Well, one at least – I posted a question about the state of PR on the UK Press e-mail list – this was the response from Ian Murphy:
You asked for it.
Over the last 24 years of doing IT journalism the level of PR competence has
gone up and now down. While it took a long time to rise it does appear to be
falling faster than anything you care to mention.
It is not just the current or last few crops of young flaks who are the
problem. Many of them seem to be getting little support or training from
their employers or supposed more experienced colleagues. We all know when
there is a new intake because the conversations go along the lines of:
<Flack> Can I speak to Ian Murphy?
<Flack> I’m calling from XYZ and am just checking journalist details.
<Me> OK. Who exactly are you?
<Flack> Opps. Sorry. My name is Airhead 1.
<Me> Good morning to you. What do you need to know?
<Flack> I need to check what we have on the system.
<Me> OK. Read me out what you have and I’ll tell you when it’s wrong.
<Flack> Well I don’t have access to the computer, just a list of names.
<Flack> Could I start by getting your telephone number?
<Me> You just called me.
<Flack> So I did. Giggle
And on it goes.
<Flack> Can I speak to Ian Murphy?
<Flack> I’m calling about vendor ABC and their new product heck-Knows. Could
I ask if it is the sort of thing you cover?
<Me> Who exactly are you and where are you calling from?
<Flack> I’m Airhead 2 and I work for XYZ on the ABC account.
<Me> OK. So what does this product actually do?
<Flack> Well, er, I can email you a product sheet
<Me> That’s a good start
<Flack> Could I get your email address
<Me> It’s the one on your system
<Flack> Oh right. I can see that here. Is this something you would normally
write about then?
<Me> What does it say on your system? After all, I’m sure you checked before
And so on.
This is not the exception it’s becoming the norm. I’ve done enough training
for PR Agencies and every single time I stress the "don’t call them unless
you know who they are and what they write on" message. Sadly, it doesn’t
appear to be getting through.
Another problem is follow-up. There is nothing more irritating that getting
a pitch by phone or email that’s interesting. When you then phone/email the
agency and say "How about an interview with the client and then we’ll see if
it turns into a feature or just a review" it’s reasonable to expect some
response, not have to chase them later. When you do chase and nothing
happens it’s not just annoying but if you’ve already started the ball
rolling by suggesting something to an editor, it makes you look like a prat
when the agency doesn’t follow up. These days, my tolerance is so low I pass
every single one of these back to the client along with the reason why the
editor has now cancelled the review. If I had any faith that there was an
responsible adult at the agencies, I’d call and talk to them. Those of you
who’ve known me a long time will know that I do make the effort from my side
but it’s becoming just too one sided.
The increasing use of premium rate numbers by agencies just leads to me
calling the client directly and telling them that I’ve bypassed the agency
because I’m not paying premium rate for their marketing pitch. I don’t think
this is unreasonable and I have given serious thought to installing a line
just for PR people to call. I even went through the numbers with NTL and
worked out that most agencies wouldn’t notice even if I pitched it at 75p
per minute. This would, by the way, give me a nice little earner each month
offsetting the amount of electricity I currently use.
When you actually have some understanding of the subject matter you find
yourself labeled "difficult", "irritating", "scary" or "geek". The latter I
can live with but the rest just show a remarkable lack of interest in the
job. I used to think that agencies wanted to talk to people who knew the
market because it would make for a better experience with the client. It
appears that is no longer the case. They are more scared of being shown up
for having too many lightweights on their staff.
However, in defence of the PR industry, I’d like to point out that the
increasing use of disinterested journos by magazines who just want the story
spoonfed to them, in the same way as it is in the US, is exacerbating the
situation. We are in risk of ending up with a US Style approach where the
marketing message goes straight from the agency onto the page. This is not
just in IT but in other areas I cover such as sport and the toy industry.
Am I surprised that most are not making money? No! Do I think it’s going to
get better? No! That’s because those who cared are far enough up the food
chain to have paid off their houses, have their cars and a reasonable
Right. Time for my gout pills, a extra large spoon of cynic to go and I’m
sure it’s past my bedtime.