Rare View Work

“It’s Complicated”: PR and Journalism In the Time of Independent Media

The relationship between journalists and public-relations professionals needs re-negotiation in the age of independent niche publications.

The relationship between journalists and public-relations professionals is a complex one, to say the least. As an editor working in fashion magazines in the heyday of India’s lifestyle media (2005 – 2015), interacting with PR managers was part of my everyday routine. They represented the top brands or celebrities that we wanted to feature in our pages, and we needed them to get our photo shoots and interviews done.

They also needed us. Besides representing the top brands, many simultaneously also represented lesser known fashion and beauty labels, and getting a mention for them in our magazines was precisely what they were paid for.

And so they invested in the relationship – remembering birthdays, keeping in touch over the years, meeting over lunch or coffee, congratulating on job switches or promotions. Many of them even became friends.

Most PR managers were, in any case, former journalists. They knew what we needed, and used the right words and approach. They understood the scope and limits of our jobs and never made unethical requests. We were happy to take their calls and to consider their story pitches.

Then, social media happened, and fashion magazines began shutting down one after another as their advertisers moved online. Lifestyle writers switched over to mainstream media, and fell out of touch with PR (some media houses don’t even allow PR managers to get past the reception to meet a journalist).

eShe’s first issue, launched in July 2017

Soon, a new generation of media and digital natives began to come up. For example, in 2017, I launched eShe as an independent magazine and blog. Many other media products like India Development Review (2017), The Wire (2015), Alt News (2017), and even social-media pages came up, offering unique content and creating a new niche for themselves.

Many of these are bootstrapped startups, including mine. Which means that every story that goes into our pages has cost us good money from our own pocket – including the journalist’s time, the printing and server costs, and so on. Little wonder that we are careful about the stories we curate and invest in. If it doesn’t fit our vision, we aren’t likely to consider a story pitch – even if the PR manager is a friend.

It didn’t help that the world of PR itself underwent a fundamental change as clients began moving online and reaching customers directly instead of building brands through magazine mentions. The PR industry became a cut-throat space; holding on to a client meant working longer hours and cutting costs everywhere else. Sometimes, this meant a novice was positioned on the front line dealing with senior editors.

It was in this scenario that, for the first time ever in my life, I blocked two PR managers last week because both began the phone conversation with, “Are you still with eShe? I have this client…” and went on to speak nonstop without waiting for my response. There’s very little reason for me to take their call to begin with, they aren’t my friends, and if they can’t do their homework, well then.

So it was a surprise and a delight for me to be invited by PR Professionals of India, an online community of PR entrepreneurs and managers, to share my side of the story on how niche publications work and what exactly PR managers should expect and prepare for when they reach out to us.

The other speakers in the discussion were Juhi Garg, co-founder, ED Times, and Shreya Soni Vasudeva, founder and CEO, DSSC, both very interesting professionals and website founders. The moderator for the session was Sonali Sudarshan, supported behind the scenes by Pooja Trehan Dhamecha and Tarunjeet Rattan.

All veterans in the PR circuit, the group understands that – like any other industry – public relations too needs to adapt to the times. Reaching out to niche publications is a positive step they’ve taken to bridge the divide and to educate the new generation in their community.

Ultimately, business is all about relationships. Friendship and understanding are not just intangible soft skills; they can and do translate to good business in the long run.

Lead image: With Sonali Sudarshan, founder of Intelliquo PR, in 2013

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