When you read a story on a website or in print about a certain star or facts about a new movie sometimes it comes from a PR firm. The publicist sends specific stories to be published to hype a certain movie, reveal certain facts or shape a new image. But that is just one aspect of a publicist’s job, there many other ways and tricks of the trade that they utilize to represent their client. One of the hardest working PR specialists in Bollywood is Dale Bhagwagar. Known as a PR guru, Dale and his firm the Dale Bhagwagar Media Group currently handle Hrithik Roshan, Vivek Oberoi, Randeep Hooda, Chunky Panday, Zulfi Syed, Nikita Anand and Shama Sikander. Previously he has represented Shilpa Shetty, Priyanka Chopra, Esha Deol and Shiney Ahuja to name a few. According to Dale, PR is so much more than mere publicity, it is about contacts and knowing where and when to release a story, it “is an intriguing mind-game in a media minefield.” Recently in their Ask the specialist section, FilmNarvana.com sat down with Dale to find out more about what is involved in the PR game. His answers gave great insight into the PR world and here are some highlights from that interview.
Dale was asked to define what PR is and he replied, “I think PR is all about influencing minds, forming perceptions, and defining the way people see things. I often say that we are living in a world where perception is reality. With the kind of reach a good PR has, he or she can sway opinions in various directions. This is also why it becomes extremely important to keep PR ethics in mind while executing promotional strategies and branding brands. Otherwise, a PR can end up misleading society and causing havoc.” Adding that publicity is only one aspect of a PR’s job, it is much more complex than that, “Plain publicity is more to do with recognition and hype. But a complete PR package is about moulding outlooks of people to suit the client’s requirements. It’s about imaging, branding and executing makeovers. PR is an intriguing mind game in a media minefield.”
So how much control does a PR specialist have over what gets out there about their clients? “Today, PRs decide where to break exclusive stories, what angles and news pegs to highlight, and who they want to patronise for exclusive news breaks. On so many occasions, I have broken huge stories on foreign websites catering to NRIs and created extensive impact by spreading the web links, and also through news wire services on the net. Then, I have got the same story picked up by our national television channels, who have given it more importance, just because of its international web presence. This is only one little PR trick. But three years ago, this strategy would have been considered professional harakiri, as then, not many valued the impact of the internet, or trusted its content’s credibility.”
According to Dale, the way PR is handled has changed and the internet is just one tool that PRs now use, “Technology, gadgetry and internet have taken the PR world by storm. Gone are the days when a publicist could make friends with a couple of journalists from select publications and channels and run his office. Now, PR is about a mass communication network. For a PR specialist, networking is a daily commitment, not a monthly ritual. There is a whole new world with loads of newspapers, channels, websites and radio stations to cater to. I have a mailing list of 2,500 journalists across India and abroad, and though it’s probably the largest mailing list amongst my fraternity, I still feel, I could double it soon.”
Speaking of working with the media, he was asked, “The relationship between the media and PR practitioners is that of a love-hate one. What are some mistakes you see PR practitioners make when dealing with the media?” His answer: “Good question. See, the journalist loves the power of pen. And the PR wants to manipulate the pen. It’s a never-ending tussle. I would love to see journalists scoop out news and stories, go on the field and thoroughly investigate. But in today’s times, with pressures of quantity, most of the scribes end up taking down all the information on the phone from PRs. Actors have strategically become inaccessible and most of the information flow is scrutinised and filtered by the publicist. In a couple of months, as thousands of Nano’s hit the roads, and jam the Mumbai traffic further, the situation will become more complex. I am already preparing for the time when TV interviews will be done via video conferencing.”
It has been said that any publicity is good publicity and Dale definitely agrees with that. “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. Welcome to the age of spice and sensationalism. And yes, be careful. And be prepared to be shocked every now and then.”
He also feels that PR campaigns will soon be the way that many clients will go instead of Marketing and Advertising, especially in the financial climate today. “Though you may find this a little hard to digest at the moment, but mark my words, the recession is going to bring in a boom time for my profession. As more and more people realise the cost-effectiveness of PR campaigns, their attention will shift from the expensive ad campaigns to PR strategies and placements.”
In recent years Bollywood certainly has made itself known on the world stage and it is only the beginning, so does he see the emergence of big corporate PR firms? “Yes, they will come. But again, like that of star secretaries; PR too is a personalised job. A ‘client servicing’ rep from a corporate agency cannot understand the moods, ambitions, insecurities and temperaments of our Bollywood stars, as well as a personal and dedicated independent PR can. So the independents will always survive and grow, as they also bring in the element of trust, faith and secrecy in their dealings and day to day workings. Any celebrity definitely needs this kind of security and discretion, which the big agencies mostly lack in.”
So how does he decide who to represent? “First, I look at the news value angles of the actor or product. Then comes the gossip value.” Adding,”I’m least bothered about a client being big or small, classy or wannabe, clean or scandalous. In fact, it would be challenging for me to handle someone like Raj Thackeray or Salman Khan. I feel, the latter has always had a super-strong fan following in India and abroad, but terribly lacked in media branding and cashing in on it; the way his contemporary, Shah Rukh Khan, has.”
The big trend today is celebrities writing their own blogs but Dale feels that this is actually a mistake in terms of PR. “I feel, blogging is a fad and also a PR blunder in the making for big stars. In today’s times, there is already an overflow of information and news from all quarters. If you are not a celebrity, not many are interested to read what you update on a daily basis. If you are Amitabh Bachchan, you end up making your daily comments and feelings ‘commonplace’, and can even face risking the all-important superstar ‘aura’ because of it. I believe that blogging will be the in thing for a few months or maximum two more years, and then its shine will begin to diminish. Though I also think, blogging can have a lot of scope for product or company promotion, or for teaching. As of now, these areas haven’t been properly explored by bloggers.”
Sadly he would not reveal any trade secrets about how he handles it when a star is shown in a bad light but he did reveal a little known fact about the PR’s job, “I’ve never revealed this before, so you might be surprised that today my job is equally about concealment of stories, protection and crisis management, than imaging and branding. There are times, when I am specifically hired to divert media attention from certain facets of an actor’s life, than to build images. I’m even working in secrecy, for this very famous actress, while no one, except my small staff and media reps, is aware of what I’m plugging where, and in what name. PR is a very complicated and scheming world today. And not many in the profession itself; have fully understood its tentacles.”
Certainly appears that Dale is up to the Machiavellian aspects of the publicist trade and his clients are in good hands! Besides his current star client list Dale handled the PR for the films Rock On!! and The Other End of the Line and will be for the exciting projects to come from Ashok Amritraj / Hyde Park Entertainment.