Currently in the role of Country Head & Vice President of Business Wire India, Anurag Mittal has been with Business Wire since its foundation in India 11 years ago, and helped it evolve to one of India’s largest distribution services through assorted media landscapes.
During our exclusive interview, Mittal deconstructs the evolution of the press release in the Indian market and mindset. He shares the challenges faced by their distribution platform in the communication industry and their strategies for overcoming the same. He throws light on the sometimes ambiguous relationship of PR agencies with distribution services and how BWI eased their resistance.
Q. Given the fact that press releases lie at the core of your business, how would you respond to the speculation of press releases dying out?
Press release might be the same as it was two decades ago but the personality of the press release has changed dramatically. From being merely a statement, as it was earlier, it has become a full fledged marketing tool. It is being used very effectively by the marketing and corporate communication professionals. This largely highlights the personality of the press release and how it is put to use.
These days the press releases come with elements such as rich text formatting, multimedia etc. which give them a different shape and format altogether, making them more interactive. And now with social media and media relations being entwined, press release is being seen as the driving force of social media.
We are yet to see any significant signs of the press release dying out. It is still the most potent tool to get the message across to the media, investors and other stakeholders including the consumers. In my opinion, press releases are not even fading, let alone dying out. A visit to the speed desk of agencies like Bloomberg, and Reuters will help people get rid of this notion. With press releases becoming more social in nature, I think this notion is likely to get weaker.
There are two key elements about press releases; the volume of press releases, and the channels which news agencies monitor. They have dedicated terminals where they are looking at the inflow of the press releases because this is still the most potent tool that corporates are using. Corporates are toying with other channels and new ideas, for instance the Security and Exchange Commission in U.S.A. has allowed certain listed companies to distribute some key information with their stakeholders and investors through social media. While these kind of things are ongoing, it’s merely to test the waters. These things haven’t made a long term deep impact. I won’t akin this debate to something like coming in of kindles and e-book readers will put books out of the market. This argument has been ongoing since 5-10 years, and books are still around.
Q. Are Indian Journalists receptive to press releases with evolved template that include info graphics, statistics and multimedia format or do they prefer the standard text format?
I look at this as a question of making the lives of Indian Journalists easier, that if we are able to make it convenient for them in the way we share or distribute our news with them. I have seen a lot of change around this.
The kind of resources that companies and agencies use to have earlier are not the same. While technology has advanced, the newsrooms still face a lot of issues. For instance, producing multimedia content for a television channel needs a separate production unit, which isn’t always around. It is easier for journalists to receive the multimedia content from the client and decide if they want to use it for their stories or not. It eases the strain on the production side of press releases and multimedia content. We don’t have such platforms in India but I know such platforms exist in USA which specializes in the distribution of video content. It could be in the form of sound bites, interviews, even the signage of the company etc, all this is shared with the media so that whenever they are doing a story, they have these assets at hand for effective use.
In the past 6-7 years, companies did think about replacing press releases with video press releases and various other ideas but none of those took off the ground. Multimedia distribution worked out because search engines have changed the way we do our business. It is easier to SEO (search engine optimise) a website because of static content, but things are different when the content is dynamic, it has text and multimedia. For example, Google has been dynamic in their overall approach but what they have made clear to the content distributors is that they will prioritize content with multimedia in it, which basically means pictures, videos and caption.
Journalists are consuming news either through mail, or web links, or RSS feeds and they are using the web for research. That is where all the content, with the multimedia has to be available.
Multimedia is still catching on, and several organisations are toying with the idea of multimedia distribution. Pink papers are especially doing a good job at it. They use info graphics to simplify complex business models and business concepts.
Out of our pool of almost 1000 clients, companies that are dealing with products that they want to show case, are taking the lead in distribution of multimedia content; these are largely the FMCG and automotive clients. It mostly includes pictures with caption and it is good from the view of SEO and visibility perspective. Some studies claim that press releases with multimedia elements get 50%-70% higher visibility.
Our client, one of the leading sports apparel brand had come up with a glamorous TVC featuring two celebrities. We were in touch with the marketing team and we suggested a different spin to the marketing head about the TVC. With his consent, we released the TVC on social media as a press release before releasing it on broadcast media. We set a timeline of seven days to monitor the TVC on social media before it went on television, and to our surprise, it got eleven thousand five hundred unique responses from the discerning Indian audience. These responses were great marketing inputs for the brand and helped them shape their campaign for television.
One can take different approaches to multimedia content and distribution, provided the clients are open to creative ideas.
Q. Do corporates resist unconventional ways of approaching press releases?
When we started eleven years ago, the PR agencies and Corporates would focus largely on print media and ask for a number of guaranteed print clips. Even though PR agencies clearly knew that the news value of a press release varies with each announcement and each company, their mindset was fixated on print media. The ratio of emphasis and importance on print media was 95 – 97%.
We used to assure comprehensive coverage including social media, print media and broadcast media in India and around the world, but they were not satisfied. We are a distribution company and we assess the news value of the press release and distribute it accordingly but we cannot assure the number of print clips it will generate. This used to be a big challenge for us.
Now the focus has shifted, and the ratio of importance on print media and social media is 60 and 40 respectively. Whereas in the western countries, larger focus in on social media. They emphasize on it because of real time distribution, the content and information has longer shelf life, it is search optimized, and the content can be distributed with multimedia elements. This change is gradually seeping into the Indian mindset.
Q. According to some distribution companies, another resistance is that PR agencies perceive them as a threat to their business, and stick to traditional media relations. Have you faced any such resistance?
We at Business Wire India face challenges at two levels.
First is the myopic view that clients focus of number of print coverage and they are not open to trying new and creative ways to push the press release. And at that time, we changed our strategy and started talking to the CXOs, and realized that their vision was different. Our engagement with them worked out far better than what we had thought. Before that, out focus was on PR agencies and SMEs, but that didn’t work out. What worked out were companies such as Wipro, Infosys, Dr. Reddy’s and ICICI Bank etc. They started at a disclosure level in India, or internationally and had vision for a platform.
Second, through our WPP association, we are associated with IPAN Hill + Knowlton Strategies. The larger agencies used to doubt the security and credibility of our distribution because we were associated with their competition. We assured them that we will only distribute what they already want the public to know, so there is no strategy in it. We will help them do it better through our network and their content will have more outreach.
PR Agencies saw us as a threat a decade ago, but a lot has changed in the last 3-4 years. Today we work with over 100 PR agencies and digital PR agencies. Several PR agencies take the initiative to bring their clients to us. The only problem with PR agencies is that sometimes they are insecure about their retainers. If they use Business Wire services, will the share of these services go out of their retainers? In this case, we extend our help and offer to explain that it is value added services.
We did a lot of ground work in building relationships so that when we go and talk to the CXOs, others are not insecure. We assured PR agencies that we won’t put them out of the industry, and that we want to work in collaboration with them. We wanted win-win situation, not competition and we have managed to get that.
One of the largest PR companies with high end value customers was resisting this function till a few years ago. But it was valid because their network is wide and retainers are good, and their clients would have questioned the efficiency of the agency if it took any assistance from any distribution network.
Some clients mandate their PR agencies to use distribution platforms such as ours to distribute press releases. Most international and multinational companies have international releases for Indian media and audience. These companies prefer to use distribution platform in India because more often than not, their content does not feature in print. However through our platform, it definitely features online, if not in print and the international marketing head, or the CEO sitting in some other country is satisfied to know that the message has been carried online, where it is SEO and has a longer shelf life. This is a true example of one of our real estate clients.
Q. Is the distribution among channels for print media tailor made according to the client’s requirements or is it standard?
We try to make it as our media circuit as comprehensive as possible. The objective is to cover all four metros, followed by tier two cities and then tier three cities. Since we learnt that the resources for journalists in tier three cities are limited and they do not necessarily check their mail once every day, we introduced a fax broadcast opportunity, apart from RSS feeds and emails.
For regional publications, we do a lot of translations in every language and then fax and email them in a personalized fashion. This saw a lot of traction from the media and clients are very happy with this.
We created a very formidable print media monitory network, given the emphasis on print coverage in India and this helped us befriend a lot of PR agencies. Currently we can tan track 17 cities and 700 publications on a daily basis, this is our business model. We are one of the largest media monitoring outfits in India.
PR agencies use distribution platforms such as ours because now their focus is strategic counsel, giving advice to the clients and other value added services such as interviews etc. Distribution of press release is not about value addition, and they think it is best to leave it to another specialized platform.
We also add other elements such as SEO, and for a PR agency to enable a unit to make their release search engine optimized, it will require a lot of resources, time, and money.
And our association with Berkshire Hathaway gives them a global network and outreach for extremely low charges as compared to a PR agency approaching another International agency for the distribution of their press release separately.
Q. What is Business Wire India offering in the changing scenario of Social media on the rise? Based on your interaction with clients and their social media requirements, how well do you think companies understand what they are doing with social media?
Communication tools are all tactics and these are more productive when they are exercised in unison. A befitting strategy is to coordinate these tools, nothing can work in silos. Media relations and social media are entwined now. The coverage press releases get in leading publications generates conversation. Social media amplifies the message, and makes it more engaging.
The biggest advantage of social media is hyperlinks to their websites. It helps in improving the ratings of the landing pages since they back link from credible, well indexed publication sites and other sites. Secondly, it increases the traffic dramatically. It is a great investment into distribution services. These press releases are social media drivers now and we incorporate various social media elements into it. We share them on our various social media platforms and provide a share option for all the platforms and bookmark them.
Our recent partnership with NUVI, a social media analytics platform, will add a lot to our social media capabilities. But this does not mean the death of press release. I want to emphasize again that press release is the driver of social media.
Business Wire views and distributes financial information in a different fashion. In various countries overseas such as UK, Germany, France, Canada, Business Wire is recognised as a disclosure media. All press releases distributed by Business Wire are deemed as disclosure and it is a huge relief to the clients.
Social space is evolving rapidly and everyone is trying to adapt to it. While Indian companies have become receptive to using and exploring the social media space for branding and communication, it will still take time to structure this distribution and engagement process. It is a long process, which is ongoing and nobody has been able to figure it out in its entirety yet.
Interviewed by Kunal Pal for Image Management