So I happened to attend a gathering of associates in Delhi, recently. Let me explain the term ‘associates’. If you work in public relations or corporate communication, you know them better as stringers or affiliates. If you work in journalism in a Tier-2/3/below city of India, these are the folk who are not from established consultancies, who call you up for stories, because they are paid by larger consultancies, for media outreach in locations where they don’t have a presence. And if you are a stringer / affiliate / associate, I’m talking about you.
I present here a few discussions that came up recurrently at the meeting, first to the communications community.
Delayed payments: Of the 12 folk who met for a round of drinks, 11 said they regularly faced delayed payments from consultancies who hired them. Nine of these 12 had travelled to Delhi for this meeting, so this is an all-India opinion we speak of. Pay your people, even your affiliates, folk. Goodness of heart doesn’t pay bills. If necessary, make part-payments for part-deliverables, but make them.
Reliable people: Several associates said they had lost face due to fly-by-night operators who delivered very little yet expected full payment. This led to distrust even for people who delivered. A solution for consultancies – identify stringers for each geography who are reliable and then ensure delivery. Then, stick by them.
Calling a stringer an office in the particular city: A very common issue that several associates stated was, the consultancy hiring us tells their clientele that we are their employees, when in fact, we are not. To all consultancies out there – stop misrepresenting. I know of more than 15 consultancies (yes, I counted before I typed this out) who tell clientele that they have 15 offices across India, when in fact they have two (more often than not, two of Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore) with the remaining 13 being stringers / affiliates / associates.
Do not count editions as clips: To all ye stringers out there – if a story you did in Jamshedpur appears in Ranchi in a different edition of the same paper, don’t count it as a separate clip. While you are right in doing so (different editions = unique readers), the consultancy-paying-your-dues may not see it as such. Because their client does not see it as such. Therefore, know your ultimate paymaster. And follow her / his instructions. Because being right isn’t always equal to being paid.
Do not count regional bloggers of no standing as clips. It costs 300 rupees to set up a website: I oft come across associates who say with pride – I make sure that the story appears on x number of sites because I own those sites.
Stop cheating your client. The client is not an idiot. They can see through a farce.
Misrepresentation of tier-1/2/3 as Tier 1: To all stringers out there, you may be the queen / king of your territory, but as I said, the client isn’t an idiot. So if you say that a publication is Tier-1 in your city/state, make sure it is. If the client knows better, they lose faith and interest in dealing with you. That means delayed payments, broken promises and unreceived calls.
Give complete information including editions, readership etc.: If you need complete payments, give complete information. Just getting a mention or an interview in a publication is not enough. Be specific and be comprehensive. And do not, under any circumstances expect more than you deliver. Give half-baked information, and thou shalt receive half-cooked replies to payment queries.
As someone running an industry forum, I oft get calls asking for reliable associates in Tier-2/3 cities. As someone who stays in touch with people, I also get calls from associates, who ask how to get their dues, when unfairly held back.
While I may continue to help both sides, I have a request to both – neither side is a fool, stop treating them as one. Pay for only as much as you receive, but at least have the decency of making payments. Ask for only as much as you deliver, but avoid the temerity of asking for payments you have not delivered for.