He will join us or die, my master

PR. At various occasions I’ve leveled criticism at this sometime nemesis of the journalist, albeit tempered with praise for those who do it well.

The usual applies: bad PR, be it selling a story or reaction to one, can do a journalist’s nut in to the point of distraction and, on a couple of occasions, murder may have been justified [1]. Good PR can make a journalist’s life so much easier, save time and even teach said journo things they would never have known before.

And yes, then there’s my oft-repeated anecdote of my one and only foray into the world of PR by sending out a hasty-cobbled together press release that was printed verbatim the next day by the local paper.Quite what this says about both sides is open to interpretation.

I also remember the regular derisory sneer from the journalists-in-training to the PR-types in training:”Yes, but all you do is write a press release. How hard can THAT be?”

Very, actually.  I’ve been unexpectedly moonlighting (for free, I might add) on the side, trying my hand at the arts of publicity.

A few days ago I was contacted by a good friend who works for a charity dealing with domestic violence. With International Women’s Day approaching, she’d realised it was a decent chance to communicate to the media, and by default the rest of the world, about what the charity did and may be the one time of the year us hard-nosed cynics might actually be interested in writing about what the charity did.

So, having not had much, if any, experience in dealing with the media a plea went out to the two journalists she knew for help with putting a press release together, although with a hefty wadge of information and a case study.

Not just because she’s a good friend, but also because I’d secretly fancied having a crack at this sort of thing for sometime [2]  I settled down to construct it into something I’d be interested in following up if it came into the newsroom.

Two and a half hours later, at 1am, I had some semblance of a press release plus a few pointers on how to proceed, but bleary eyed, I could see it needed work on. A lot of work.

You see, the problem was the topic was interesting. There was a story to be told. But there was so much information there, and much of the work was ongoing, that it was incredibly difficult to write it in a way that a journalist wouldn’t pay more than a cursory glance to it. This was challenging. This wasn’t easy. There was a ton of questions I had about the project that I couldn’t reasonably ring up and ask about at such an un-Godly hour, so I fired up my half-finished babble, a few ideas as to where she should go with it and a hope that I could find a bit of time at work the next day to take it further.

Fortunately my friend, who’s none-too-slow herself, emailed back later than day with a very decent press release that just needed minor bits of tweaking. Fine, job done. Not quite.

While she knew her stuff about the topic, her contacts in the media were slightly more limited. So, Friday night, I found myself desperately racking my brains as to the best way to get this release and topic to as many people as possible, which culminated in a hideously long email back to my friend with plenty of plans for world domination a mini-publicity campaign. I fired out a few emails to friends, colleagues, associates, anybody I knew who might be interested in following up the story. To my delight I’ve already had one person interested.

But between now and Wednesday is the moment of truth. Tomorrow the press release should be finalised, and by Wednesday/Thursday we should see who, if anybody, has picked up on it. I’m even getting rather excited, which is rare for me.

I’d have liked to have spent more time than I had available on it. Hell, I’d go as far as to say I was, at points, completely absorbed and enjoying it. And maybe, just maybe, it’s pushed me a little bit further towards PR as a job. Maybe. I’ve been flying by the seat of some rather large pants here, and have guessing as I go along. But we shall see.

And from now on I promise not to belittle PR people, or so readily discard finely honed press releases. Unless they’re really really so utterly dim I’m wanting to put my head through my monitor in frustration. Mind you, some journalists have the same effect on me.

[1] I am, of course, thinking of the hapless employee who tried to convince us we really wanted to do a piece on a girl in Cornwall who’d managed to stack 15 hula hoops on top of each other. To this day I’m convinced this was a wind up; even the most Royston Vasey-esque of local newspapers wouldn’t cover this, would they? 

[2] I imagine Anakin Skywalker may have felt the same when he first heard about the Dark Side. 


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March 2007
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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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