Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part six

Posted in Uncategorized on January 14th, 2010 by admin

Five more to go in this series. Just to recap for anyone joining late, this is a list of ten things that PRs do that really annoy journalists. It’s not meant to be an attack on individual PR professionals, or on the industry as a whole. (I’m not the sort of journalist who posts lists of PRs’ e-mail addresses saying he never wants to hear from them ever again – http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/columnists/article6977065.ece?openComment=true. Ouch.) I am though the sort of journalist who puts a lot of effort into building mutually beneficial relationships with others in the industry, and this is part of that effort.

So, with those caveats in place, here’s what I have so far:

1) Expect journalists to operate as an unpaid media montoring service
2) Going oddly silent/AWOL
3) Sending irrelevant press releases
4) Writing like a PR, not a real person
5) Pitching like they’re selling timeshare properties

Number 6 is fairly straightforward but is a perennial bugbear of mine, and of many other journalists. It is arranging conference call interviews.

They just don’t work. I’m not just talking about the practicalities. True, sometimes the technology doesn’t work. I particularly remember an interview with the VP of Sales of a US-based teleconferencing company; for about five minutes we had terrible interference on the line, but we’d spent a long time trying to arrange it and I really needed her quotes, so I persisted, asking her several times to restate the point she’d just made. She gamely struggled on, getting louder and louder, until finally I could just make it out above the crackling din – “I WAS SAYING THAT OUR SYSTEM SUFFERS FROM VERY LITTLE INTERFERENCE!” Very similar to a flat I once viewed above a busy road. The estate said something. I couldn’t hear so moved closer and asked her to repeat it. She said it again. Again it was drowned out by the rush of cars below. On the third attempt she shouted: “I WAS SAYING THAT THIS IS A VERY QUIET FLAT.” I could only reply sheepishly: “It’s not really though, is it?” “YES IT IS! VERY QUIET!” She wasn’t having it at all. I think the incessant sound of passing traffic might have driven her a little mad. But anyway, I digress, and to be fair on conference call technology, almost all of the time it works fine.

No, the real problem is that it ruins the dynamics of the conversation. Interviews work when there’s a journalist asking questions and an interviewee answering them. You can develop a rapport, progress the conversation in directions you both find interesting, really get to the crux of whatever it is you’re discussing. It takes a bit of time to get beyond the formal introductions and the wariness that most interviewees feel, but if you’re a half-decent interviewer you reach that point, past where people are trotting out safe truisms, where they’re really delving deep into their expertise and coming up with something fresh. And that’s where you find the really interesting material for your articles.

The problem with conference calls is that you never get beyond the formality, the wariness, and the truisms. The interviewees spend too much time thinking about the other participants on the call and not enough time thinking about the issue in hand. They’re wondering who’s best placed to deal with a particular question. They’re worrying about saying something off message. They’re trying to impress their colleagues. I don’t blame them – it’s just how people tend to behave in a group.

I do though blame the PR executive who allowed it to happen.

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Marketing in the 2010s

Posted in Uncategorized on January 6th, 2010 by admin

A new decade dawns and the airwaves are filled with retrospectives on the last ten years and tentative predictions for what lies ahead. I don’t normally go in for this sort of crystal ball gazing, but I’m here going to give you my view on what I think is a tectonic change taking place right now in the world of marketing.

A lot of people are on top of this change, but even more haven’t even realised it’s happening. They’re carrying on as if it was still 2007, and as 2010 rolls into 2011 I think they’re in serious danger of missing one of the most important changes to the marketing industry that will take place in our professional lifetimes.

Quite simply, it’s the shift from push to pull marketing.

With every month that passes I’m seeing more and more marketers downscaling their investment in traditional broadcast marketing techniques in favour of pull techniques. They’re cutting their spending on ads, on direct marketing, even e-mail marketing, and instead they’re directing their resources to developing online and offline content, experiences and offers that potential customers value. They’re making increasing use of online social media to spread the word, but primarily they’re relying on the power of online search to pull prospects in.

So far this principle has been adopted most vigorously by smaller B2B companies, but I believe that over the next year or two larger consumer brands are going to be looking at it more and more closely. To a large extent this shift has been driven by the drop in budgets precipitated by the recession, but I believe it will outlast the recession.

It is indeed a tectonic shift in how marketers act, and it requires those who work in marketing to look closely at what they offer and ensure it is still relevant. What is particularly notable about this change is just how rapidly it’s taking place. It is proving a stern test of how closely we watch our marketplace and how rapidly we are able to react and adapt.

What do you think?
Am I right – is this change happening and is it as momentous as I think?
Are many marketers missing it or are most coping with it fairly comfortably?
How are you changing what you do to adapt – what do you expect to change over the next year or two?

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Is it wrong to hire a blog ghostwriter?

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15th, 2009 by admin

More and more companies are realising just what they can achieve with a blog. It’s one of those areas that’s morphing from from something enthusiasts do in their spare time to a mainstream marketing activity. And it’s happening fast.

One interesting issue thrown up by this surging enthusiasm for the company blog is whether or not to use a ghostwriter. I’ve been talking about it with various people over the past few months and have seen it discussed in several social media nooks and crannies, most recently here: http://reputationonline.co.uk/2009/12/15/the-surprising-verdict-on-ghostwriting/#comment-556

Here, for what it’s worth, is my take on the topic…..

Personally I just don’t get the argument against ghostwriting. Do those who oppose it have a problem with company spokespeople – do they demand that the Chief Exec speaks in person for the company at all times? Are they happy for the HR Manager to conduct preliminary interviews, or do they expect the Chief Exec to personally interview all staff? Are they happy with machine operatives making the products, or do they expect the Chief Executive to man every single part of the production process?

You get my point. The job of the Chief Executive is to set the direction of the company, hire the best people to deliver it, and then inspire them to achieve more as a team than they could individually. It isn’t to actually DO everything themselves. The spokesperson knows the Chief Executive’s line on the key topics of the day, the HR Manager knows who the Chief Executive wants to hire, and the machine operatives know how the company expects them to operate their machines.

In the same way, Chief Executives (or for that matter senior people in any company, large or small) can’t be expected to find time to write their own blogs. Some do; they enjoy it and are good at it. Most don’t. There’s no reason why they should have either the aptitude or the time. What they SHOULD do is find ghostwriters who they can trust to present their positions in a clear and engaging way. I do this for several companies, and they are using those blogs to great effect, building reputation and generating leads.

I suspect those who argue against the use of ghostwriters in this way simply don’t recognise that writing is a specialist skill, like speaking to the media, interview job candidates or operating machinery. Just because everyone can write to some extent, doesn’t mean everyone can do it well. I believe that, in time, the position of Blogwriter will become as estabished in companies as that of Press Officer and HR Manager. It’s about basic division of labour – and those companies that understand earliest how the new digital economy is creating new specialisations and job roles will in the coming years be best placed to attract the best writers, to put in place systems for making the process work well, and in summary to produce the most effective blogs.

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How to make your writing flow

Posted in Uncategorized on December 9th, 2009 by admin

We all know when we read a piece of writing that flows well. We’re immediately drawn into it, and we want to read more because every point makes sense, it’s obvious how they all link together and we feel like we’re moving together towards a logical conclusion. It’s a nice, warm happy feeling.

So, whether writing an article, a white paper, a case study, a blog post, a book, a press release or any other type of writing – whether for myself or on behalf of one of my clients – I make sure my writing flows. I’m lucky in that I have a knack for it; I have an instinctive feeling for the cadence, structure and progression of the written word. It’s the flipside of the fact that my singing makes even my mum edge out of the room, I’m the laughing stock of my local yoga class, and everything I draw looks like a pig (except for pigs which look like machine guns, worryingly).

But I can write. And just as music teachers, art teachers, and yoga instructors have all bravely tried to insist that I can learn, I can improve, so I’m telling you that anyone can learn to write with flow. (The big difference is I’m not trying to stop laughing while I say it). So, if getting a flow into your writing is something you tend to struggle with here are five tips that you might find useful.

(Apologies if the examples are all a bit political – I lifted them largely from some training I did at a public affairs consultancy earlier this year)

1) Use the active not the passive voice.

The active voice is where the subject of the sentence comes before the verb, eg. “The Select Committee has recommended that the Government double the budget,” as opposed to the passive voice which is where the subject comes after the verb, eg. “A recommendation has been made by the Select Committee that the Government double the budget.”

The active voice is more direct, much easier to read, and helps your writing skip along unencumbered by too many unnecessary words.

2) Eliminate ambiguity in your use of pronouns.

“Cameron entered the chamber and sat down next to Osborne. He looked nervous.” Who looked nervous? Cameron or Osborne?

“They were drinking cold beer because it was warm.” What was warm? The beer? Why would they want to drink warm beer? No one chooses beer just because it’s warm. Of course, he means the weather was warm, so they were having a nice cold lager. I got there in the end, but it would have been better if they’d been clearer about what that pronoun “it” refers to.

“The Minister can react in one of three ways: ignoring the issue, engaging with us, taking it forward herself. This would be the best outcome for all concerned.” Which would be? Probably the last one, but I’m not 100% sure.

3) Maintain unity in your paragraphs.

Make a point in a paragraph and don’t stray off into a related but separate point

Tony Blair was electorally the most successful Labour leader ever. He won three elections, and commanded significant majorities in all three Parliaments. However, in 2005 he was actually beaten by Michael Howard in England. Michael Howard was the Conservative leader most commonly remembered for having been described by a colleague as “having something of the night about him”.

All good points, but we’ve ended up somewhere entirely different from where we started off. It’s confusing for the reader and it damages the flow of your writing.

4) Don’t assume the reader follows your train of thought.

“Electoral reform is essential in the UK. It would restore the legitimacy of Parliament. This is something that is now more important than ever before.”

Is it more important than ever before? In fact, while I’m at it, why would electoral reform necessarily restore the legitimacy of Parliament. I’m not sure I agree with that, and this passage has done nothing to bring me with the writer on her train of logic. It would have been much more convincing as…..

“Electoral reform is essential in the UK. It would allow each vote to count and so would do a great deal to restore the legitimacy of Parliament. This is something that is now more important than ever before as the expenses scandal has presented Parliament with its greatest test of legitimacy in a generation.”

5) Keep your sentences short

“Good writing is all about helping your reader to grasp your meaning, not confusing them with complexity and jargon, or leaping from point to point, but carefully guiding them from point to point, using the tools of grammar and punctuation where appropriate, and ultimately bringing them on a journey with you.”

I couldn’t agree more. However, wouldn’t it be better put as….

“Good writing is all about helping your reader to grasp your meaning. You should not confuse them with complexity and jargon. You should not leap from point to point. You should carefully guide them from point to point, using the tools of grammar and punctuation where appropriate. Ultimately you should bring them on a journey with you.”

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Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists – part five

Posted in Uncategorized on December 3rd, 2009 by admin

So, here we are halfway through the series. Just to recap for those who may not have followed it from the beginning this is a list of ten things that PRs do that really annoy journalists. I’ve put it together after speaking to many other journalists and also drawing on my own experiences over the years. It is worth noting that I work with a great many excellent PR professionals, and I like to think that I put more effort than most journalists do into building mutually productive relationships with those PR folk. I’m also very well aware that those who work in PR could very well write a list of ten things that journalists do to annoy them, or even ten things that Alex Blyth does to annoy them!

So, with those caveats in place, here’s what I have so far:

1) Expect journalists to operate as an unpaid media montoring service
2) Going oddly silent/AWOL
3) Sending irrelevant press releases
4) Writing like a PR, not a real person

Number five is: Pitching like they’re selling timeshare properties

Sometimes I get a call from someone who works in PR. They ask if I’ve got a minute to talk. Then they tell me that they have some news that will interest readers of a title I write for. Or they tell me they’ve got an idea for a article that will fit nicely into a particular title. Then they briefly outline the story, tell me who will be interested and why, and ask me what I think of it.

Other times I get a call from someone who works in PR. They tell me about their company, or their client. They go on to tell me all about the great products or services that company has. Then they tell me about the exciting new hire the company’s made, or about the revolutionary new product or service it’s just launched, or about the company’s five-year growth strategy, or about the latest office move, or about what the Chairman had for breakfast that morning, or something, whatever, I’ve stopped listening, and am just hoping this person will stop talking soon. Or at least at some point before next year’s World Cup kicks off.

You see what I mean?

When in life are we ever interested in a conversation with someone who just talks at us? Never. People need to be engaged in a dialogue or they just switch off. So, it amazes me how often I get these sort of phone pitches.

As I’ve noted previously on this blog it’s crazy that PR agencies tend to get their most junior person to do the media ring-round, and yes I do feel sorry for the person having to make these calls. But at the same time my first proper job, when I was 21, involved picking up the phone and pitching to marketing directors of blue chip companies. I figured out pretty quickly that if I just talked at them they’d end the call. So I learnt to ask questions, to listen to the answers, to ask further questions, to draw links between what they were saying and what they were saying, to build some sort of rapport.

It’s really not that hard to do, and I’m sure everyone in the world of journalism and PR would be much happier if the people making these calls figured it out, or, failing that, if the people ordering those PR execs to make those calls at least gave them a few hours of training on how to do it well. Surely that’s not asking too much?

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Are business publications doomed?

Posted in Uncategorized on November 26th, 2009 by admin

Last night B2B Marketing held its annual awards ceremony. B2B marketers from far and wide assembled at the Honourable Artillery Company in London to hear Frankie Boyle’s unrepeatable jokes, to see Man Bites Dog and Eulogy pick up the PR awards, and to party the night away.

It was a celebration not only of the achievements of B2B marketers in the past year, but also of the success Joel Harrison and James Farmer have had in establishing the B2B Marketing brand. As the recent closure of Revolution and Media Week have shown, maintaining an established publication is hard work at the moment; starting one from scratch is almost impossible.

It begs the question – is B2B Marketing an isolated success or is there really a future in business publishing?

Without doubt it’s not only Haymarket that this is suffering at the moment. Profits there fell to £4.5m in 2008 from £8m in 2007, but compare this to the performance of its competitors:

In 2008 NatMags lost £42.8m.
RBI’s profits fell 47% in the first half of 2009.
UBM’s fell by more than a quarter in the same period.
And Centaur’s profits fell year-on-year by a shocking 88% to just £1.7m.

The problem is not only that those B2B marketers who were partying away last night are increasingly reluctant to spend on advertising, it is that the buyers they want to reach aren’t reading those magazines any more. Even the publishers that have had the foresight to set up good online versions are struggling to attract advertising to them, simply because advertisers aren’t convinced that their target audience is reading them.

I wasn’t at the B2B Marketing Awards, but I know what happened on them through Twitter. I don’t need a news journalist to tell me what happened – Tweetdeck did it all for me. I don’t even need a feature writer to analyse what the result mean – there’ll be a blog written somewhere that’ll give me a view on it.

Or is that really the case?

Can I really trust the blog I read? Did Tweetdeck show me all the important results, or just those tweeted by attendees? Perhaps I’d rather read the impartial opinion of someone who’s paid to fully research the facts and then present them comprehensively and eloquently. In other words, a good journalist writing for a publication I trust.

Not all business publishers are suffering from dwindling profits. For the year to March 2009 profits at The Economist Group were up year-on-year by 26%. This despite the fact that The Economist’s philosophy of unfettered free markets was widely discredited in the wake of the credit crunch. The Economist is succeeding because it has a clear target audience, and because it pays the best journalists good money to produce well-written, fully-researched news and analysis. Whenever I read it I’m struck firstly by how little I agree with what they write, but secondly by how well written it is.

Sad though it is to say, Media Week and Revolution lacked differentiation in a cluttered market. B2B Marketing is succeeding because it has carved out a clear niche. And long may it continue to do so.

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The Death of the English Language

Posted in Uncategorized on November 18th, 2009 by admin

Here is the text of a talk I gave last Thursday evening to my Toastmaster club – London Corinthians. Let me know your thoughts….

(NB. All characters are entirely fictional, apart from my Dad who is entirely real, but would never be that rude about the leader of the Conservative Party)

Everywhere I go people tell me that the English language is dying.

I was in the pub the other day with my mate Dave who was incensed by the careless way people use apostrophes (I know – I really should get myself some more interesting mates).

“I was driving past B&Q the other day,” he said. “And they were offering to sell me BBQ’s WITH an apostrophe. Everywhere you look people are throwing in these apostrophes – CD’s, 1980’s. It’s even on proper road signs now!”

“Road signs?” I asked.

“Yes! I was driving down to Somerset last weekend. I was relaxing and enjoying the country views, when I drove past a sign telling me this road was unsuitable for HGV’s. There’s no apostrophe in there. Is there?!”

“No,” I said, nodding vigorously. “Certainly not.”

“Well why do they keep putting them in there?”

“I don’t know,” I said, before quickly finishing my pint and heading home.

But before I got home I had to pop into the supermarket to pick up some bits. I joined the nine items or less queue, and as I stood there wondering whether or not Dave was right and the English language is indeed going to Hell in a handcart, someone tapped me on the shoulder.

It was an elderly lady. “Have you seen that sign?” She pointed at the sign above the till.

“Yes I have,” I said, and politely pointed out that I only had three items.

“Yes, yes,” she said. “But it’s wrong isn’t it? The sign. It says ‘less than nine items’. Anyone with half a brain knows it should be ‘fewer than nine items’.”

“Yes,” I said. “Of course it should.” Before I was summoned to the till.

Back home there were yet more people brimming over with rage at the deterioration of our language. Mum and Dad were staying for a few days.

“Look at this,” shouted my Dad as soon as I put my head round the living room door. He was pointing at the TV where he was watching the news.

“What? What’s happened?” I asked, immediately worried that something terrible had happened.

“This Cameron fellow,” said my Dad. “He’s an absolute imbecile.”

I looked at the TV to see the Leader of the Opposition grinning in full interview mode.

“Agreed,” I said. “What’s he done now?”

“He keeps on telling me I know what he means. Y’know. Y’know. Y’know. That’s all he says! Well I don’t know, do I? If I did know why would I be sat here listening to him give this ruddy interview?!”

You see what I mean?

Everywhere I turn there are people telling me that the English language is dying. And it is a worry, especially for me as a professional writer. If the English language dies then I’m out of a job!

And that’s part of the reason I love coming to Toastmasters. Here I’m amongst fellow language lovers.

There was a fellow at my last Toastmaster club – Manchester Orators – who was especially keen on preserving the language. Stephen was a superb speaker, a very successful businessman, and an all round good egg. I remember him giving a speech in which he told us of the day his daughter came home from university with some rather dramatic news.

“Dad,” she said. “I’ve got something to tell you. It’s important.”

“Well,” said Stephen. “You’d better come into my study then.”

“Dad, it’s this,” she said, obviously nervous. “I’m…I’m gonna have a baby.”

Stephen recoiled in shock and horror. For some time he didn’t know what to say. His daughter waited for him to collect his thoughts. Eventually he said: “You’re my daughter. I love you. Over the past 20 years I’ve paid for you to have the finest upbringing possible. You’ve gone to the best schools, you’re at one of the greatest universities in the world, and still you come here, and you have the nerve to say to me that ‘you’re GONNA’. You mean ‘you’re going to’!”

So, what lies behind all this?

Well, I recently found this rather revealing quote. It was in a book called ‘Attitudes toward English Teaching’, and the authors had spent a long time observing the teaching of English in schools. They concluded:

“Recent graduates, including those with university degrees, seem to have no mastery of the language at all. They cannot construct a simple declarative sentence, either orally or in writing. They cannot spell common, everyday words. Punctuation is apparently no longer taught. Grammar is a complete mystery to almost all recent graduates.”

Again, in his “Methods of Study in English” MW Smith said: The vocabularies of the majority of high-school pupils are amazingly small. I always try to use simple English, and yet I have talked to classes when quite a minority of the pupils did not comprehend more than half of what I said.”

I’m sure that many of these people who keep telling me that English is dying would agree with that statement. The only problem is that that the first book was written 1961. The second in 1885!

Look into it more closely and you’ll find that every generation throughout history has complained about declining standards of English. People were even complaining about declining standards of English as far back as ancient Sumeria. Among the first of the clay tablets discovered was one written by a teacher in which he complains about the sudden drop-off in students’ writing ability.

The point is of course that language changes. What was important in language 30 years ago is less so now. And what is important today will be less so in 30 years time.

So, while we should all try to uphold standards and communicate as precisely as we can, we shouldn’t lose too much sleep about it. In my view, rumours of the death of the English language have been very much exaggerated.

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The issues – focus on the issues

Posted in Uncategorized on November 11th, 2009 by admin

Old Labour stalwart Tony Benn was famous for his insistent focus on the issues. He never had any time for all the froth and hype around personalities or the daily tittle tattle of gossip. Whether or not they agreed with his politics, almost all agreed that he was a serious player who was interested in really making a difference to the lives of those he represented.

Now this isn’t just a general ramble on twentieth century politicians. It has a point….

I thought about Tony Benn in a training session I was running yesterday for some bright and experienced agency PR folk. They had come from consumer backgrounds and were struggling to get coverage in the trade and business press. So, their HR Manager had called me in.

We looked through some of the press releases they were putting out. We talked about the problems they were having. It soon emerged that they were doing what many consumer PRs do when they turn their hands to B2B PR – they were issuing releases about product features, company news, and so on, and were “making it more B2B” by dressing it up in technical language and business-speak.

The problem of course is that trade and business journalists by and large aren’t interested in hearing about the success of company A. They aren’t interested in hearing about allegedly great new products from company B, the latest exciting new hire by company C, or yet another strategic alliance between companies X and Z. And they certainly aren’t interested in hearing about it when it’s described in technical language that the writer doesn’t really understand and then padded out with meaningless business-speak.

Yet this is what so many press releases contain. The examples I worked with yesterday were by no means the worst I’ve seen. The people I was working with are intelligent people who know how to write and who represent some of the UK’s largest consumer brands. They just weren’t nailing it for this particular market.

So, we talked about what trade and business journalists do want. They want press releases that are clearly written, where it’s easy to quickly grasp the story (that doesn’t by the way mean jamming it all into the opening paragraph). And they want the issues. They want to know what this news means for their readers, what trends it reveals about the market, what broader lessons can be drawn from this experience. We talked about how to frame press releases in those terms so that they also promote their clients. We looked at how to apply this theory to their press releases.

It was a fun session. I always enjoy working with clever people who just need a few tweaks to start looking at their work in an entirely fresh way – there’s always that moment where you can see in their eyes that they’ve got it.

And what’s more it reminded me of Tony Benn and his insistence on the issues. As I made my way home I remembered the time, more than 15 years ago, when I saw him speak. Leaning on the lecturer’s podium, hundreds of rapt eyes focused on him, he shook his pipe at us, a twinkle in his eye, and told us that we should “never get distracted, always focus on the issues, the issues”. He was absolutely right, and he’s still absolutely right – because of course he’s still very much with us – it is the issues that matter.

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Ten things PRs do that really annoy journalists: part four

Posted in Uncategorized on November 4th, 2009 by admin

This is one that no PR will ever admit to doing. Ever PR knows they shouldn’t do it, and every PR, if asked, will vociferously deny falling into this trap. And yet so many do, because it’s really, really hard to avoid.

It is “Writing like a PR, not a real person”.

What do I mean by this? Partly I mean the effusive descriptions of products, clients and events – “a fantastic new product”, “a client you’ll absolutely love”, or “a once in a lifetime event”. But I also mean the vague description of topics that the PR doesn’t really understand – this is where empty phrases creep in, phrases like “user-centred design”, “self-service online application”, “market leading service provider” and so on and on and on.

But that’s not all. I also mean press releases, pitches, even incidental e-mails that are written in an overly formal style. They’re intended to sound professional and capable, but can very easily end up sounding stuffy, cold and convoluted.

Now, I think journalists can be a bit hard on PRs with all this. They forget that most PRs are working hard to remove all this hyperbole from press releases, but are fighting against marketing departments who have no idea what it takes to get media coverage. They forget that most PRs operate under terrific time pressure, and cannot ever hope to be experts on everything they need to be.  They also forget that to many more junior PRs a journalist is a genuninely intimidating figure, and so it’s no surprise that those twenty-somethings fall back on stiff formality for fear of appearing unprofessional.

Most of all though those journalists forget that PRs aren’t professioanl writers. Journalists can be terrible writing snobs and, when they sneer at the poorly written communications from PRs, they’re forgetting that PRs are paid as much for their interpersonal skills, their media planning abilities, and their creative spark as they are for their ability to express themselves fluently in writing.

Of course the very best PRs do learn how to write brilliantly. They learn all the rules, all the tricks and tips, and they ensure that their ideas and expertise comes across as well on page or screen as they do in person. Sadly though most PRs never admit that they’re not experts in this area, and so they never do anything about it……

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Campaign and new business agencies

Posted in Uncategorized on October 22nd, 2009 by admin

This week Campaign ran this article on its website:


It’s a first-hand, confession-style account of one person’s experiences working at a new business agency. It’s an interesting article and has prompted a flurry of comments. However, I’m not convinced it was a good idea for Campaign to run it.

Let’s put to one side for a moment the issue of whether a leading trade mag like Campaign should really be the forum for a disgruntled employee to conduct this kind of poison pen revenge job – these articles are often very popular with readers who can recognise the scenario and identify with the writer. Let’s also accept that the cloak of anonymity was essential for the author to fully express his views. We can even refrain from pointing out that Tom Messenger’s writing would have benefited from the attention of a more vigorous copy editor.

The real problem with this article is that it doesn’t offer a portrayal of life in new business agencies that many people working in that industry today would recognise. Ten years ago there were quite a few a few disreputable agencies like the one described here. They were terrible places to work and they did little for their clients other than waste their time and money. However, the industry has matured. Most new business agencies are now thoroughly professional outfits, employing bright and hard-working people who use a tried and tested formula to provide good new business  leads for their clients.

The comments on Campaign’s website page make this point in no uncertain terms, and many of them raise the question of what Campaign was thinkng of running something as poorly researched and one-sided as this. There is, without doubt, a place for first person anonymous confession-style articles, but they  have to ring true with the readers. Before agreeing to publish them, the editorial team needs to speak to a few people in the industry – both clients and practitioners – to check that they recognise the scenario being portrayed.

Sadly it doesn’t look as though Campaign did this. I believe this is a reflection of the trend in so much journalism – away from properly-researched articles by capable and impartial journalists and towards sensationalist diatribes from amateurs with axes to grind. It does no one any favours, least of all the publication involved.

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