Thursday, October 8, 2009

Guest Lecture for MMC students studying Journalism and MBA students studying PR at Symbiosis Institute of Media and Communication

Publicity: The good, the bad and the ugly sides
An article by Devleena De of Symbiosis

“Good publicity is good. Bad publicity is better. Ugly publicity is the best... because it travels the fastest and hits the hardest. The worst of all is no publicity.” So says, Dale Bhagwagar in his Facebook account and thus fuels the endless debate on the ethics of public relation (PR) practices and their impact on almost every industry today, especially entertainment.
An afternoon with one of the Bollywood's best known public relation officer (PRO) or publicist, as he prefers to call himself will certainly be electrifying to say the least, especially, if the audience comprises aspiring PR and journalism students. After serving as a publicist with the likes of Hrithik Roshan, Govinda, Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Shiney Ahuja, Vivek Oberoi and several others, some rather infamous names, Bhagwagar offered a very interesting insight on the glitz, glitterati and high flying life of the rich and the famous of the glamour world. For instance, Shiney Ahuja – as the world has never seen him, or Shilpa Shetty – post the Bigg Boss controversy, the making of Sherlyn Chopra and miscellaneous.
Questions were answered, notions cleared and ideas reinstated but with their fair share of debate, as is expected with an orator as diplomatically overt and an audience as opinionated as this. Thus, the ancient war between the journalists and PROs ensued with Bhagwagar acting as the devil's advocate and fuelling it on its comments like, 'The job of a PR professional is ten-fold more difficult than that of a journalist'.
Outrageous as it might sound, it cannot be denied that a PR professional has the responsibility of regulating not just one medium of communication but the multitude of information sources that are made public. Journalists, on the other hand, have the task of checking the content of just the one medium that they are associated with.

Every erroneous or errant press release or news story can make or break the brand image of an organisation or an individual and onus of ensuring that that doesn't happen lies entirely with the PRO. A leading entertainment company was recently in the news in context of fraud accusations against the promoters of the company for attempting to propagate false information through an inaccurate press release to increase the share price of the company. Several such instances can be cited where publicity- negative or positive has confounded the masses and influenced their opinion and yet PR practitioners take comfort from the conception that there is more to PR than just manipulation and tweaking of information.
Perhaps, the key to this suave journalist- turned PRO's success in the industry is his familiarity with the way journalists function. Remarkably, Bhagwagar was tactfully explicit when it came to his clientele and ostentatiously made statements that he claimed were 'off the record' in front of cameras and an audience that was sure to quote him. Contrary to media reports stating that Shiney Ahuja is a heavy drinker, his ex-publicist refuted the statement but did not try to refute Ahuja's alleged relation with his maid but shrewdly remaining noncommittal towards the rape accusation. Bhagwagar provides a fine illustration of the universal PR-journo algorithm: While one indicts, the other defends.
The news media and the corporate communication side of the media always work synchronously and yet journalists and PR professionals have a distinct love-hate relationship. Neither can exist without the other. Dissemination of information is as important as determining what information is to be disseminated and hence, while the importance of PR can't be denied in the communication cycle, journalism too plays an indispensable role. Undeniably, in the entertainment industry almost all publicity is good since it serves to keep the individual associated with it in the headlines. What other reason would explain why the audience flocked in massive numbers to screenings of films like Fashion, Girlfriend, Julie, Murder, Company and many more.
Sleaze, skin show, alleged liaisons or that matter, anything that raises eyebrows can be considered as a successful publicity tactic today, since they serve to do exactly what PR essentially does. Despite being associated with names like Sherlyn Chopra, infamous for her skimpy bikinis, which he admits was his publicity strategy to get her noticed, Bhagwagar claims that PR has an ethical context to it. “There is a thin red line that differentiates manipulation from being unethical tweaking. While I manipulate, I also let my conscience do the talking,” he asserts. But the question is where that thin red line lies.

Screenshot of the article on

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