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
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
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
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
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
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
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.