The deadline question

10 February 2009

I guess this was inevitable:


Earlier today, Charles Arthur at The Guardian wrote a pair of tweets about the deadline question that now seems to be part of the standard issue PR script and why it's not a good idea. I can't remember when this practice started but it never used to happen. Gradually, more and more PRs have taken to kicking off a call with the question: "Are you on deadline?"

Now, I know what you're thinking: what's wrong with that? And, according to the quickie survey put up by Dan Leach, only about half the journalists who voted, so far, thought it is. Personally, I'm in the "you've got something to sell, just get on with it" camp.

Consider these points. Number one: someone answered the phone; it didn't go to voicemail. It means one of two things. Either there is some time to hear about something interesting (I can dream, can't I?). Or you are not the person who was meant to be on the other end of the phone and you are now blocking the Very Important Contact from getting through. Deadlines? Shmeadlines. But, don't worry about it. If I need you to get off the line or hurry up, you are going to know about it. This is not a problem, but asking whether I'm on deadline isn't going to make a whole heap of difference other than lengthen what is already an interruption.

Number two: is this call really necessary? If it's that important to get an instant response, what difference does a deadline make? A story is a story and may trump whatever is sitting in the word processor right now (again, I can dream, can't I?). And if the response is not needed immediately, why not try email or a tweet? Asynchronous communication works. If you don't get a reply, it wasn't going to fly in the first place.

I can't speak for anyone else, but I reckon I'm about five times more likely to say no on the phone than having had a chance to look at something written down. If something is borderline but looks as though it might fly, email is going to work a lot better. And, you get a response you can show the client (after a bit of sanitising).

By the way, there won't be a prize for the first person to ask: "Is it OK to ask you if you are on deadline?"

1 Comment

I was thinking it depends on what kind of journalist you are talking to (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) but then I realized, if a PR is any good, then they should already know what the journalist's deadline is.