The month of January just ahead of the Government of India's annual budget announcement is very busy for both journalists and communicators. How do you rise about the chaos of pitching quotes to irate reporters while placating your client or C-suite at the same time?
PR professionals share their top tips in planning your budget stories, their successful pitches and toughest stories to pitch.
Challenges for pitching pre and post-budget stories
Budget story responses
According to senior account director with Blue Lotus Communications, Vinay Maurya, one of the biggest challenges currently is, "Shrinking media in India. This is definitely a point of concern that the PR industry is facing not just with budget stories but also pitching stories in general. A cut down in the number of journalists across India leaves us with a limited number of media.
This shrinking has led to overload for the journalist. Anand Rao, senior director, strategy – West, Genesis BCW says, "On our clients’ behalf, we tend to inundate journalists with multiple story ideas. Too many ideas distract the reporter."
Mahima, public relations specialist at 'The Pivotals' says her PR challenge for budget stories is that, "Brands usually don't understand the relevance of participating in pre-budget stories. Even if they accept the need to do so, the messaging becomes very open-ended."
Cracking budget stories
Come budget season and 'client quotes' are flying fast and furious, often with little forethought.
Maurya points out that "A blitzkrieg’ is a wrong strategy to use when it comes to budget stories. The qualitative outcome of the story is far more important as compared to just a quantitative output. The targeting of media for budget stories has to be very specific to ensure that commentary of the client has appropriate impact and builds the brand as an important and credible stakeholder in the industry."
Sharing an example, Maurya says, "One of the most memorable experiences was while we were handling an important healthcare sector client. The key message was communicated on preparing a defined budget for 'Healthcare for all'. While there may be many other proposals floated on this idea, PM Narendra Modi launched the ‘Ayushman Bharat’ scheme shortly after. The client was invited to be a part of the planning and implementation of Ayushman Bharat and is still part of the process."
For other communicators more than a specific story, it's about cracking the process of the story.
Rao explains, "The key learning has been to plan in advance and by developing a repository of multimedia content that is customised to fulfil the requirements of the media houses."
Highlighting specific processes Rao says, "Since the budget is announced before the start of the new financial year, year-on-year, there is ample time to plan and develop your industry narrative, especially, pre-budget commentary. It is also important to understand the key themes that are likely to be considered in the budget proposals. For e.g. Union budget 2020 is expected to focus on reviving economic growth and encourage consumption and private investment while reigning the fiscal deficit. This will help you align your industry’s expectation to the broader themes of the budget."
Sandhya Sutodia, co-founder – Turiya Communications, says go back to the basics for budget stories, "PR professionals should never think that their client’s opinion will be voiced and written as the lead story. When a journalist writes an analytic copy, the client’s quote can be limited to just 30 -40 words."
Mahima says when it comes to, "Post-budget stories,’being calm’ should be key. The entire PR ecosystem knows how pressurized both the journalists and PR professionals are. Sharing a well-written quote within an hour of the budget speech is over, is the maximum a PR professional can do on the day of budget announcements. Unnecessary follow-ups with the journalist through different means can not only cause stress to the journalist but can also strain your existing relations with them."
Tough budget stories
Placing a budget story is among one of the toughest things to so, competing as you are with literally every business.
Maurya is upfront about the challenges saying, "Sometimes it becomes really problematic to crack a positive budget story for businesses on which the Government has an anti-stand."
For Rao, "A decade ago, it was difficult to get the voices of start-ups in budget specials. However, a consistent dialogue has resulted in start-ups getting a fair share of voice in budget stories now."
Mahima shares her experience. She says, "The most difficult phase I personally face is to convince clients who are engaging in PR activity for the first time. My client in the food processing space was facing difficulty in getting space in any sort of story since they have nominal market share in the industry. However, focusing on technological advancements and farmer inclusion in the food processing space, this difficulty was resolved."