Is English still necessary for effective media engagement?

Last month, a group of elite sportswomen gathered in Delhi for an unusual meeting. It wasn't game strategy or training or future competition on the agenda; but a stakeholder of a different kind: the media.

India’s National Women Field Hockey team undergoing media training

The current phase of economic liberalisation, the rise of start-up culture and of course the advent of social media means that old PR essential, media training, has undergone change. The new star of today could be a start-up, a sportsperson or a film star. Not necessarily from metro cities.

 PR consultancy WordsWork has worked extensively with highly talented India sportspersons, helping them navigate the media landscape. Recently, WordsWork sat down with the Indian  National Women Field Hockey team to help them handle the media:

Neha Mathur Rastogi, founder, WordsWork Media says media training needs to keep pace with how media is being consumer and that, “Digital plays a big role and how a spokesperson behaves in the digital space is as important as in a face to face interview. Interviews are also more conversational and less formal so we need to incorporate this in training techniques. Media training also needs to take specialisation into account. We media train athletes at WordsWork which is very different from when we do trainings for CEOs or even embassies.”

Neha elaborates, “ When we train athletes they represent their own personal journey and struggles — we are not trying to represent a company but ourselves. Athletes need to be made confident to be able to share their stories with pride.Many times the reality is more harsh than what we also see in movies like ‘Chak De’ and ‘Dangal’ and  these girls are shy and unsure of themselves. The media training helps them represent themselves better with media .  In the long term this has a direct impact on even their commercial success with endorsements, for example.” 

The Indian National Women Field Hockey Team in conversation with sports editor, Digvijay Singh Deo, Wion TV 

The media training with WordsWork included a journalist interaction, which helped during this FB live story with ‘The Quint,' immediate proof of how digital media has changed ‘media interactions’:  

Does English language matter in dealing with media?

One big change, which reflects the strengthening of expression in regional terms, is that not speaking fluent English is not the barrier it used to be for national media coverage.

The divide between people who could speak  English and therefore be featured better in the English language media, often considered the more influential national press, and these who don't is shrinking rapidly. Even as news consumption patterns change, and stars from non metro cities emerge, the ability to converse in English with English language press is increasingly less important.

Neha shares that, “ Media is more impressed with an effective message than effective language skills. Many of the spokespeople we work with prefer Hindi and the journalists naturally adjust their questions to the preferred language. We encourage clients to speak in a language which they are confident with.”

Angshupriya Danda, communications director, XXVII Inc while admitting that, “Fluency in English definitely gives an upper hand," adds that at the same time, “ it is not a priority. Entrepreneur and startup owners come from all walks of life and therefore their language or nature of language doesn't really matter. Expressing in the correct manner and saying the right thing, in whatever language maybe, is what really matters. Editors, reporters and journalists are much more understanding and respectful nowadays, mostly they do not discriminate  on the basis of language. And those who do, they should understand the other side as well, otherwise they might just miss out on their next important story.”

One of the big reasons this flexibility is happening is, of course, digital. Ramakrishna Prayag, senior communications professional, says that, “ Due to the onset of digital media, regional languages have become very important. As firms seek out customers in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, speaking the local language is more essential than speaking English. This becomes more important when it comes to product  PR and recruitment drives on campuses. Today, if I do a media training, I have to include journalists from, say an ‘Eenadu' or a ‘Dainik Jagran.”

Prayag also says that media training are no longer one to one for CEOs only. The focus on CEOs for media training is reducing as organisational structures become flatter.

Message distribution impacting media training

Honey Singh who is, CEO,  at PR and content marketing firm, #ARM Worldwide, points out that message distribution has resulted in a change in media training, “ Today, a company spokesperson needs familiarisation with digital forums and platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn.  Earlier, the top priority for any spokesperson was to reach and influence the journalists and media houses to convey their message. With more engagement of masses on digital platforms, the approach of spokespeople has also evolved. Integration of digital platforms, listing prominent bloggers, influencers and indulging in social media marketing across platforms has become an essential strategy for business growth and to reach out to your target audience.”

This also means that spokespersons have to spend more time in training than before. Madhuri Sen, co-founder, Ace Brand Strategist says, “ At one time, a media training workshop including mock-ups, scoring and actionable recommendations for improvement for four to six spokespersons could be effectively covered in a day. Now it takes a minimum of two full days, with half a day of theory and the rest for practice exercises and mock-ups, for the same size group. Some prefer to spread this over a week or two of half day sessions when it’s difficult to find two full days that all spokespersons are available.”

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