Public Relations: Diary of a journalist - Freelance writer Meg Carter describes the difference between useful and frustrating PR during a typically hectic week’s activities Photographs (Omitted)

campaignlive.co.uk, Friday, 02 April 1999 12:00AM

The relationship between journalist and PR is a peculiar balancing act. Journalists have a gut mistrust of people punting stories on behalf of their clients. PRs, meanwhile, often fail to comprehend what journalists need. However, like it or loathe it (and many journalists do) the fate of each is inextricably entwined.

The relationship between journalist and PR is a peculiar balancing

act. Journalists have a gut mistrust of people punting stories on behalf

of their clients. PRs, meanwhile, often fail to comprehend what

journalists need. However, like it or loathe it (and many journalists

do) the fate of each is inextricably entwined.



Making the most of this relationship comes down to good communication,

mutual understanding ... and respect. Yet despite attempts by the PR

industry to project a more professional image, many PR-journalist

interactions during a typical week remain at best frustrating, at worst

irrelevant.



I write features for a number of newspapers and magazines in the UK and

the US, ranging from national newspapers (including The

Independent/Independent on Sunday, The Times and Financial Times) to

consumer and specialist titles, on a range of subjects from advertising,

media and marketing to arts, consumer and lifestyle stories. This is a

day-by-day account of my week with the usual level of PR

communications.



MONDAY 8am: At work to go through the newspapers. Share an office in WC1

- advantageous for lunches and other meetings, although a fact some fail

to acknowledge when they call me first thing and ask if they’ve got me

out of bed!



9.35am: First call: a PR at a top ten ad agency. Have I had any further

thoughts about a US consumer study she sent to me last week,possibly for

the FT? Answer: No. Promise to call back. Spend the morning tying up

loose ends from last week, following up leads for this week’s stories

and lining up interviews to be completed by Friday.



Finally get round to reading that consumer study.



1pm: Sort through a number of press invites - few of much use. When I’m

too busy, it’s quicker to get the press pack and then decide if

follow-up interviews are required. One invitation, to a digital TV

demonstration,means going to Birmingham for two days in late March: just

can’t spare that much time out of the office without a firm commission.

Spend the afternoon out doing interviews.



4.30pm: Back to office. Arrange more interviews for tomorrow for a

lifestyle piece for the Sunday Herald. Put in some calls to reliable

sources. Line up others for a Sunday Business feature. Call back the ad

agency PR re that report. Sorry, but I’m unconvinced it says anything

new. She agrees.



TUESDAY 9am: PR for a direct marketing agency calls first thing. Would I

be interested in an ’exclusive’ on new research which shows TV

advertising is dead? Well, blow me down ... they would say that,

wouldn’t they? I don’t think so. Wade through stacks of press releases

and think (not for the first time): why am I on their list? Reluctant to

be removed, however, in case something slips through the net.



Midday: Early lunch with a PR - deeply frustrating. He’d promised me

info on a couple of story ideas but turned up with no more than we’d

discussed on the phone. Spent half the time talking about his skiing

weekend. Left at 1pm. Sharp. Spend the afternoon finishing a piece for

The Times. A number of phone callers including four PRs - only one

checks to see if I’m on deadline before launching into her spiel. Put

off the others until the morning.



WEDNESDAY am: Spend the day doing interviews: six by phone, two

face-to-face which I prefer, but often isn’t practical due to lack of

time.



A PR with whom I’ve been discussing an exclusive about a new study on

’emotional skills’ rings to say she’s just talked to my commissioning

editor about it ... before I had. Now I have no choice but to take it to

that paper - her loss, as I could have got more space and a better

position elsewhere.



3pm: A contact I’ve not heard from in a while calls with an interesting

lead for a few weeks’ time. Trouble is, three PR departments are

involved, each with its own agenda. Some information is embargoed until

after a PR launch, the rest until a week later. Madness. Someone else

calls having seen an article I wrote in the FT last week to see if I’d

be interested in a related issue for a follow-up piece. I am.



THURSDAY am: Call back two in-house press offices I was referred through

yesterday re interview queries. Both still on answer machine. Left

messages,again. Eventually made human contact: both promised to call

back by 1pm. One did, one referred me to an external PR agency. Called

back potential interviews and explain problem: both talked there and

then.



11.45am: A TV press officer calls demanding why a piece I wrote -

involving one of her company’s executives - has not run yet. I explain

(not for the first time) it’s beyond my control but assure her I’m on

the case (I only get paid after publication). Another PR calls to see

what I’m ’up to’: can I write about any of her clients? Unlikely.

Previously, she’s discussed my ideas with other journalists, losing me

commissions.



12.30pm: The Independent asks for a piece for Sunday by 10am Friday.



Today’s lunch is cancelled, becoming tea next Monday afternoon.



PM: Blitz the phones. Put two existing commissions on the back burner

until Friday. Leave the office after 7pm for a preview of Tony Kaye’s

American History X.



FRIDAY 10am: File that Indy piece. Finish the other feature. Start

answering phone messages stacked up from yesterday morning. Follow up

two leads from people I met at last night’s ’do’ - one likely to make an

article for the week after next.



Unsure what to do about American History X, however: the PR laughs that

Mr Kaye’s doing no interviews ... and nor is anyone else. PR agency

rings about an invitation to a cocktail do in Southampton. Can’t

understand why I’m not able to come, despite the complementary cocktail

mixers sent as an inducement. Arrange a breakfast briefing with the MD

instead. Finally get interviews confirmed via those two press offices.

Conduct both this afternoon and write the piece by 5pm. Prepare notes

for an interview on Monday morning.



6pm: Leave. A typical week, really, in which quick-turnaround

commissions cancel out scheduled lunches and press conferences. No time

for PR ’jollies’, either. Less than one third of my articles come

directly from PR companies or press offices. Far more constructive is

regular, often off-the-record, contact with a broad range of people

(including the odd PR) to keep abreast of developments.



This article was first published on campaignlive.co.uk

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