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.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting.

    I can see the point that readers aren't interested in knowing PR were in the room generally speaking, but equally I read an interview recently (unfortunately I've completely forgotten where or with whom) where the author mentioned the PR because they kept interfering, steering the journalist away from what they wanted to discuss (which I seem to remember was some recent big-ish news story involving the interviewee).

    Whether the interviewee genuinely looked apologetic for this interference, or that was just the interviewer's wishful thinking, who can say.