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The lost art of press release writing

The art of writing good press releases is getting lost in Oman. The main reason being the publishing market is advertisement-driven and any content is printed ‘as is’, depending on the ties with the advertiser. It is not surprising to see copy-paste content camouflaged as press releases occupying ¾ space of a page in a daily newspaper. The brand advertises on a regular basis and has half-page ads on most days. Any rubbish they dish out goes into the print without any edits.

The only people who read those press releases are the agency handling that brand, top management of the brand whose names have been mentioned in the write-up, and competitors of the brand. The general public (readers) are not interested in reading press releases running up to 800 words. So much so that a well written and an interesting press release (news peg) from an entry-level brand goes almost unnoticed because it has been tucked some where down the page. From experience, I can vouch that to write a 500-word press release it takes a lot of time, and moreover it is a herculean task to source inputs from different departments within a company. If there are quotes involved in the press release then it will run into days with most top management guys being very finicky about what goes into the quote under their name.

The ad executives are also spoiling the way professional press releases are being written by encouraging advertisers to send ‘content’ which could be published as a complimentary offer for the quarter page advertisement. Thanks to Google, in most companies the secretaries of CEOs and MDs are the content generators and whatever they source from Internet goes into the print the next day. Brands are happy, they assume their staff can write well and they think professional writers are just hype. So, next time a PR agency approaches a brand the senior management guy might as well say, “We have people in our company to write press releases.” Be rest assured that a secretary or a finance executive could be writing their press releases. I am not saying they can’t write, but they will not be able to write the way professionals write.

But then who cares in a market like Oman?

Here is a piece I wrote for Business Today on branding via Twitter

ou are what you tweet. After being on Twitter for six years, I can vouch for that line. I was among the first few in Oman who ventured into Twitter in 2007 when the digital crowd was busy blogging as well as getting ready to be overtaken by the Facebook rage.

Circa 2013, the social media landscape has undergone a sea change. Twitter has really come into its own as a social media giant in the sultanate with most corporates and individuals spending time on this space to listen, talk and share – ultimately resulting in branding of sorts for themselves and the companies they represent.

Though the exact numbers are not available, Oman probably has around 200,000 active Twitter users, a majority of whom tweet in Arabic. As of today, corporate leaders, individuals, high-ranking officials and government establishments have flooded the twitterverse. News, views and thoughts are shared second by second for the consumption of watchful users.

For individual users, Twitter is one of the social media channels where they can brand themselves for free. A few interesting tweets on current affairs, local roundup, sports, technology and your profession, and you could be followed by people with similar interests or who agree with your line of thought.

A tweep interacts with his/her followers, talks to them, re-tweets them, and he/she is on it. In a span of weeks and months, the user could be followed by hundreds of like-minded people who consider the tweep an authentic source of information on the topics of their interest. Once you constantly feed the followers with quality content, you will get more re-tweets, thereby attracting more followers. So much so that after a few years a user will turn out to be an influencer in his/her area of expertise.

For instance, your tweets on the new restaurant in town could persuade your Twitter followers to try out the food or your negative review of a just launched smartphone could influence your followers’ buying choices. Although, it doesn’t happen much in Oman, in other Middle East countries and rest of the world, social media stars (read influencers) are given new gadgets to review or try the new menu before the restaurant is thrown open for the general public. But then, the influencer has to make sure he doesn’t turn into a blind brand endorser much to the disappointment of his followers.

Personally, my preferred topics on Twitter are social media, local happenings, food, current affairs, movies and sports. Posting around 10-20 tweets per day is my practice and of course this varies depending on my daily schedule. My follower count stands at 1900-plus and I follow around 250 people. The advantages of being on Twitter are many – professional and personal. While I have been offered many projects by leading corporates in Oman, twitterverse has enabled me to meet many amazing people who are among my good friends today.

Also, in markets like India, people are hired based on their Twitter interactions by headhunters who are looking for candidates for recruitment. Tweets reveal a lot about a person, and it is no wonder that the HR people are all over Twitter. I am sure this trend will catch on in Oman with the twitterati numbers catching up.

The reach of Twitter is truly remarkable. Sometime back, I happened to be at a five-star resort for lunch, and bumped into the corporate communication head. After business cards were exchanged, she quipped, “So you are Kishor Cariappa…I read your tweets regularly.” It is not surprising for me these days when I go to meet a new client, to find that the marketing head has done a bit of Google research about me and our company, and we end up dissecting tweets of mutual interest.

Being active on Twitter also means that when a Google search query is run against your name, chances are very high that your Twitter profile is displayed as the top five search results in the first page.

Twitter also comes in handy for small entrepreneurs and SMEs in Oman who don’t have the big budgets to brand themselves or their company by way of print or radio advertising. They use the power of 140 characters to do branding for their companies for free. That is why it is not surprising to see bakers taking orders via tweets and DMs (direct messages) these days. Twitter has indeed become a cool marketing tool. Airlines, telcos, banks, insurance companies, auto brands – most of them are on Twitter nowadays.

Brands and corporates are embracing Twitter to connect with prospective customers to sell the product and also to hear what customers are saying about the brand.

Quite a few corporate handles on Twitter in Oman have gained user acceptance because they listen, talk and execute what is promised. But at times I do find that some of them are not able to sustain their account for want of a dedicated person handling the account. That is why corporate houses need to sort out their social media strategy before they jump on the Twitter bandwagon.

There are those corporates who have taken full benefit of the advent of Twitter mainly to keep their customers loyal. So, next time when you are facing issues with your telecom provider or your bank, look out for their Twitter handles and tweet them your grievance. You will be surprised to know that they listen and act.

My advice for individuals and brands is not to be fidgety, haughty or sluggish on Twitter. Be at ease, genuine and active. Above all if you interact with the crowd that matches your wavelength, you can be rest assured that you will have the time of your life hanging out in in this special space.

Business Today link of the article.

My two cents on Facebook IPO in Y weekly tabloid

Here is the PDF link for the article: http://kishorcariappa.posterous.com/132808601 

4 years on Twitter

I have been on Twitter for four long years now. It has been an interesting journey and I have clocked nearly 32,000 tweets in the process. In Oman, Twitter was an unheard social media entity until a couple of years back, and thanks to the Arab Spring, the medium really caught the fancy of local netizens. In 2011, people jumped into Twitter bandwagon to follow updates on Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen and the likes.

Local tweeps or Twitter users are growing by the day, and tweeting on a variety of topics ranging from technology to traffic updates to food to weather. I do follow quite a few interesting tweeps in Oman, and interact with them on a regular basis. The best thing about Twitter for me is the pace at which the news breaks. It is only later the print, online media and TV channels pick up the leads and go in-depth into the stories. Well, like it happens with citizen journalism, it is always advisable to take breaking news stuff with a pinch of salt due to the credibility factor.

Another good thing about Twitter is that you can engage with like-minded folks who share similar interests like you. Over the years, I have been to many tweet-ups (informal gathering of Twitter users) in Oman. Meeting people offline is a different experience altogether and I should acknowledge that I have met some really nice people and quite a few off-putting types in the process. For many, Twitter becomes an addiction – they are on it from 6am till 12am 24×7. Once they are addicted, they want to prove their worth, attract more followers and end up doing stupid things to be in the limelight. I know some people offline who are active on Twitter, and I must admit that sometimes their tweets sound so unreal and doesn’t sync a bit with their real life personality. It is so easy to fake larger-than-life image on Twitter.

I do like a lot of tweeps from Oman, India and elsewhere who constantly keep me entertained and informed about the topics I like. But, I think blogging is any day better than Twitter in terms of having meaningful conversations with knowledgeable people. Thanks to Twitter, many happening bloggers have either stopped blogging or blogging once in a blue moon just to keep their blog alive. After ignoring my blog for a couple of years, I have now realised that nothing can come close to charm of blogging. It may be old school, but it is still very relevant. Ask Google search.

(My Twitter handle: @KishorCariappa)

Press releases 365 days and overkill

Although I am in the business of press releases and public relations, I find it difficult to digest the fact that a few banking, telecom and automotive companies in Oman believe in dishing out press releases to local media nearly every day. I always wonder their PR strategy (or lack of it) behind such a move.

Why do companies insist on being in the news 365 days? Here are my guesses:

1.    They give regular ads and it is only fair they take advantage by giving out daily press releases.

2.    They need to keep the customers informed about every important to silly things happening in the company.

3.    They have an in-house PR team, and they need to make full use of their services.

4.    PR services have been outsourced, and the agency has brainwashed the client to be in news daily. The agency does this to justify their huge billing.

5.    Our competitors are in news always, so we better stay ahead of the competition in terms of press releases.

6.    Brand building happens with daily mentions for the company.

7.    Management team of the company wants their photos to be flashed in newspapers regularly.

8.    Reader is a donkey. He/she will read any crap printed in the newspapers/magazines.

As a reader, if a company dishes out daily press releases, I wouldn’t be able to differentiate their important announcement from mundane ones because of brand fatigue or overkill. Why would I waste my precious few minutes reading an 800-word PR on a new car model or a 650-word PR on excitement building over a bank draw?

You might have the best of resources to write press releases or you might be a big time ad spender, but what is the use of press releases if the readers choose to ignore the news?

Dear companies, sometimes step into readers’ shoes. It helps.