Thursday, 5 April 2012

Down The Tubes book review!

My ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else receives a nice review from Matt Badham today at British comics site Down The Tubes.  Read it here, why don'tcha?

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

How To Interview A Clam

What follows is an excerpt from my ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else.  In one section, I describe eight types of interviewee, before detailing how best to deal with each.  Here, I talk about coping with The Clam...

"No comment"
The Clam is an interviewee who opens his mouth to say some words, then shuts it again after saying the minimum required of him. What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, is a purely re–active subject, as opposed to the pro–active Runaway Train or Politician [discussed earlier]. The Clam needs guidance, like the 'bad' variety of Runaway Train – the difference is, he'd rather be sleeping on the tour bus right now, getting another tattoo or basically be anywhere else, even if it involved physical pain.

It's a tough one. When you ask your carefully prepared Gangbusters opening question, and the subject's answer contains fewer words, you know damn well you're in trouble. Suddenly, you glance at your list of questions and are horrified to realise that, if The Clam carries on like this, you won't make your commissioned word count without a great deal of padding.

The good news? Some Clams warm up. This guy might have woken up an hour ago, for all you know, and his brain might still be rebooting. See if the lengths of his answers increase during the first few questions. If so, you know you'll be all right – and don't forget, you can always go back to those opening questions later, when he's more willing to put some effort into tackling them.

Those open questions we discussed [earlier in the book] are especially vital when you're dealing with a Clam. Ask "Are you enjoying the tour?" and the slippery Clam–mind might simply respond with "Yeah". Do not let him off the hook that easily.

The Clam's limited comebacks might be down to a number of factors. He could be one of those interviewees who remains blissfully unaware of what you need from him – juicily quotable stuff or at least more than a scant few words. Like the Runaway Train, he needs guidance – but a gentle push, rather than a change of tracks.

The Clam might be nervous. In that case, go into friendly overload. If you're up to it, make them laugh. Evaporate that fear. Hey, you seem like a nice person – maybe this won't be so much of a torturous ordeal!

A tumbleweed, yesterday
If their body language seems self–protective (folded arms, lack of eye contact), then perhaps they're also uncomfortable with the idea of a one–sided interrogation. Here's what you do: talk up a mini whirlwind yourself. Not too much – just talk about the mad guy in the street who asked if you wanted to see his balls on the way here, or have a gush about their new album/novel/novelty egg–whisk (provided you can be sincere about it, or fake sincerity really well. There’s usually something of theirs that you’ll genuinely like. Try to look for as old an example as you can. Being truthful is vital, but knowing and liking a thing they did 10 years ago tells them you’re serious and know your stuff. And their stuff.)

What you're achieving here, hopefully, is establishing a subconscious debt in their mind. A conversation should be a two–way street, so if they believe in being polite, they owe you some words. Furthermore, if you talk without asking them a question, it helps to erode the slightly contrived set–up of all interviews – one person asking another person a lot of questions. If they fear or even dread interrogation, then your banter will help to make this experience feel more like an actual conversation than an inquisition.

You can also use oh–so–subtle personal cues to make a Clam realise that they're not saying enough. Leaving a pause after their concise answer, with a face that suggests you're unsure whether they've finished, might help. Might. Silence can be golden here. This is a widely–used tactic in radio: even the tiniest silence after someone’s answer will almost always prompt them to continue.

If you can't warm up The Clam, then you're just going to have to run with it. You'll have to get to that pearl which lurks within, by gently tapping on its shell 1000 times, rather than simply hauling it open and treating yourself to its precious bounty. Ask question after question. Think 'em up on the spot. Be as interested in this person as you possibly can.

Work with them, as if you desperately want them to do this interview–thing well (and let's face it, you do). If all else fails, give them free rein. Perhaps they're disinterested or nervy about the topics you've been trying to cover. Find out what they’re really into. Ask what kind of things they like, outside of whatever it is that they do. When you strike gold – or as close to it as you can get with a stubborn Clam – the transformation can be truly astounding. You'll see it in their body language, when they sit forward in their seat or when the dull matt finish on their eyeballs becomes a shiny gloss. More than anything, though, you'll see it in the greater number of words they're funneling into your recording device.

"I have literally nothing to say"
You see, it could be that The Clam is bored of talking about all the stuff you've been quizzing them over. They might have talked about it literally 100 times. Perhaps the first, second and 15th times journos made those same enquiries, they were met with a veritable torrent of verbiage. Then, over time, The Clam started to feel like a performing monkey (imagine a pair of cymbals in that image if you like – I know I am), trotting out the same old anecdotes and the same Reasons Why They Did Stuff. The Clam became locked in his own personal Groundhog Day.

If they're not all that media–savvy, they mightn't understand why you need to ask the same questions again. They've already answered them, dammit – they're out there on the Internet! Why hasn't this journo done her research? Of course, this breed of Clam doesn't understand that you need to hear it in their own words. You need your own quotes – that's why you're here, rather than cherry–picking stuff off the Internet like the publications who didn't make the interview–list are probably doing right now. If you sense that a weariness at answering the same questions is to blame for the lack of wordage you're getting, then feel free to apologise for having to ask them the same old, same old stuff. It's just that you need to hear it from them directly, etc. Nine times out of 10, they'll tell you it's okay and liven up a little.

If you're having a really hard time of it, though, and are feeling suitably robust: ask the subject how they feel about interviews. This could well be an interesting subject in itself. Beware, though: if you come across too aggressively with a Clam like this, it could backfire. After all, you'll be reminding them that they're being interviewed. Any work you've already done to try and hide the situation's unnatural scaffold poles with the tarpaulin of free–flowing conversation will be undone. But if you think it'll be okay – and more importantly be worth it, then go right ahead. Find out why they've clammed. If it turns out that this is an unusual day for them and they're feeling a bit off because of X or Y, then that's a new avenue of potential discovery about them, right there. Incidentally, if you've previously read interviews in which the subject was perfectly forthcoming, then some external factor is probably the most likely reason for what's going on, here in this room, on this particular day.

So, I hear you ask: what if nothing works? What if your Clam turns out to be more of a stone and you're doomed to spend 45 minutes attempting to get blood out of it? Well, here's the surprise: you're in luck. This is great. Because, provided your publication allows this kind of writing style, you can make a virtue out of this apparent disaster. Make the article about getting blood out of a stone. As with The Politician above, as long as the reader/your editor can see you put in as much effort as you could, the short answers will be entertaining. All of a sudden, there's great comedy potential in those one–word answers – especially if you can find a way to do it without blatantly mocking them.

This kind of approach to a feature works best, I'd say, if at some point – preferably close to the end of your chat – you've done that aforementioned thing of asking them about their attitude to interviews, or at least tried to glean an insight into their character. Or both. The reader will be craving a reason or explanation for why this person's so unresponsive. Try and give it to them, even if it's inconclusive. Worst case scenario: give them your own assessment of why the interviewee was a big old Clam, based on your limited time with them.

Gulp. What if The Clam sealed their lips shut because they didn't like you? Don't panic. It's possible, but unlikely. Unless, of course, you're dealing with...


You can discover the next Interviewee Type, by buying How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone at Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy or Amazon France.  You can also buy it direct from the author.

The book hopefully covers every aspect of interviewing people.  Planning, research, arriving at the interview, dealing with PR politics surrounding your subject, conducting the interview itself, winding the interview up, writing the interview - and all the stuff in between.  Over the course of these 28,000 words, you'll discover the worst case scenarios of interviewing, so you can prepare for them.

If you still have questions at the end of this book, you can ask them via a special Formspring account.  Only one reader has had a question since the book's launch in August 2011.

Here's what some industry professionals have thought so far...

"This guide to interviewing is tremendous fun, with some genuine insight into the whole process. Fascinating stuff, and properly amusing too. Brilliant!" - Tom Spilsbury, editor of Doctor Who Magazine

"With a great sense of humour and a sharp ear for the telling quote, Jason Arnopp is an interviewer who always gets the goods. Read and learn” - Andrew Harrison (The Word’s Editor-At-Large and former Editorial Director of Q, Mixmag and Smash Hits).

"Boy, I wish this book had been around when I started out. You can buy it for less than the cost of most magazines, and I'd advise new journalists to do so" - Catherine Bray, editor

And here are the thoughts of a few happy readers...

"For the non-writer like me, this book is an interesting, absorbing read - even if you've no intention of ever interviewing anyone. Buy it anyway. There's good common-sense advice in there that you're bound to use at some stage in your life. I give it a high-five" - Alan Woodward, five-star Amazon UK review

"It has given me confidence and techniques to go about better journalistic interviewing and writing, and I hope to employ what I've learnt when writing for my university newspaper and website! Thank you - very great value for money!" - Imogen Watson, direct feedback

"I've just done my first music interview, and I don't think it would have gone even marginally as well if I hadn't read this ebook first. I'm starting out in the big bad world of journalism with zero formal journalistic qualifications under my belt, so help like this is utterly invaluable. Every budding journo should buy this book" - John Nugent, direct feedback

Buy How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else at Amazon UK, Amazon US, Amazon Germany, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy or Amazon France.  You can also buy the book direct from the author, in a special Triple Pack of ePub, Kindle and PDF files, which should allow you to read it on any platform.  More details here.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Seven Ways To Set Your Interviewee At Ease

The following is a brief excerpt from my ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else.  It comes fairly early on in the book, which aims to give advice on the whole process of interviewing from start to finish.  Here goes...

1. Your greeting is important.  I like to greet interviewees as if I already know them – obviously without being overly familiar.  It’s about creating the pleasant atmosphere of greeting friends and being pleased to see them.  Making an effort.  Generally, appearing pleased to see them will help ensure that they’re at least halfway pleased to see you too.

2. Don’t rush to start your recording device.  Take your time.  Relax.  You don’t need to record that pre–amble banter.  Master the art of casually chatting and smiling a lot, exuding excitement to be here, while getting the device out of your bag and setting it up on the table.

3. Without wanting to get into the esoteric realm of positive and negative energy, it’s fairly obvious that the energy you inject into that room is likely to be reciprocated by your subject.  If they’ve been sitting in a room all day talking about themselves and their work, causing their eyelids to feel heavy, then an enthusiastic, friendly journalist entering the room might help snap them back into something like full consciousness.  If you’re excited – without resembling a tiresomely yapping Yorkshire terrier – then they’re more likely to feel the same.  Excited interviewees talk more.

4. Quickly work out whether they’re the kind of person who will respond well to direct, sustained eye contact throughout, or will be uneasy if you continuously hold their gaze. Do whatever makes them feel the most comfortable, and their tongue will loosen as a result. As a rule of thumb, if they instantly make eye contact, then follow suit.  Otherwise, apply eye contact in small–to–medium doses.  Eye contact is powerful.  It can establish trust, but at the other end of the scale it can intimidate or feel oppressive.  Remember: no matter how confident and self–possessed the subject may appear in front of an audience, or on film, in person they could be the shyest person you ever met.

5. Very much bear in mind that your interviewee is a human being, with moods and a personal life, just like you.  If they’re difficult or grouchy, then bear in mind that you might have just caught them on an off–day.  Try not to take it personally, and instead focus your efforts on brightening them.  Or, at the very least, just getting the job done.  More on this later when we discuss The Angry Clam.

6. Towards the end of that opening pre–amble, mention how long a time–slot you have with them.  They may not know.  By telling them, you give them a sense of perspective on how long you’ll be spending together – and roughly speaking, how fast the conversation should go.  If you’ve an hour together, they can relax a little more and perhaps speak at length.  If it’s just a ten–minute quickie, they’ll get the message that they’ll need to be more concise and probably talk a bit faster.

7. It can often be a good idea to broadly and swiftly outline your aims for this piece.  This will help relax them if, for instance, they fear you have some kind of negative agenda.  Tell them that you really want to present the most informative and entertaining profile of them as a person yet.  Or that you really want to document how they’ve bounced back, after that regrettable incident with the prostitutes and the crack cocaine.

Note: there is an alleged eighth way, but I wouldn’t personally recommend it.  That’s why I’ve reserved it for this note at the end.  I’ve heard about journalists who go out of their way to fake some kind of personality defect – a stutter, for instance – perhaps in order to make them seem like less of a threat and/or to make themselves more likeable.

I wouldn’t recommend this for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, it’s a bit crazy.  Secondly, if you can’t do it well it will inevitably come across like the world’s biggest and most ludicrous contrivance.  Still, if you fancy giving it a shot… whatever works.

How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else is out now for Kindle on Amazon UK, Amazon US and, where you can download the first few pages to your wireless device for free. It packs in 28,000 words of advice, drawn from my 23 years' experience of interviewing people.  You can also get a Triple Pack of file formats (PDF, ePub, Kindle/mobi) direct from me.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

"I'm very glad I bought it; having just re-entered the world of writing (I lost my way in my teenage years!). It has given me confidence and techniques to go about better journalistic interviewing and writing, and I hope to employ what I've learnt when writing for my university newspaper and website!  Thank you - very great value for money!" - Imogen Watson

"I've just done my first music interview, and I don't think it would have gone even marginally as well if I hadn't read this ebook first.  I'm starting out in the big bad world of journalism with zero formal journalistic qualifications under my belt, so help like this is utterly invaluable.  Every budding journo should buy this book" - John Nugent

Friday, 16 September 2011

Doctor Who Magazine's Editor Interviewed!

Tom Spilsbury at Doctor Who Magazine
Doctor Who Magazine has been one of my very favourite magazines, since its birth in 1979 as Doctor Who Weekly.  I've been honoured to contribute to it over the last few years.
    A fair few writers have asked me how you go about getting freelance work on the magazine.  (In my case I'd been gently badgering them at a time when they happened to have a sudden need for new journos, because the series had returned to TV in 2005.)  This made me think it could be very useful to interview editor Tom Spilsbury and ask him a few things that people often want to know, from the mag's internal workings to - of course - how people get to write for it.  So I just did that, thanks to Tom being a very kind man indeed.  Here goes...

How many people work on the staff of the magazine, and how many freelancers do you employ?
There are two full-time employees - myself and Peter Ware - one part-time designer Richard Atkinson who works freelance, and two occasional editorial assistants, John Ainsworth and Mark Wright.  Plus 20 or so other freelancers, who write articles, draw the comic strip etc etc.

How do you and Deputy Editor Peter Ware divide the work up on each issue?
Pete tends to look after a lot of the regular features - News, Letters, Reviews, Previews - whereas I tend to come up with the ideas for the main articles/interviews. Of course, it’s a fairly collaborative process, and we discuss things all the time.

Describe a typical day in your working life.  Is there such a thing?
It’s different depending on what part of the production cycle we’re in. When we’re starting off on an issue, there is a lot more email-writing, and phoning the freelancers to discuss what I’d like from them for the next issue, and how we’re going to approach each piece, when I’ll need it by, and so on, and so on.  Later, when articles have arrived, there are a lot more discussions with the designer about how we’re going to make the articles look.  I also do a fair bit of the design work myself. Towards the end of the process, it’s much more about subbing all of the finished designs, captioning the photos, deciding on pull-quotes. We also liaise with Steven Moffat  - generally about our interviews, but never for reviews or opinion pieces - especially if it’s about an episode that hasn’t been seen yet.
    Plus, at some point during this whole process, I’ll be thinking further ahead.  Arranging set visits for episodes currently shooting.  Discussing and commissioning features for several months down the line, so it’s not all left to the last minute.  Also, we’ll be speaking to BBC Worldwide about photography, and cataloguing the pictures when they arrive into sub-folders, producing thumbnail images; as well as speaking to designer Stuart Manning about the cover, and how we want to compose that in Photoshop.  Plus updating our Facebook and Twitter, writing the press releases for new issues... and lots more stuff.  It’s never ending! And I haven’t even mentioned yet that we’re also working on the Specials and Graphic Novels at the same time as our regular issues!  So there’s not really a typical day, because there are so many different things we do.

Even though DWM is monthly, how difficult is it to meet your print deadlines each issue?
Very difficult, because however much time you have, you always want some more! We always want to make the best magazine we possibly can, with hardly any staff.  That’s difficult.  But enjoyable! We know that people expect a high standard, so that always drives us to try to be as inventive as possible and to try to put in as many jokes, little details, and other bits and pieces which hopefully people will enjoy. That means we always work late nights, especially near the end of the process, as that terrifying deadline approaches! Also, we’re four-weekly, not monthly – which means that we never get a five-week gap between some issues, as monthly magazines have every few issues.

What measures do you take to combat the readily accessible Who info which hurtles around the internet?  How do you keep DWM essential - is it about placing less importance on covering everything, news-wise?
We can’t battle the internet – even when we have exclusive news, it only stays exclusive up until the point when the first person decides to take that news and post it online.  But, that said, if we didn’t print that news in the first place, then it wouldn’t end up online, so we’re still important!  We can also be a voice of authority, when sometimes online ‘news’ can be a confusing blur of rumours, outright lies and half-truths.
    But to be honest, DWM is less about ‘news’ and more about detail.  We can go into far more depth than anyone else can, whether that’s a big interview, or whether it’s one of Andrew Pixley’s huge features on the making of each episode.  Our reviews can also be more in-depth, and frankly, better written than anything you’ll find online.  On the internet, ANYONE can be a writer – but that means there’s a disproportionate amount of rubbish out there. There are good writers and reviewers out there, of course, but also a lot of terrible writing.  That’s because no-one EDITS the internet. A magazine should be a much more polished piece of work.

Does your job become easier or harder when Doctor Who is actually showing on TV?
Not sure it’s easier or harder, it’s just a bit different. We’re always planning way ahead anyway, so sometimes it’s just more busy when they’re MAKING the show, rather than showing it. When they’re making the show AND showing it, which is rare, then it can get REALLY busy.

Does your status as the official Doctor Who magazine always make things smoother?  What kind of problems, if any, can it give you?
It’s rarely a problem, generally it’s just a big help when it comes to arranging interviews and so on. Also, as we’re BBC-licenced, we’re given access to a lot more photography/set access etc than other magazines, such as SFX.  Some licenced magazines might find it a problem to truly be independent: Paramount are fiercely protective of Star Trek, for example – which I think impacts negatively on things like Star Trek Magazine.  This is never a problem with DWM.  People like Russell T Davies and Steven Moffat are huge fans of the mag, and are wise enough to know that they shouldn’t try to control it.  They know that it needs to be independent, or else it becomes vapid and pointless – like, arguably, most other TV tie-in magazines.  There’s no point in having a magazine with no heart.  So while it COULD be a problem to be licenced, it never is in reality, because no-one at the BBC interferes, or tells us what we should be doing.

Because so many journalists will want to know: what is your submissions policy on DWM?
Submissions are welcome, but it’s a good idea for people to read our Writers’ Guidelines first, which you can request by emailing us [at this e-mail address]. It’s also a good idea to send in a full breakdown of your idea, rather than simply submitting a finished article.

How, and how often, do you take new freelancers on?
Very rarely to be honest – but don’t give up!  We do have a brilliant team of people already, so inevitably we tend to use the writers and artists we’re already familiar with, and with whom we already have a good working relationship. But everyone started off by sending in an idea, or proving that they were up to the task, so if you’re good enough, it’s worth persevering!

What kind of thing do you prefer to read in a submission?  Reviews of Doctor Who stuff?
Perhaps.  Although, as I said, we do have a fairly established team for the reviews pages.  What we’d really like are good ORIGINAL ideas for new features.  A good hook for an article.  Something that says something new about Doctor Who, that we haven’t read a thousand times before.  Something that has a good idea for the visuals too.  DWM isn’t a book, it’s not the place for long-plodding essays with no illustrations!  It needs to be something that can be visualised on the page – which is why we’ll come up with gimmicks from time to time, such as mock soap magazine layouts, LEGO characters, spoofs of horror posters, or whatever it might be. These sorts of ideas are always welcome, because it shows that you’ve thought about how the finished article will look on the page.

When you do read submissions from writers, what are some of the things which instantly turn you off?  What are the common mistakes people make?
Articles riddled with typos are an instant turn-off.  You need to have a good familiarity with the tone of DWM, so don’t write something which would be more suited to a general sci-fi mag or TV magazine.  By the same token, don’t assume your readers know EVERY last detail about Doctor Who, and start chucking in obscure references to ancient in-jokes with no explanation whatsoever!  Make sure your writing is well-researched – to blow our own trumpets for a moment, we’re EXPERTS on Doctor Who, so references to ‘Christopher Ecclestone’, ‘The Sunmakers’, ‘Vampires in Venice’ etc etc will be noticed and tutted at!  In fact, we’re more anal than anyone, so we know when it should be ‘Episode 1’, when it should be ‘Episode One’ and when it should be ‘Part One’.  If you want to impress us, then make sure you get these things right too!

What are the worst and best aspects of being the editor of Doctor Who Magazine?
It’s nearly all good, to be honest.  Producing something which people genuinely love, is a huge privilege.  We only spend so many long hours working on it because we love it more than anyone!  So of course there are frustrations from time to time, but they’re pretty trivial when it comes down to it.  The email isn’t working.  A writer is being unresponsive and late!  My assistant won’t get me a coffee.  That sort of thing.  But on the whole it’s the best job I could possibly have, because a) I (modestly) think I’m quite good at it, and b) I genuinely love it, and love seeing people’s reaction to the finished result.

                                                                     * * *

My horror novella Beast In The Basement is a dark, twisted tale of obsession, revenge, censorship, blame culture and parental responsibility.  In a big house in the countryside, an increasingly unstable author toils over a new hotly-anticipated novel which will close the best-selling trilogy of Jade Nexus books.  A violent incident tips him into a downward spiral with horrific consequences.  Read it before someone spoilers you!  Beast is available for Kindle (which can be read on most devices) at Amazon UK, Amazon US and more.  More details here.

My Amazon-acclaimed non-fiction ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy it direct from me, in a Triple Pack of all three major file-types (PDF, ePub, Kindle), via PayPal.  Full details here, you splendid individual.

How to Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne and Everyone Else

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

How To Interview... Book Hits The Spectator, Plus Special Offer!

My ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else has been covered by The Spectator's online blog!  You can read the full article here, written by editor Catherine Bray, who has been a real champion of the book.

The book was published at the beginning of August and set out to tell readers everything I know about the subject after 23 years of experience and over 1000 interviews.  And hooray, it's sold very well.

One thing I'm pleased about, is that not one single reader has had to use my Formspring Guarantee.  In case you're unaware, I included a Formspring URL at the end of the book, in case anyone had questions unanswered by the book itself.  A couple of people have mentioned additional topics they'd quite like to see in a future edition, but as of yet, no-one has used that Formspring account.  Excellent.

As I say in that Spectator piece, I will very probably increase the price of the book come Autumn, reflecting the niche nature of the topic which the book covers.  So if you're interested in the topic of interviewing people, now's the time to grab it while it's still the price of a London pint!  You can see all the details on this page:

If you've purchased the book and would like to write a review on Amazon UK or Amazon US, then I would dearly love you to do so.  Also feel free to get in touch by e-mail at 'journozone at gmail dot com' if you run a serious review blog and would like to review the book.  Thanks!

UPDATE on September 6 2011, 19.41 GMT: The next 10 - well, actually, nine now - people to buy the book will receive a free PDF of my 1994 Kerrang! magazine interview piece on the Manic Street Preachers' Japan tour.  See for the details!

Monday, 22 August 2011

Interview With An Anonymous PR

Journalists and PRs prowl very much the same wilderness, but all too often lock horns in an unfortunate fashion.
   While writing the book How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else, I occasionally found myself railing against a few of PRs' more seemingly obstructive habits.  So much so, that I felt the need to include a note that I honestly don’t dislike PRs at all.  Far from it – they’re mostly helpful individuals who can help you achieve greatness.  It’s just that sometimes we can have very different goals - and I think that a little more understanding between journos and PRs wouldn’t go amiss.
   With that in mind, I contacted a PR person who works in TV, and asked whether they’d be prepared to answer some questions about their job and the dynamics between them and the journos with whom they work.  Here, then, are Anonymous TV PR’s splendidly candid replies…

When and how did you break into PR?
“In 2003, and to say I 'broke into PR' might be giving it a bit too much credit. It was more along the lines of getting a job out of university which then gave me a foot into the door with a very entry level job in PR. Then I managed to work my way up from there. So let’s just say I stumbled into PR, and continued stumbling ever since.”

What is it about PR that you enjoy?
“I love the variety that the job entails. Some days I will be on set for a programme I’m working on, another day running a press launch or event and some days I’ll be in the office having a lot of meetings. Add in lots of writing (LOTS) as well as coming up with creative concepts for photography and press strategies and it’s quite a varied job. More than anything it’s that which I find appealing. I don’t think I could do a job which involved the same task every single day.”

What are the best and worst things about your job?
“The best things are the creative aspects – coming up with an amazing idea for a feature, or photography concept, or brilliant launch idea is really something that I get enthusiastic about. Worst parts of my job? Dealing with difficult talent, difficult journalists and pitching out utterly hopeless features ideas in order to keep a commissioner/Exec happy are the things which are most regular annoyances…”

Most journalists seem to have a love/hate relationship with PRs. Do you feel a similar way about them?
“Hmmmm, this one is tricky. Most journalists I get on with well. I appreciate that they have a job to do, which is sometimes at odds with mine, but that’s not to say we can’t have a good working relationship. However there are a few journalists (just as there are a few PRs) who just aren’t very good at their job. I’m sure they are lovely people (or not, in some cases), but the fact is that if you aren’t very good at your job then you really shouldn’t be doing it. My favourite journalists are the ones that I have built up a relationship of trust with. The ones that I can tell anything to off the record, and know that the information remains between us. Sometimes that’s a really valuable thing to know.”

A lot of journos hate it when a PR insists on sitting in on interviews. Why do PRs sometimes have to do this? Who requests it, generally?
“Journalists might hate it, but I guarantee that the PR hates it more. We know that it can cause the conversation to be less natural than it should be, but sometimes it’s necessary. Often it will be either a company policy (in the case of one large UK broadcaster), requested by the actor’s agent or publicist (who doesn’t realise that thorough briefing and media training beforehand is much more useful) or by the actor themselves (who is nervous and wants a crutch).
   “The only time I’ve ever chosen to sit in on an interview myself is when either the actor is particularly young or inexperienced, or when the interview is with a journalist who has been a 'c.u.*.t' before and stitched me up with an interview.
   “Oh, and you know what PR’s hate more than sitting in on interviews? Journalists commenting on the fact that a PR was sitting in on an interview in the copy. Let’s be clear, the public do not care about this, and it doesn’t make interesting copy. It’s petty point scoring that just sours your relationship for no real reason.”

What would be your own equivalent pet hate - something that journalists occasionally insist on doing?
“Mentioning PRs in the copy of a feature is always slightly annoying. Beyond that – constant chasing about a request is my biggie. I know some PRs might not get back to you, either at all, or when they say they will. I do though.
   “So when I get a request from you, I’ll ask for all the information I need and give you a rough steer on when I’m likely to hear back. Don’t chase me before this time. It just frustrates me to reply to that email/phone call when I could actually be doing my job.”

What can be some of the hardest things for a PR, in dealing with the press?
“Sometimes publications don’t necessarily understand that if I decline something it’s not through my own choice. It could be that I would absolutely love a feature in your publiciation. But the talent might have turned it down. Or it could be that I have to prioritise my top requests – in making sure that a campaign is relevant and targeted I might not be able to help you with a particular request, but that’s just the nature of the game. We all win some and lose some.”

Is the increasing connectivity of the internet a boon or a hindrance to PR companies?
“Both. We can target consumers directly with greater accuracy ever before – and in a very personal way. However these sorts of social media/blogger outreach have difficulty cutting through in the same way that, for instance, a magazine cover would because of the volume of content on the internet. Generally our greatest struggle is persuading the clients/execs we report into that it is a valuable use of our time. It’s annoying, but those sort of people still value a framed cover on their wall above driving and creating massive online buzz about a show.
   “The internet also raises some issues with talent. They are notoriously loose lipped about things which we might not necessarily want in the public domain. Naughty talent.”

How can journalist/PR relations be improved?
“Talking, listening, not losing our tempers and having a little bit of trust with each other. You have space to fill, and we want to fill it. It shouldn’t really be that difficult.”

My ebook How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else, is out now on Amazon UK, Amazon US and Amazon Germany, among others.  You can also buy a triple pack of PDF, ePub and Kindle files direct from me, via PayPal (most credit/debit cards).  Full details here, you splendid individual.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Interviewing Book Available Now

Hello folks,

Just a quick post to let you know that the book mentioned earlier on this very blog is now available.

Cramming 23 years of journalistic experience into 28,000 words, How To Interview Doctor Who, Ozzy Osbourne And Everyone Else is initially available at a limited-time low price of £3.90!

Full details here.