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21.6.07

Urgently looking for a holiday for x2 journalists

PR Bunnies are getting a stuffing at the moment from various journalist blogs about bad pitches on stories – Charles Arthur obviously has some genuine grievances as he works in such a specialist area at The Guardian and its tech section. But Getting Ink has a similar shtick.
But I do wonder if they do protest too much. For those of you who subscribe to the various news feeds and online journalist query services you might wonder what the journalists actually think we do. And remember I was a journalist for many years – back in the day when all we had was notebook and shorthand, and actually went out to talk to people about their dead son, or decrepit council house dwellers about dog shit on the pavement, and do court and council.
They certainly don’t appear to think that PR is a profession aimed at managing the reputation of clients and their products and services. Indeed, judging by the requests below they seem to think that we have access to the sort of people the Red Tops usually have on their front page. And I don’t wish to point the finger at the Red Tops because we get similar requests from the broadsheets, women’s magazines and others.
Here are just a few of the genuine requests we have had from journalists currently on deadline:

Hi, we're looking for genuine members of the Mile High Club for a feature. They need to be in their 20s or early 30s and quite photogenic. We need a 15 minute phone interview with them about their experience - why did they do it, how was it, and would they do it again?
We also need a pic of them. We pay £100 on publication and £25 tip off fee.
Thanks.

Fantastic – If I was PRO at BA, EastyJet or RyanAir I would clearly think we have a solid media proposition here – NOT.

I would like to speak to women who have had at least two abortions. They can be photographed in silhouette and their identity can be protected. I need three women - one in her 20's, 30's and 40's. The case studies would be used along side a report of government figures that state an abortion is carried out in the UK every three minutes. I am interested in why the women had the abortion in the first place, how they feel about it now and their reaction to the figures mentioned earlier. There would be a payment of £100 to each study and I would endeavour to mention any organisation that has helped.

Fantastic – what a great opportunity for my client AbortionsRUs! I must get on the phone to this thrusting investigative journalist. What other seedy clients can I peddle - um?

Possible magazine feature on drugs and the physical harm.
Are you a woman of 25-35 who does or has taken coke? Has doing so damaged your nose causing septum erosion? How has this changed your life and are you still using despite this? Tell us your story by contacting…

For God’s sake we are a PR company … we’re still using by the way though, Shoot up anyone?

I'm looking for women in their 20s and 30s who've made a conscious decision to give up sex for a year or so because they are fed up of ending up with the wrong men, choosing blokes who only want sex but nothing more, or even having one night stands which they've later regretted. The idea is that these women are taking a breather from dating and sex to work out what they really want from a man and how best to get it. I'd require a telephone interview and studio photoshoot.

Give me strength.

Urgently looking for a holiday for x2 journalists for feature to be written later in the year. Full credits given

Presumably earlier holiday plans had gone awry. I don't know.

And yes they are all real. What happened to old-fashioned, get-up-and-go-find-a-story-for-you- self-school-of-journalism? I wonder what some editors and news desks would think if they knew their staff were doing this? Perhaps they do? Oh, and by the way we never, never, get these requests from regional newspapers.
Or perhaps this is just one of the inevitable by-products of the internet. Any views? I did a version of this post last year and the requests we are getting still continue to scrape the barrel. The Daily Mail is the worst by the way – I think I should make this a regular feature. Watch this space.
I suggest Worst News Trawl Of the Day. Should I include names?

14 comments:

Stephen Davies said...

Nice to read a little balance. Thanks.

Ian Green said...

It's not so much balance I am concerned about than transparency. I get these requests all day (100-plus) and then they slag off PRs for spam.
I have never pitched a story which I have not been confident would make an honest news story based on old-fashioned news values. We write journo proof copy I think.
But then they publish the press release verbatim - with their byline!!!
Or is it just me?

Lisa said...

Utterly astonishing. Yeah - go on, name and shame.

Linda said...

Hi Ian - here's my 2p fwiw, there are great PR people and there are the rubbish ones who give PR a bad name. There are great journalists and crap ones who give journalism a bad name - simplistic I know, it's late and I am a bit simple, after all.

I think that the posts you are referring to do an excellent job in shining a light on rubbish PR and making people more accountable, I think your post is perfectly understandable.

I was working on a piece a couple of weeks back that has yet to be published all about journalists going into PR, the stick they can get when they do and what happens if they then "go back" - as I personally am choosing to do. I was talking to a highly respected national journalist who has never done any PR work and he basically told me he was pissed off by colleagues who seemed to think PR was a "morally corrupt" occupation while journalists were somehow above reproach. I think I agree. Why am I so worthy of contempt as a PR person for flagging up say news of something happening at our local hospice when some (swear word deleted but Peter Kay has an Uncle of the same name) reporter is asking for a freebie holiday?

As a journalist I'd love to have those requests through so I can get off my ar*e and find these people, and have worked on similar stories for women's mags etc - but would I ever contemplate showing them to a PR client, erm, I don't think so.

Cheers. Are you still twittering after a few pints? I packed it in - (Twitter and the pints.)

Ian Green said...

Linda!
Long time no see. Couldn't agree more - there is good and bad in both camps.
I blame email - it astonishes me that journalists (particularly the younger ones) prefer to converse, even conduct interviews via email. The same is true of young PRs.
We insist that our lot use the phone and actually TALK to people whether they are clients or when they are doing a media pitch.
Saying "I've sent him an email" is not an option.
Are you going back to full-time journalism? I would like to have a foot in both camps - but I don't think that is really an option.

Anonymous said...

Hello again Sir,

I have had my foot in both camps for four years now, and it's not nice - I have had lots of sleepless nights about it, I have always passed on any potential features etc that came from an idea to promote a PR client to another journalist and have been writing 'human interest' stuff for women's magazines etc that doesn't clash, while also building a small company taking on PR for organisations/companies - but I have begin to feel that I can concentrate on journalism now and my colleagues (who are much better at it than me, as they have sunnier dispositions) can crack on with marketing/event management etc.

So that makes me a journalist who continues to make some of her living from media relations - but who is doing her very best to tread an ethical minefield.

For example, I have written about business and IT - I have sometimes been asked to find case studies, I realise our company's clients may be good for that - I tell the editor, it's their decision - I worry constantly!

Also with a charity I work with if there is something to promote such as an awareness campaign, new publication or calendar, say, this can throw up some cracking stories - but I do pass them on - but if I dig around looking for family's stories through the contacts I've made at the charity, then I pitch that - families contact me and have done so through my blog.

The deciding factor for me came when I was lucky enough to get a commission for what I'd differentiate as a more major piece for a national paper in a field that could be construed as being close to PR work I have done in the past - I basically thought 'I can't have my name on there and people getting their knickers in a twist' over me doing related PR (Not that it was even related, really! As I say, I worry contstantly!)

When I have passed on stuff as a PR which then sees the light of say in a mag/paper, some journalists then ask me if I want commission and I clarify again this was a PR job, they are thinking of it as my 'story' as opposed to my 'PR pitch.'

Then I sometimes have to re-iterate to the journalist that the reason I'm passing it on is because it really isn't right for a paper to carry a piece under the impression it is an objective piece of reporting, but in fact the person writing it is paid by the organisation mentioned - it's all getting a bit of a nightmare!

Better go and tidy up, the curtains are still drawn as ever so I fear the neighbours think we've had a bereavement.

Ian Green said...

I have the same scruples - I write a few columns now and again but NEVER, EVER mention a client, or even a potential client.
Like you I pick up a lot of exclusive stories all the time and pass them onto trusted contacts. I don't take a payment - I see it as an investment in the relationship I have with friends and trusted journos.

The Spud said...

Chipping in a bit late, but is is good to see a balance - even if it's not the goal of your post.

sally said...

Hi Ian

Yes, we do (for the most part) understand what PRs do - but not all stories are straightforward Company X sells Product Y pieces.

One of the things we talk about at our 101 training courses is that coverage isn't always about the obvious story - in some of the examples cited here, the hack might have had responses from drug charities, women's support groups, hobby groups, publishers who have authors with expertise in a topic etc.

It's also worth noting how often "pr", "account manager" "communications consultant" and the like crop up as case studies in women's mags. Offering yourself up as a case study can be a great way to build a relationship with a journalist. Although perhaps not a case study about your cocaine habit or repeated terminations...

On another note, feel free to post as many feckless RS enquiries as you like - personally, I think these enquiries are the single most damaging thing in our profession at the moment and the more ridicule they are exposed to the better.

(I posted on this topic here: http://gettingink.typepad.com/getting_ink/2007/06/redressing-the-.html)

Ian Green said...

in some of the examples cited here, the hack might have had responses from drug charities, women's support groups, hobby groups, publishers who have authors with expertise in a topic etc.

Good point and I suppose sometimes that is the case. But not in these examples - I don't have to spell out what titles these journalists were writing for.
When I was a full-time journalist RS didn't exist. We had to rely on contacts or make the phone call, just as we had to do the dreaded death knock.
What upset me most is that one of the requests was from a journalist I used to work with of who I expected much, much more.
I reckon you're right too that a lot of PRs do fall on these requests as a golden opportunity. Shame on them!
Will check out link.

Kim said...

Ian, I'm sure in the old days you did rely on contacts and knocking on people's doors. But journalism has changed. A lot of people work for women's magazines, many of which have an insatiable appetite for unlikely "real-life stories." I'm an IT journalist, but I gather from colleagues on Journobiz that an ed will quite often offer a commission that goes something like "I need three case studies of women aged 25-35 who have had an affair with their brother-in-law, got pregnant and had an abortion at 20 weeks while fighting their cocaine habit. And they must be attractive." In that situation, the journo doesn't use their contacts - they turn in desperation to Response Source or other online forums.

Dan Griffiths said...

There is an opt-out available. Response Source is certainly popular with journalists commissioned to write human interest stories, and these can produce leads for PRs, as noted above. However, I understand why some recipients would rather not receive such requests. With this in mind, the Response Source system asks journalists to flag their personal case study requests, as was done with the first four examples in the original post. Enquiry recipients have the option of excluding personal case studies from their email feed if they wish.

~a~ said...

Oy. I'm a PR person, and receive a jillion requests a day for the strangest things. "Experts on Dragons." "Need historian to comment on pumpkins." "Do you have annoying coworkers?" And at least once a week, the inevitable "Aren't those Gen Xers so crazy, showing their tattoos at work?"

Oh, and Ian Green - I can't count the number of times a "reputable" pub has taken my press release and run it with only very, very minor changes...and their own byline. Lazy arses.

Ian Green said...

Pink&Chocolate,
Thanks for the comment. The truth is there are bad flacks and hacks and good flacks and hacks - the problem is we always focus on the BAD.
The best part of the job is when a hack phones to thank you for saving their ass. Or phoning a hack and thanking them for going with a story you were peddling.
Nice blog by the way