media that these responses will be typed and circulated at the end of the presser. This can be easily done with the help of the communications team; and not just that, a complementary press note at the end of the press conference is a great way to re-iterate fact, highlight your responses, and way to ensure there are no map – territory distortions at the end of the day.
  • Maintain a friendly and cool demeanor – this may sound way too basic, yet a whole lot of media face offs go astray only for this precise reason. One provocative question, and the communicator loses his cool, making a completely unintended gesture or remark – and however the presser be well armed with facts, this one spar hijacks the image of the organization. The best way to handle any unfriendly question is just a broad smile, or stating can we take it later, or I would come to back to you as soon as I can provide this information. And if the media persists with the same uncomfortable question, the communicator must persist with the positive demeanor, a simple smile, and the planned response – one of the three above. With this, in a matter of few minutes, the questions will move on.
  • Avoid a “we know all” trap – Its often suggested that communication professional while addressing the media, must know all – yes, you must  be armed with a whole lot of facts on a situation. However, that is so different from displaying or exhibiting a know all demeanor in front of the media. That demeanor, mostly leads to a tinge of arrogance, and arrogance is the last thing you need in your PR weaponry. And it is such arrogance that tends to color the most accurate facts with the yellow of distortion. So, it is in your interest and organisation’s interest that you always maintain “I don’t have all the answers, but will endeavor to get them soon” demeanor right through. In fact make it a SOP for your media interactions, and the benefits are immense.

These 5 simple practices will serve to better your image management in a big way. They may sound simple, yet it is these that most of us as communicators or PR professional fail to inculcate in our PR armor, and also educate our spokesperson.

Is your spokesperson ‘battle’ ready?


The word battle ready might sound ominous, but that is how spokesperson must be always.

There could be a call from anywhere in the globe on something which happened a few minutes ago, and which would have an impact on the company or its fortunes. It’s a viral world and not always does the spokesperson have the luxury of having information by the minute.

But the ability to respond in an appropriate manner to any query from anywhere is one quality which is a must!

The spokesperson does not have a magic wand to all queries, and it is important to admit that – the best answer when confronted with an uncomfortable or ill-informed query is very simple – give me a while and we will come to you with the facts!

But most times, out of a quest to close the issue, and under pressure of the situation, the response is a bit casual. This is a perfect recipe for inviting negative media, and possibly messing up an already fluid situation.

In case the spokesperson needs any coaching in this front, the organization must provide it time and again.

Most organizations tend to have the belief that spokesperson must be suave and possess extra-ordinary skills in communication, particularly verbal. Yes, this is an added advantage. But that is certainly not a pre-requisite at all. In fact, track some PR crises and how suave spokesperson handled them – you will see that the over-confidence that comes out of being suave and flamboyant brings in a tinge of arrogance – a perfect recipe for many a media disasters!

Facts, put across in simple language with amazing clarity and miles ahead of a suave and ambiguous, arrogant and just too casual remark.

The term spokesperson, in the present scenario, is a misnomer in a way! The spokesperson or your media representative not just has to speak, but to respond in other media – mails, newsletters, and social networks… an endless list this can be. He must be competent in handling all this – yes with speed, but more than speed in a language that is appropriate and publishable to the world!

Many PR careers have been shunted by usage of inappropriate language, unintended it may be – someone somewhere leaks it out when things go out of the hand! The mantra ought to be state the facts and only facts, in a language that can be scrutinized anytime later.

While speed of response is a paramount criterion, it never can be at the cost of language that reflects an unprofessional attitude!

Sometimes, it does happen that the chief executive himself is the spokesperson – this is mostly when there is a larger than life event, or a huge crisis etc. – whatever be the reason, the past shows that the top management, out of their familiarity with the media, take to a casual approach in handling queries – and this sparks of a full blown PR debacle!

It’s important for senior leadership to take to some caution in handling such situations, and to repeat, facts mist not be colored by style and the way it is delivered!

Hope these simple yet powerful tips help your spokesperson to handle PR situation better! And as an organization, make sure the needy training is imparted through PR professionals, if it will help!

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