Bums on seats

26 November 2009

From the journalist's perspective, it's amazing how often PRs have almost no focus on the target. Or rather, the target the average journalist thinks the PR has is not the target they are actually aiming at. The discrepancy usually surfaces when it comes to the sticky business of 'events', whether these are simple face-to-face meetings or full-on press conferences.

The scenario runs something like this:

PR rings or emails to find out if a journalist wants to meet an exec or go to an event hosted by the client. So far, so good. Let's assume that it's not to announce the opening of the Altrincham sales office (I've nothing against Altrincham but I'm sure the local paper has a greater interest in this) but something a bit more relevant.

The problem is, for whatever reason, the journalist is not available on that day. Here's where reality and assumption start to part company. Nine times out of ten (I made that statistic up, it's probably less than that, but it feels like it), the PR will say something along the lines of "oh well, never mind. I'll send the press pack."

Now, I can't speak for anyone else, but the bit that surprises me is how rarely the PR says: "Is there another way of doing this?" More often than not, it's me checking whether another day can work by phone or other means. To be fair, some will say, "of course, no problem". These are what are known in the trade as The Good PRs.

However, a lot of the time it descends into farce. Usually, the PR will say they will check it out and...nothing will be heard until the next event. If you push the issue, no executive is available for a conversation except on that very day where, apparently, they will struggle to do an interview using a hotel's speakerphone rather than the perfectly serviceable, purpose-designed, electronic starfish at their own office. Excuses range from "the press packs won't be ready then" (so do it without) to "they're all away the week after".

The best ones are when I can't do the meeting because I'm at a conference elsewhere that I know for a fact will be attended by management from the PR's client. You'd think this one would be a no-brainer wouldn't you? Let's do the show right there. Um. No. That option is not available. It's all about the means rather than the end. The opposite happens quite often as well, although is a bit more understandable.

I don't want to write the story I'm given - I'd rather have something else more interesting and like to organise things that way. But it's always a bit of a surprise to find how rarely anyone in the whole promotion business seems bothered about The Message making it to publication. I can only assume it's because the means are getting measured not the end product.