Technology PR Web/Tech

BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones: a case study for the death of the journalist background briefing document?

I have never met BBC tech correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones – but I feel I know a lot about him.

If you follow him on Twitter, you’ll have discovered the following things in the last week or so:

1. On April 11, he couldn’t work out whether the 11 minute audience he was granted with Michael Dell in “a dull Hilton room” was worth the trip.

2. He was miffed to find that The Guardian had run a front page story about Twitter this morning – just as he was preparing a piece about it for the Radio 4 Today programme.

3. He stayed up to blog about Google’s fiscal results last night.

4. He got up early a few days ago to do an interview with Radio Wales – but they stood him up.

5. He watches The Apprentice on BBC TV. And he thought Sir Alan Sugar fired the wrong candidate on this week’s episode.

6. He was meeting someone senior over from Microsoft this week – he wasn’t quite clear what she did.

7. His wedding anniversary is April 7. And he has been married for 18 years. Because he was up at 6am on that day talking about the internet and marriage.

I could go on. But you can see all this for yourself here.

So what has this got to do with press briefing background documents?*

Traditionally, the typical PR company had laid great store by the amount of background briefing information it can provide on a journalist to a client. In the past, this kind of thing would be jealously guarded by the agency – and client’s would pay for the privilege of getting access to this stuff (and let’s be honest, many of these so called briefing documents have been works of fantasy, based more on guess work rather than hard evidence).

However, if more journalists adopt the Rory Cellan-Jones approach, then this information becomes freely available to anyone (even if they don’t, the amount of info that is now available out there on the Interweb rather than held on a PR agency server is huge). Rather than create a 40 page MS Word document for a client (which they probably won’t read), you could set up a simple web page with links to RSS feeds, Twitter/Facebook links, etc that presents all of this information in one place. And of course, because it is fully searchable, your client can filter the info as and how they see fit.

So where does the PR company add value in this model?

To me, the value comes in being able to help the client build the profile in the first place. And interpreting the information appropriately to help build an effective communication strategy. But the days of PR companies trying to make money out of pretending they have some kind of secret insight into a journalist are numbered.

*Definition of press background briefing document: a document compiled by PR consultants for their clients to provide as much information as possible about a specific journalist they are targetting or meeting. It typically contains basic factual information such as contact details, areas of interest, previous articles, etc. It also usually has agency guidance as to what messages would be appropriate to deliver to the journalist.