Rahul Gandhi’s Media (Mis)Plan

Updated: Feb 12, 2014, 17:13 PM IST

Enough has already been written about Rahul Gandhi’s first interview to a TV channel. Enough has already been talked about the interview. However, people like me are still writing and talking about it even after so many days. Does that mean the interview was a success? It was no doubt a success for the channel and its journalist. However, can we say the same for the protagonist, Rahul Gandhi and his party?

How has the general feedback been for the interview? Why are people talking so much about it? More importantly, what are people talking about? That this could be an election gimmick, is no more a talking point in our country. However, if winning votes was the objective, has Rahul Gandhi been successful in the endeavour? Majority of the people that I have talked to, or the majority of the online world seems to have been very disappointed with the interview. Ironically, even the Congress supporters have not taken it kindly. So, what has gone wrong? The answer lies in poor media planning.

The first and foremost aspect of any media plan is its objective. Everybody knows at the macro level that the interview was given with an eye on the elections. So far, so good. But, the moot question is what did Rahul set out to achieve for the elections? Was the objective to showcase the achievements of the UPA-II government? Was the objective to clear the misconceptions doing the rounds about his government? Was the objective to counter the allegations made by the opposition? Nothing seems to be clear.

Next, comes the target audience. Who was the target audience of the interview? Urban people, or rural people, or the urban poor, or the middle class, or the youth, or the women? Who was Rahul Gandhi actually addressing? If one were to go by the setting of the interview or the choice of the channel, then at least the rural people or the urban poor could not have been the targets. Rahul Gandhi chose an English private news channel for his first interview, so he could have been possibly targeting the urban population. Were the choice of the channel and the language of communication apt? What happened to our dear Doordarshan? Well, the answer depends on the objective that he set out to meet. Since nobody, except for perhaps the Congress party itself has any clarity on the objective, we can only make assumptions.

Rahul Gandhi must really be appreciated for one thing – his guts. Not only did he set out to give an interview amidst all the brouhaha surrounding his party, he also had the courage to sit for an over 70-minute interview while the norm is to give 22-minute interviews. Was it actually courage, or yet again lack of planning? Given the miniscule number of points and the numerous repetitions that he made, even a 22-minute interview would have been too long for him. When the content was lacking, at least planning could have come to the rescue.

Strangely, Rahul`s body language during the interview, like the lack of eye contact, was a clear giveaway.

Is Rahul Gandhi likely to continue giving interviews, given the disastrous performance in the first one? The irony is that it may be possible that he does not even know that his interview was a disaster. Therefore, as a first step, he needs to get feedback for the interview, not from his coterie or people with ulterior motives, but from genuine sources like journalists or people who would have the guts to tell him the truth. Plus, the online world is full of feedback. Of course, one needs to discount the comments from malicious sources. However, even after that there would be a lot of takeaways.

He cannot not give more interviews. In fact, he needs to continue practicing till he becomes good, if not perfect. It is only then that this interview would fade away in the public memory.

Now that it is established that Rahul Gandhi cannot escape giving more interviews, here are some points for consideration. Apart from the points already touched upon like setting out clear objectives, choosing the right medium, language and duration, and confident body language, there are some other aspects that Rahul’s media planners must take care of.

When would the next interview be telecast? The first one took almost a decade, so the next one cannot take another. Rahul Gandhi needs to keep giving interviews to keep refreshing the memory of its viewers. Rahul needs to take cue from his arch rival, Narendra Modi. Modi is so visible that he is considered to be accessible, which is not really the case. Rahul too needs to shed his image of living in an ivory tower.

And, how will the next interview be different from the first one? It should not turn out that only the channel or the journalist changes, and content remains more or less the same. In the first interview, there were no takeaways, there were no actionable items. This should never be the case again.

One of the easiest and time-tested strategies is to come up with a list of frequently asked questions and expected answers. The questions that the journalist asked were so obvious and on the expected lines, that it is unforgivable for Rahul to have not been prepared for them. He could have also given some leading answers that could have moved the interview in a direction that Rahul wanted. He could have highlighted his government’s achievements, appeased the minority communities, countered some allegations, quelled some fears, etc. Sadly, this time he addressed none. Hopefully, this does not repeat in his future interviews.

After an interview is done, there should be some follow-up action like highlighting of the good points and underplaying of the bad ones. The negative feedback, especially in the online world, can be and should be countered. Things that could not be explained well during the interview, can be explained later.

Rahul’s media planners need to keep an eye on the industry trend, if politics can be labelled as an industry. The trend is to reach out to people through a mix of media at various touch points. For every interview on TV, there should be at least one interview in a leading newspaper, and multiple comments in the online world. For every interview in the urban setting, there should be an interview in the rural setting. For every interview for the rich, there should be an interview for the poor. For every interview targeted at the old, there should be an interview for the young. For every interview targeted at the majority, there should be an interview for the minority. In short, one stand-alone interview with no beginning and no end, cannot suffice. It can cause only damage, like this one has done.

Here’s hoping for many more interviews by Rahul Gandhi...!

(Shobhika Puri is a freelance writer.)

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