ITL #168 Vignettes from a PR Newsroom in India: learnings and experiences at GBM Live! Newsroom

4 years, 3 months ago


The concept of a newsroom is increasingly becoming central to every large PR agency. By Prema Sagar.

Consider this: a journalist tweets that he hears and reads about big data a lot, but has never seen it in action. A few days later his posts indicate he is headed to India’s information technology capital, Bangalore. A smart PR associate connects these dots, and arranges for a demo of big data at the data centre at one of his clients’ premises during his visit.


Serendipity? No, this was just the result of smart usage of real-time monitoring by a public relations firm leveraging its newsroom. This is what actually goes down in places like the GBM Live! Newsrooma newsroom at Genesis Burson-Marsteller, a leading integrated communications firm in India. At the Newsroom, client teams and former journalists constantly monitor chatter across various platforms, actionable chatter is identified, relevant clients of the firm are alerted and swift action is taken.


Different strokes

The concept of a newsroom, though it originated in the media, is increasingly becoming central to every large PR agency. At its very basic, a newsroom is a hub of incoming and outgoing news and intelligence. However, in different agencies, the concept comes alive in several formats, depending on the objectives it has been set up with, the investment the agency is willing to make and the way the agency measures its return on investment.


Across the world, the newsroom formats that have been deployed in PR agencies range from social media listening studios, TV news monitoring labs, brand- or client-specific news monitoring labs, creative studios, video hubs, and many others. In India, print media is still quite strong, both in terms of numbers as well as perception management, so monitoring and understanding that is critical, especially when it comes to the local language media as well as tier.


The main responsibility of a PR agency, in its pursuit to manage its client’s reputation, is to facilitate the flow of information between the client on the one side and the journalist on the other. Depending on the chosen format, agencies invest in the infrastructure needed, the technology requirement and the talent that needs to be hired. In terms of talent, PR agencies are increasingly hiring former journalists, data analysts, digital media experts, content creators (text, graphics, audio-visual), and more.


The plus-plus approach

The true power of a newsroom comes alive when you use a combination of these formats and use them with horizontal seamlessness. The way this works is that you use real-time monitoring to identify and analyse trends and conversations between the media and the consumers. Then you go beyond the press release by leveraging those trends and trigger conversations for your client.

You can then manage and create more targeted messaging through the medium of creative content for your client. And finally, you distribute this content on various platforms and in formats that will give your message the most impact.


The applications of this approach are many and depending on their nature, you can pace the intensity of each of these elements.


Crisis management: Perhaps the biggest impact that a newsroom can have is to provide time-critical data during a client crisis—monitoring chatter across media platforms, quickly analyse it and feed recommendations to the client teams so that they can plan and respond better.


A consumer foods company recently faced a huge crisis. Constant media monitoring—across social, print and TV, and analysis became the life force of managing this crisis. The interesting and unique thing about this crisis was that while the brand was facing recalls, litigation and government scrutiny, it was the consumers who were pushing in favour of the brand. So it was also important to process that and use it to drive positive perception around the brand in the media. In another recent crisis, a mega event came in for a lot of flak among consumers and the media for allegedly flouting environment norms. Monitoring the deluge of news, analysing it for positive and negative statements, types of queries raised and identifying key influencers driving the conversation, were critical to planning the messaging.


Beyond the press release: The horizontality of a newsroom can really work wonders in generating stories for the client based on trends that emerge from media analysis. In one example, the GBM Live! Newsroom team saw that some of its clients were using social media activities for social good. Putting together the insight as a story idea, they approached two media outlets and pitched it to them, all neatly packaged with spokespersons they could quote. Developing ideas for industry stories through trend spotting is the one of the simplest ways leverage a newsroom.


Sometimes the newsroom can also find media opportunities where they may not be apparent. For instance, a consumer electronics client had flown in a National Geographic wildlife photographer to conduct a workshop. Only, the workshop was slated for a Sunday and would have found no takers in the media. The Newsroom team decided, with no prompts from the client, to create videos of the workshop, interview the photographer, and sift out editorial-type stories such as tips for wildlife photography, and quick guide for buying DSLRs. This bundle was then shared with media outlets, who lapped up the chance for readymade content.


Extending the media reach of a client initiative is another possibility. A company brings out an annual study to build thought leadership around customer service satisfaction. Beyond a few days, say, the week of release of the report, there was no media coverage on it. The Newsroom created a fun animated clip based on the findings of the report and also created a listicle around it and pitched it to an online portal. Not only did it get a reach of more than 150,000 unique readers in the very first week, it continues to get views every day, thus achieving the objective of sustaining the visibility of the report at the right place for a very long shelf life.


Event newsrooms: Supplying the media with constant information and content during a large event or conference, which has multiple plenaries, is a challenge and setting up a combination of an online (microsite) and offline newsroom can be a huge asset. For a recent marquee event, for instance, a microsite was set up for the media, along with a newsroom at the event venue. While the physical newsroom helped streamline media queries at the event and made it a ‘paperless event’, the microsite, which had all the photos, videos, reports, whitepapers, presentations, became a hit with the media. During the three-day event, the microsite witnessed more than 200 unique journalist visits. Of these, 60% came back to the portal more than twice, spending at least 7 minutes on the page they visited, and on each visit they visited at least 5 pages on the site. There you have itmeasurement that can help plan other events.


Who is it for?

While it may seem like the beneficiaries of a PR newsroom are the clients, the focus of the newsroom has to be on the client teams at the agency—extending their capabilities, equipping them with a tool that gives them more control and helping them plan better and more focused campaigns. Dashboards on large screens at the Gurgaon facility and on desktops of every person, of the GBM Live! Newsroom, give the client teams at the agency an at-a-glance idea of what is making news, what is the buzz in their sector, which journalist is writing about what, and so on.

The upcoming portal of the Newsroom will have brand assets of the agency’s clients accessible on the same platform—literally a treasure trove for the journalist looking for information.


Mobile: the next step

Now imagine all that power in your smartphone. The Newsroom app will give client teams who are away from the command centre access to the dashboards wherever they are. Imagine them sitting in their client’s office and accessing all the information they need to plan a campaign, right there on their phone.


Aside from that, live media intelligence, journalists’ contact details and other critical information will make the app the first of its kind and one of the most powerful tools that a public relations professional can have.


Newsrooms in public relations agencies are still in their early stages. However, the road ahead is exciting and with technology evolving at speed of light, the possibilities are, quite literally, limited only by imagination.

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The Author

Prema Sagar

Prema Sagar Vice Chair, Burson-Marsteller, Asia Pacific & Principal/Founder, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. Prema founded Genesis PR in November 1992 when the public relations industry was at a nascent stage. Over the last two decades, the company, which was acquired by Burson-Marsteller in 2005-06, has mirrored the journey of India’s public relations and public affairs landscape. Prema has led the company through this entire formative period, with the backdrop of a rapidly changing business environment. Today, Genesis Burson-Marsteller is a full-service integrated communications firm, delivering innovative and integrated solutions across multiple geographies and practices. Prema is also a member of BM’s Global Leadership Team.

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