TOI’s Deepika rejoinder is #BadPR

By now the Deepika Padukone – Times of India spat is well known. ‘Times of India’ – the country’s top selling English language daily, decided to issue a rejoinder in an unsuccessful attempt to recover some of the beating it has got after featuring close ups of the Bollywood actress and her cleavage in its online section.

The rejoinder is a PR disaster, here’s why:

1)     Apologise, Apologise, Apologise – It’s PR 101

There is only one way out of a situation where you are perceived as objectifying and exploiting women – apologise unconditionally and outline how you plan to make amends. What does ‘Times of India’ do instead? It makes personal attacks on Deepika Padukone.

Check out this excerpt: “Deepika, who began her career as a 'calendar girl' for a liquor brand, has written, ''Yes we marvel, envy and drool over a male actors 8 pack abs in a film, but do we zoom in on the mans 'crotch' when he makes a public appearance and make that 'cheap headlines'??!!'' Deepika, just for the record, we do not zoom into a woman's vagina or show her nipples. As a newspaper, we take every care to ensure that we pixelate them if they show up in a picture, but your cleavage is as sexy as Shah Rukh Khan's '8-pack' abs.”

To make it worse, if that’s possible, the rejoinder goes on to say, “Despite having made your point on Twitter, you have chosen to re-tweet every message and give as many interviews as you could. This has obviously been great publicity for you, timed perfectly with the release of your new film. The video's been on YouTube for a year, why object now?”

There is also some complicated justification for its editorial policy.

Newsflash for ‘Times of India’, I don’t think anyone cares how long the video has been up, making allegations of exploiting the issue for publicity is not going to help your cause.

2)     Keep the moral high ground behind you

In war as in PR, it never works to try and justify a position that is just not perceived to be right.

As a reporter covering the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh elections in the mid- nineties, I once did a story on the anti-liquor protest, driven by rural women, that was an election issue. As part of the story, trying to be even handed, I also interviewed the liquor vendors. A senior reporter told me that you can’t be seen as unsympathetic to the underdog, in this case the women, a lesson I learned quickly.

‘Times of India’ continues to make personal attacks by featuring several pictures of Deepika in what it feels are skimpy outfits. The statement includes this gem, “Deepika, we accept your reel vs. real argument, but what about all the times, and there have been many, when you have flaunted your body off screen — while dancing on stage, posing for magazine covers, or doing photo ops at movie promotional functions? What 'role' do you play there?”

Only one comment to that ‘Times of India’; what were you smoking?!

3)     Listen to what your stakeholders are saying

A cursory look at the reactions to the ‘Times of India’ story shows overwhelming support for Deepika Padukone. A newspaper is naturally as much a corporate and business entity as a media platform. That Times of India would not attempt to mitigate the damage by closing the issue instead of making further accusations shows that it just hasn’t understood what its’ audience is saying. This is always counterproductive, even more so in today’s instant world.

‘Times of India’ should take a page out of what blogger Perez Hilton did after he published revealing pictures of Jennifer Lawrence after the infamous iCloud hack. He apologised deleted the pictures and hasn’t published such pictures again – even though he does do stories on the continuing leaks of Hollywood celebs.

Perhaps it’s time for the newspaper to ring some of their PR contacts for advice!

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