Behind the scenes of Genesis Burson-Marsteller's newsroom in India

More than 18 months after Burson-Marsteller set up its first newsroom operation, Gary Scattergood visited Gurgaon to see how it is shaping coverage for clients

The GBM Live newsroom in Gurgaon
The GBM Live newsroom in Gurgaon

"What sets our newsroom project apart is that we are not targeting or trying to monitor the mass market; we are focusing on the influencers."

In that one sentence, Genesis Burson-Marsteller president Nikhil Dey seeks to explain what is different about the agency’s newsroom operation in Gurgaon.

Newsroom concepts, in different guises, have become increasingly popular over the past couple of years as brands and agencies strive to monitor, serve and respond to the growing number of social media platforms.

Some agencies have set up dedicated newsrooms for a particular brand – either temporary or permanent – others have established them for specific projects, while some are more akin to social listening stations than content creation hubs.

But as Dey points out, the media landscape is markedly different in India to many other Asian markets.

"The printed press is still very strong in India and has a lot of influence. There are a vast number of publications, in different languages. Keeping on top of these is very important, in addition to the TV channels, social media and online news sites."

Rolling news

At either end of the newsroom sit two walls of screens, each displaying different data and insights, alongside the rolling news channels.

At its simplest, one screen has the names of key clients in either red or green. If it is green, it is generating more media coverage than its competitors, if it is red vice-versa.

There are also social media streams and stats, a constant flow of what the newspapers and their online sites are covering, and research capabilities that enable the team to drill down and get hard data about how a story has been covered across multiple platforms.

Despite the proliferation of information, Dey says gut instinct and PR flair are still important.

"This information and data helps shape this," he adds.

What it is not for, he stresses, is to respond to consumers, the mass market, or drive instant social media posts.

"We are trying to provide content for the journalist, not for the end consumers. We are certainly not trying to bypass the journalist and go straight to the public. If we did, we would be one among many others."

The newsroom is headed by former journalist Binesh Kutty who has been instructed "not to leave the hat of an editor".

He says he has been able to fuse core journalistic principles with the newsroom technology to create compelling content for brands – which otherwise would have been spiked or left on the cutting room floor.

One such example was a piece of work for Panasonic. The firm wanted to promote its new camera and invited a National Geographic photographer to attend a press launch. The agency was tasked with drumming up press interest – a task thwarted by the event being held on a Sunday morning.

"That’s when we got involved," says Kutty. ‘We knew it wasn’t likely to attract too many journalists, and those that did would probably focus more on National Geographic than Panasonic."

Kutty’s solution was for he and his team to attend the event, film some clips and interview the photographer.

"We were not asked to do this by the client," adds Dey (pictured above). "But we saw an opportunity to create additional content that would be relevant for them."

Indeed, Kutty’s video footage featuring top tips for people buying their first DSLR was picked up by a raft of publications.

For now, the agency is taking a proactive approach and not waiting to be commissioned. As Dey states, clients are not going to be willing to pay for an untested idea upfront; they need to know it has merit.

"What is clear," Dey adds, "is that when we approach clients with this work they want it because it fits in with the type of content they need. Both the Panasonic example, and another proactive project we did for Ford, have led them to want more of this type of work from us."

This proactive approach is not only restricted to content creation. The team actively monitors key journalists on social media, looking for leads.

"One example," adds Kutty, "was a well known journalist who tweeted that he didn’t really understand cloud technology. A few days later we saw he also tweeted he was visiting Bangalore, where one of our cloud technology clients is. We got in touch and set up a meeting between the two, which otherwise would never have happened."

Dey adds: "This represents what the newsroom offers us. We can see what people are saying and what journalists are writing across the country. This then gives us the opportunity to see how our clients can fit in."

The newsroom team is also using the data at its disposal to produce reports looking at the latest media trends and the type of stories that journalists are seeking, such as a study published last week into the power of surveys.

Mobile app

The next step for the newsroom project is to ensure it is used at an institutional level across the firm.

Key to this will be the introduction of a mobile app, allowing all staff to access the insights and data generated, wherever they are.

There is also talk of it being rolled-out to other Asian markets, providing the technology can be effectively tailored to manage and interpret multiple languages; it is already translating 14 Indian languages into English.

"The app will be a very big deal, but it will put all of this information at peoples’ fingertips. We have worked very hard over the past 18 months to make sure we get this whole project right because there is a difference between having these tools and making sense of them" adds Dey.

"We haven’t rushed into things and promised what we can’t deliver, but now we and our clients are seeing the true value of what we can provide."

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