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How PR Agencies Cheat Their Clients in India

With ordinary workers, limited skills, and ad hoc impact measurement procedures, PR agencies in India hoodwink their clients. What should clients do?

By Rakesh Raman

Rakesh Raman

Rakesh Raman

It will be easier for you to count the number of crows in India. But you won’t be able to count the number of PR (Public Relations) agencies here because in all probability the PR agencies are more than the number of crows in the country.

While every Tom, Dick, and Harry claims to be a PR professional, it’s said of the PR workers that if you’re good for nothing, you’re fit for a PR job.

As a result, PR has become a profession for the fuddy-duddy, intellectually challenged people. With these ordinary workers and ad hoc impact measurement procedures, PR agencies in India hoodwink their client companies that hire PR services thinking these are cheaper as compared to other forms of brand promotions. But for want of PR knowledge clients fail to realize that they’re robbed by their PR agencies.

Then how do PR agencies work? In fact, they’re thriving on the lack of knowledge of their clients and delivering junk in the name of PR. Let’s see how they work.

Press Release

Take press release, for example. As an experiment, you can choose any PR agency in India and see the press releases that these people write in the English language. You’ll find that almost every sentence in all their press releases has at least one syntax or semantics mistake.

While press release is the basic communication tool, not even a single employee – from top to bottom in a PR agency’s hierarchy – can write a correct press release. There are numerous other mistakes on the use of terminology, sentence construction, spokespersons’ quotes, length of quotes, flawed boilerplates, and the structuring of the press release.

It’s estimated that 9 out of every 10 press releases are not used by the media because they’re not properly written. How can you expect a journalist to write a story on your press release when it’s not even readable? But PR agencies will keep producing excuses to hide their writing shortcomings to extort their fees from the clients, as PR work is sold without any accountability.

While Indian PR agencies can’t write a proper press release for even simple subjects like apparel, food, furniture, etc., their quality goes from bad to worse when they have to write on high-end subjects like science and technology. As most PR workers are not even properly educated, their convoluted sentences and improper use of technical terms in specialized press releases become a torture on a journalist.

Since clients don’t know and they’re not supposed to know the difference between a good and a bad press release, these Indian PR people keep cheating them till the client throws them out.

Press Release Distribution

When Internet and e-mail were not used frequently in India, agencies used to send PR executives on something called media rounds to personally distribute the press releases in the offices of media companies.

They would go and deliver these press releases at the entrance of those offices, as a postman would do. They were not allowed to meet and waste the time of journalists, because PR people are so raw that they can’t add any value to the press release by discussing it with the journalists.

To overcome this challenge, some PR agencies started hiring people with beautiful faces to influence the journalists unscrupulously through media rounds, press conferences, off-site events, etc. The idea worked in some cases where journalists reciprocated, but the costs were high for the clients.

Although these unethical PR agencies could woo the journalists by presenting their beautiful employees to them, their work could never impress the journalists.

Now, with the frequent use of e-mail, PR agencies have started sending the press releases by group mailing them to different journalists while reducing the number of personal visits of their “beautiful” PR people in media offices. But since the quality of their press releases continues to be bad, most are not used by the journalists.

Plus, many client companies are not aware of the fact that these days there are dedicated press release distribution services. And most journalists prefer to take a press release from these distribution services instead of PR agencies because the press release distribution services put their own quality checks on a press release that is released through them.

Moreover, the established press release distribution services have a vast, dedicated network of media companies and journalists with them. Clients can choose different packages to distribute their press releases and in most cases it will cost them lesser than hiring a PR agency.

Digital and Social Media

Digital media including the social media has come as a new animal for PR agencies. While digital communications only depend on your writing skills and domain expertise in a particular market, how can you expect Indian PR agencies to leverage digital media for their clients when they can’t write even a press release properly?

While Indian PR workers can’t write even a short social media message correctly, for most social media is only about playing Facebook games at the cost of their clients. They are clueless about digital and social media communications techniques – including content optimization, information recycling, text snippets, social media messaging, and so on – which are essential components of digital communications.

However, the digital PR has given another opportunity to PR agencies to cheat their clients by selling it as a value-added service to the conventional PR. While most clients also don’t understand digital and social media, they end up paying more to cheating PR agencies.

Clients must know that sending a press release by email, or creating a company page on Facebook with fake fans, or sending a poorly written tweet is not digital communication for their brand.

Rather, it’s all about consumer engagement, content customization, quantitative and qualitative impact analyses of your digital PR campaigns – the areas which PR agencies do not understand at all.

Moreover, most brands are now focusing on bloggers to convey their brand messages through their blogs. They have realized that in many cases bloggers can bring more impact for them than the traditional journalist. So, blogger engagement has emerged as a new specialized field that PR agencies should handle, but they are again clueless about this digital area.

What Should Clients Do?

You (client) understand your brand more than anyone else. You can learn how to write a press release, as there are numerous resources available on the Web that can teach you everything about a press release.

Then you can give your press release along with pictures, video links, etc. to a good press release distribution service, which will also let you know its impact in terms of your press release usage by different traditional as well as digital publications.

Plus, you should create a professionally designed “Media Section” on your company website, where all your press releases, boilerplates, photographs, videos, etc. should be available for media people. For these small tasks, you can create a one-person corporate communications department in your company.

If your media content is good, journalists will approach you for other PR activities such as interviews with your top brass, special quotes, visits to your company locations, and so on. You don’t need any PR agency, which anyways delivers only defective press releases.

Your corporate communications employee can handle all this work along with other marketing communications tasks. But do not hire your corporate communications person who has experience in a PR agency, because they will again create a shoddy, unprofessional PR atmosphere in your company.

Today, typically PR agencies in India charge somewhere between Rs. 50,000 (US$800) to Rs. 300,000 (US$5,000) per month as their retainer fee depending on their capacity to cheat a client. While they don’t deserve even a fraction of this money, you as a client can do your own PR at a fraction of this cost, as explained above.

Therefore, if you are planning to hire a PR agency, drop this plan immediately for the sake of your own business. And if you already have a PR agency, it’s the right time for you to kick it out and save these avoidable costs. After all, money saved is money earned.

By Rakesh Raman, the managing editor of RMN Company

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