There was a time when there was no telecom beat (talking about print media) despite having half a dozen mobile operators in the country; this was back in 2003-04.
Being the oldest, naturally Mobilink pioneered the idea of having a Public Relation department, which was later replicated by other mobile operators. But full marks to Mobilink for pushing print media reporters to cover their events, products, services and so on.
Mobilink’s efforts combined with other cellular operators eventually convinced the media houses to define telecom as an independent beat by allocating dedicated reporters to cover the telecom industry.
Reporting after Telecom Boom:
Then there came a time when print media produced tons of news stories, analysis, researches and what not. If you remember, Business Recorder used to publish at least two pages for Telecom industry alone.
This was the time when Print media flourished. We saw dozens of new weeklies, dailies and monthly magazines appearing every other day and covering telecom industry.
Decline of Reporting after Economic Crunch:
Start of economic crunch, saturation in the market, coupled by elections in year 2008 was the beginning of down turn of telecom reporting. Telecom news in dailies started to shrink and ultimately started disappearing altogether by 2010 onwards.
If you look around presently, there hardly appears a telecom report or exclusive story in papers. No, I am not talking about press releases or reports detailing corporate events. In short, maturity of telecom industry didn’t mature the reporters and hence media houses and telecom reporters were left behind.
Policy shift of celcos:
Lack of interest from PR agencies and PR departments forced telecom reporters into the dead pool, where they now rely on press releases only. Telecom operators go less public now, just look at press conference they do these days as compared to 2005-08. Where are those NOC visits, cell site tours and other such activities to engage telecom reporters?
Here’s the reason: This is mainly because telecom operators have setup their businesses well and all they need now is the smooth sailing.
I have heard telecom reporters complaining about unsupportive PR departments. They say that mobile companies take days, even weeks, to respond to reporters’ queries. Most of the time they don’t comment or give you the required information in the name of privacy of corporate data.
Usage of marketing muscle further hampers the efforts of telecom reporters. They usually know that negative but genuine stories will go directly to editor’s dustbin – so they find it better to not to report such stories in the first place.
I don’t see things changing in coming months. Media houses and reporters should reconsider their current practices and the disadvantages it is bringing to their professional obligations.
Just look at the taxes that telecom consumers are paying, it’s highest amongst all sectors, but mobile operators, even being largest investors in the country, don’t do much about it. It’s not that they can’t, but as I said above, telecom operators are well off now, they opt not to use media for such issues, because if media goes up again – it may bug them in other matters too.
So equation is simple: Today telecom operators don’t care much about brand building, sales, or market reputation. Now they want to keep it simple, neat, smooth and without any questions.