In many parts of the world, it’s not uncommon to see media agencies push a news item or two along with a release order for ads… directly, or otherwise. The more evolved the market place, the less we see this system of give-and-take in practice. And the more evolved the parties involved, the less we see this happen.
But we do see this happen, even today, even in India. Makes us wonder why. The answer is obvious – it’s the media buyers, and sellers, who are responsible. And they choose not to see the consequences for the sake of immediate and personal gain.
It is ironic that even the most respected of corporate and media houses – whose leaders are revered for the high standards of ethics they impose on their organisations – are affected by this ‘exchange’. An exchange that has almost been made the norm, for commercial gain.
The operational word is ‘personal’ gain, which is allowed by managements of many media companies, for the sake of their immediate gain. “After all, it is a business,” is the refrain we hear often. But what is the opportunity cost of this ‘immediate’ gain – one that makes media buyers look good, and protects commissions of media sellers? What the media brand stands to lose in the long run, is its own brand equity. When everyone is a content creator, equity manifest in originality, personality and integrity is the differentiator.
No bundled offer is really ‘free’. Clients who encourage ‘value addition’ with ad releases must realise that the returns on both ads and editorial space will keep diminishing as the real value of the media space they get diminishes – because of their diluting the equity of that media vehicle. It’s alright for the media sales manager (or whatever the title) who meets targets and gets picked up by another media house, possibly with a promotion.
This is also perhaps the reason why several PR people are getting titles of ‘Marketing and Communication’ managers and directors. True, the scope of PR has grown to cover content, community management and experiential marketing among other things. But if it is consumed by media buying, it will become quite potent with the aphrodisiac that is the media spend, and as impotent as the gatekeepers of media in a paid-for-news world without it. And over time, it will become invisible.
A sales force trading editorial space for ads is as dangerous as editors and reporters who can be wined and dined and engaged otherwise to give it away. In effect, both are for personal gain and at the cost of their employer and the brand they purport to be custodians of.
Readers will see through, eventually, that a brand or its CEO perhaps does not deserve a spot on the cover of the publication. The spot and the credibility to be there have to be earned.
I remember a top national TV figure doing a Q&A with a Tamil movie star on the eve of a multi-lingual release of the latter. I wondered why he was being interviewed on prime time, and by one of the industry’s most respected news anchors. I also wondered why he was blasphemously (for the Rajnikant fan) billed as the next ‘Super Star’ of Tamil cinema. It is quite possible that the anchor was ill-informed by his team down South. But when I saw the ads for the Hindi version of the movie on the same channel, other creepy questions cropped up.
In an ideal world, the consumer would pay for the media. Where advertisers pay, it is incumbent on the media brand to ensure it is not reduced to a characterless amoeba that shapes itself in the mould of the release order that feeds it.
Gokul Krishnamoorthy, managing editor, Campaign India