Corona is not publicity tourism Mr Builder

Diary of a Real Estate Journalist 

The quest to be seen serving humanity in times of Coronavirus is so profound among the Indian builders that they have flooded the media with Press Release of their contribution. Ravi Sinha questions both the morality of beating own trumpets and the maturity of the sector in turning the pandemic as publicity tourism.

Ever since the Prime Minister announced the national lockdown post Coronavirus, my mailbox is flooded with self-glory of the builders. Each of them claiming to feed thousands of construction workers and other needy people. One Noida developer even sounded like donating his entire personal wealth with a meagre contribution of INR 5 lakh. I simply kept ignoring such self-congratulatory mails but the inherent quest to beg, borrow or steal the media publicity kept hounding me over phone call as well.  

While the claim of various developers might be questionable for reasons more than one, including the migration of rural workforce and the ground reports from their labour camps, I have more strong reason to object to such juvenile claims of holier than thou by a sector that historically has a lousy track record of even the mandatory CSR, forget about adopting to the best practices in the business.

It is your moral responsibility damn it to support your labours in times of national calamity. With no intention of exposing the respective developers, I must add here that I am personally in touch with many professionals within these companies as well as their contractors who provide them workers. The claims of humanitarian gesture in many cases are contradictory to the ground level reports. Forget the construction workers, the full time employees in many of these real estate companies are today apprehensive of salary cut, job losses, and even no work & no pay scenario.    

It is in this backdrop that in a typical “Ravi Sinha Uncensored” tone I told a PR girl who called me for one such Press Release by one of the largest developers of Mumbai, “Listen! As a matter of principle I am not carrying any story on food distribution to construction workers. But wait! Please give my feedback to your client, “He or any other builder is not doing any charity; not worth beating its own trumpet. This is a national calamity and you are morally bound to do so. Such Press Releases only make you look really petty. You can weave this info into some other story once the dust settles and everything is normal. But glorifying humanitarian gesture at this point of time is at best Corona Tourism for Publicity which is highly deplorable.” 

The Indian real estate has never been known for its maturity; not at least in terms of communications. Right from free food distribution to sanitation drive and other online initiatives to maintain social distancing, it seems the developers in this part of the world have to say something even when they don’t have something meaningful to say. The Coronavirus pandemic, as a matter of fact, has yet again exposed the Indian builders’ inherent urge to be in the media spotlight, for reasons fair or foul. Desiring media spotlight without deserving it has always been the trend in this sector.

This is in contrast to the matured industries worldwide, including India, where the large contribution and humanitarian gesture itself has made news without even the companies bombarding the media with publicity requests. When 14 global billionaires led by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett made a pledge to give away more than half of their wealth in charity they did not need a journalist; it was the other way round.

I personally think what the Indian real estate developers lack, other than sensitivity & empathy, is the vision to be seen as good brand ambassadors of the business. The problem is also with the fact that the sector is not collective in its spirit other than the customary bonhomie at the industry body CREDAI. With unprecedented Corona crisis they could have better thought something out of the box in terms of sharing collective responsibility to be seen as worth the name in print and TV.

I am yet to come across any developer in any part of the country that has engaged with the home buyers for carrying out any community service for the distressed people in the neighbourhood. On the contrary, I am privy to a builder facing buyers’ wrath at his project dictating to the staff and security guards not to take any help from the buyers. It is a different matter that the builder has not extended any humanitarian gesture to them on his part as well.

After having seen the immaturity and insensitivity of the real estate developers in trying best to turn Corona crisis into publicity opportunity, I am just wondering as to what would be next. With the kind of talent pool that I find in the PR industry and the developers’ poor understanding of the news worthiness, I feel moving forward I should better take the element of surprise out of my system.

The developers anyway are living in their own self-imposed glory of serving to the humanity and a section of media being managed by the PR agencies for glorifying it too. Being an old school journalist this immaturity baffles me. But the problem today is that the mushrooming of the non-serious web portals have given a window of opportunity to these publicity hungry folks. The developers know that one or the other website will pick up the story, even though the serious media would relegate their defined news item into the trash.

Furthermore, the quality of real estate journalism is so poor in this part of the world that they could be easily managed by the PR folks working for these builders. Then there is this problem of paid news where a builder could get anything published by paying the price to the media house. I was once asked by the marketing head of a Gurgaon-based developer about the builder’s glory story in one of the international magazines. I told her that it is a Case Study for me whenever I visit the media institute as a guest faculty. A very excited lady wanted to know what did I like the most in that story to make it worth my guest lectures. I admitted that I showcase that story as a Case Study in how not to do a paid story. The glory story with flowery language was a pamphlet of saying, “I paid for it.”

With my long standing experience of a journalist, I have many such anecdotes to share that speaks out loud about the immaturity of the real estate sector in seeking media publicity. But this time attempted Publicity Tourism out of a global pandemic is not just immaturity but also insensitivity that cries out loud to say: “Indian Real Estate is Not Dignified.” I rest my case with only one suggestion to the builders – Grow Up.


Track2Realty is an independent media group managed by a consortium of journalists. Starting as the first e-newspaper in the Indian real estate sector in 2011, the group has today evolved as a think-tank on the sector with specialized research reports and rating & ranking. We are editorially independent and free from commercial bias and/or influenced by investors or shareholders. Our editorial team has no clash of interest in practicing high quality journalism that is free, frank & fearless.

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