When Mumbai faced the onslaught of the monsoon a couple of days back, the administrators of this WhatsApp group, One Source, a community started by PR professionals, quickly got into the act. Even as the rains were menacingly threatening to derail Mumbai, volunteers on this forum were offering to pick up and drop people who were in the same vicinity as theirs. There were others who were passing around helpline numbers after having tested the effectiveness.
While some could view that as just another humane gesture, this set of volunteers were also up early the next day, to put up appeals to fellow group members in Delhi and Bangalore to not trouble journalists till the second half of the day (as many of them would have got back from work very late due to the weather and the lack of transport).
For members who use this group frequently, One Source lives up to its name. It provides you media contacts almost on a real time basis, it helps journalists connect with the right set of clients (and surprisingly many journalists use a public forum to share their story ideas to beat a nasty deadline). One source can provide you with your daily supply of everything from news headlines, live cricket updates and even find you a job. In the last three years nearly 450 people have found jobs because of this WhatsApp group. The only thing it cannot do, until now, is to provide you with a daily supply of milk and bread. OneSource can also be a matrimony portal, as the co-founder of Sandeep Rao experienced, (he first met his wife Srishty Chawla at a One Source event). Chawla is now wedded to both Rao and One Source, as she is also an active admin on the group.
PR and prejudice
Public relations professionals are often viewed as both an unnecessary and necessary evil by most journalists. They often call journalists at the most inopportune time. Most of the time, the releases they send out are of no relevance to the beat you handle. They pitch some really awkward story ideas. Even this writer believed in all of this, till he understood the inner workings of One Source, a group of executives from the world of PR, corporate communications and media.
Over the last few weeks, this writer has seen at close quarters how a young group of PR professionals are making a difference, both to their profession and to the lives of the journalists that they interact with, almost on a daily basis. If any journalist is going through a lean patch in their personal lives, PR professionals on the group are almost instantly alerted to not bother them with phone calls and messages. This group does not just reach a handful of PR professionals; it reaches nearly half of India’s PR industry, if you consider that the organised PR industry has around 8000 professionals in India.
The success of One Source is also in the face of stiff opposition that many of the admins face from the very own companies that they work for. There have been at least three known cases of One Source Admins losing their jobs for sharing media contact lists on the group. Recently, a leading PR agency sent out a strongly worded advisory to its employees saying that they should not be seen soliciting for media contacts or sharing information on One Source. It’s another matter altogether that many senior executives from the same company are a part of One Source and even endorse the work that it does.
In July 2017, exactly three years after this idea took shape, One Source has more than 4,500 members. As WhatsApp limits the number of people in each group to 250, there are nearly two dozen groups which are administered by a dedicated group of PR professionals, who go beyond the call of duty and work all the way up to midnight and even on public holidays to provide information with completely no expectations. “We are only giving back what we gained,” Rao says with all humility.
The origin of One Source
When this group started in July of 2014, WhatsApp had a member limitation per group of 50 people. From an initial 30 members and 1 WhatsApp group helping the community, it’s now a forum that has brand, editorial, activation representatives across brands from BSE to CRISIL, from the Press Trust of India to the Bennett Coleman Group to the Haymarket Group, from IIT Madras to ISB Hyderabad. Rao says it all started from an idea that came from his 22-year-old brother, Kunal. “He had seen me passing on information individually to many people. He also saw the advent of WhatsApp and decided to marry the two together so that everyone gains knowledge and I gain time."
Over the last 36 months, One Source has had more than 50 dedicated folk acting as admin for an ever increasing number of groups, not just acting as WhatsApp admin but organising national sponsored conferences with guests such as the Managing Director of the Bombay Stock Exchange, Ashish Chauhan across Mumbai and Delhi, launching books for the communications space (Horses Can Fly, by industry veteran Ajay Sharma), finding jobs for people across brands via its HR line, growing the industry's knowledge base as a crowd sourcing forum and along the way breaking news and encouraging stronger channels of communication among various facets of a growingly disparate fourth estate. At present, One Source claims to have an average of more than 13,800 interactions every day across its groups.
The queries range from Baba Ramdev's contact point to getting in touch with Satya Nadella. “We choose not to replicate our efforts across other digital platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, strongly believing that until resources allow, a tighter operation is better with higher results and greater member validation,” says Rao.
Otherwise, there is the danger of it being just another WhatsApp group peddling numbers and memes, rather than the industry source it is seen as today. “We have been asked in the past to start both an app and a website, having received offers for funding from publication houses, communications firms, venture capitalists and members,” says Rao.
On the industry engagement front, One Source has organised 2 industry engagement meets (under the moniker Fontè) in Mumbai and Delhi with an attendance of 110+ in Mumbai and 140+ in Delhi. This was when it had less than one-third of its current member base. “One Source has not only grown itself, it has helped grow goodwill industry-wide, connect folk nationwide and create value by doing good,” says Rao.