Tuesday, 17 February 2009

People don't understand my job!

Not my afternoon job - there's nothing that complicated about journalism (although people do tend to assume that I write for a newspaper. Dunno why. I'm completely useless on the subjects of current news / politics / sports and so on, so that should give them a clue).

But people don't understand my morning job. Yup... they don't understand what the field of public relations is all about. And I guess that's understandable because PR people tend to spin a fancy story that makes it sound far more complicated and impressive than it really is.

You'll hear phrases like "strategic communications", "integrated marketing strategies" and "outsourced one-stop marketing departments", all said in a sexy Cell C stage whisper*. But basically, the agency I work for in the mornings, let's call it Red Tree (because there are an inordinate number of "communications" companies named after a colour and a random object. Trust me on this) does one major thing - we try to get free, positive editorial coverage for our clients in the media.

So let's say the client is a company that offers onsite office pilates classes to businesses as part of their employee wellness programmes. The PR company will write press releases on various topics - maybe how an employee wellness programme can help you to improve staff morale and cut down on company medical costs and employee absenteeism; the benefits of pilates or a profile on the charismatic entrepreneur who founded the company - and then send these to the editors or programme managers of various publications, websites, TV shows and radio programmes to try to convince them that this is a topic worth discussing and to include the PR client's name / business details / achievements / expertise and so on.

All in all, it sounds quite simple. And if it wasn't for the clients, it might be.

See, I can excuse the general public for not understanding PR. But the companies that pay us to do their public relations... surely they should have a clue?

Now I understand that charming PR spin doctors in stilettos or a slick suit may have convinced you that what you NEED is a PR company that UNDERSTANDS you and your business and that Red Tree / Blue Fish / Yellow Porcupine / Green Pencil is the RIGHT company for you (and make no mistake - PR professionals do speak in capital letters. Rather like Death in a Terry Pratchett book)...

BUT... If you are going to pay these people money, surely you ask questions / do research / google "define PR" or something?!?! I would. But maybe that's just me.

Why is it that we get clients that ask us things like, "So where will this press release be placed?" before it's even been written? Here's a thought: it's free space. Strangely, my dear client, editors are less keen to dish this out than they are to accept your paid-for adverts or advertorials. Might just be because the magazine also needs to make money and they have salaries to pay too, y'know?

No? Ok... consider the fact that not everyone in the world will think that your product / company / service is as truly earth-shatteringly awesome as you do. I know it's hard to imagine that there are people out there who are not moved by the thought of your laxatives / office blocks / computer hardware, but it's true. Really! I'm not lying. I wish I was - it would make writing about your product much easier.

Also, there's the fact that I'm not psychic. Sorry to disappoint you, but I really can't predict ahead of time what an editor will choose to do. So when I send him or her your latest press release, I'm afraid I can't promise you a placement before it's even been read. Sucks, I know. But such is the way of the (PR) world.

And when you ask me to organise a media breakfast to mark the launch of your new range of tick and flea shampoo, please understand I mean no offence when I say, "Nobody gives a rat's bottom." The truth hurts, baby. And the truth is... the media have better things to do. Unless you can promise French champagne, a free weekend in a 5-star hotel or a Rolex goodie bag, most journos won't be interested in your little media event. Sorry.

Please don't feel the need to copy me in on every email you send to your suppliers / factory / board of directors / mother / ex-boyfriend either. I need to know the newsworthy stuff only. Got it? Ok, maybe that one where you threatened to cut your ex's genitals off and sew them to his forehead was newsworthy, but not in the way I meant!

Then, if you can cut out checking up on my progress every half an hour I'll be infinitely more happy and productive. If Elle magazine refused to place your release on the benefits of your (butt ugly) orthopaedic slippers this morning, chances are they won't agree to it this afternoon.

The only other thing I ask is that you acknowledge the fact that I studied journalism and you did not. When I send you a press release for approval and you change my sentence from, "The shopping centre's design is based on its natural surroundings and the architectural lines echo the curve of the adjacent riverbed" to "The Shopping Centers design is founded on it's natural surrounds; while the architectural lines are based on the gently sloping curve of the nearby river that the Shopping Center overlooks"... I want to kill you. No offence.

If you can keep these points in mind, I'm sure our relationship will blossom as you allow Red Tree / Purple Zebra / Silver Banana / Pink Lizard to address your individual communications needs in a strategic and dynamic manner.

*Cell C is a telecommunications company. Its radio and TV ads are always read by a lady with a low, husky voice who has become known as "The Voice of Cell C". Some say she sounds like a phone sex operator. Others think she suffers from chronic laryngitis.


The Jackson Files said...

Bwahahahahaha. I love this. The curse of the PR person is that EVERYONE thinks they can write, even if the sheer scale of their crappy grammar has to be seen to be believed.

And why to people insist on adding random Capital Letters to a sentence? I weep for our schooling system if people are being taught that Capital Letters add emphasis.

Thomas said...

Ha ha ha ha, I totally identify with this. When marketing tools change my sentences and edit what I write I want to cut off their faces with a spoon!

boldly benny said...

Ha ha, the joys of working in the media! I can relate to all this so much!

BioniKat said...

Maybe you could prepare a concise brochure for the new clients as to what the procedure is and what they can expect from the media etc., which could be presented to them at the first information meeting. I think its probably that they have to answer to directors, etc. and they dont really know.

I just listened to the Cell C voice this weekend and she is very distracting. I almost forgot to make my selections.

phillygirl said...

I think this is one of my favourite posts ... ever. Wahahahaha. Brilliant :) Green Pencil!

Tamara said...

Jackson Files: I know! And the underlining random bits too... Grrrr.

Thomas: Or a letter opener - I have a shiny red plastic one on my desk that looks as though it was made for that purpose.

Benny: ;-)

Momcat: Believe it or not, they get a full summary of what we do when we first do their needs analysis. They must smoke it as soon as we're out of the door, becuase none of them seem to read or reference it.

Philly: Wow - that is a very cool compliment ;-)

Shania said...

So You're Saying That This Capitalization Doesn't Make My Comment More Emphatic?


Louisa said...

Teeheehee, clients! Can't live with them, can't live without them huh?

Anonymous said...

Semicolon placement is worth getting a little wild about. I know; understand; and relate.

PS...Thanks so much. Amazing how you spotted the wings on Addy. I think they are always there, we just have to look.

po said...

Polka dot pancake is the name of my virtual pr company.

I hate to admit it, but i still dont quite grasp what you do. It all seems like greek to me. Not even sure what a press release is!

Tamara said...

Shania: Yes. That's Exactly What I'm Saying.

Louisa: Sadly, you are correct.

Susan: LOL - that's one of my pet peeves. I agree that Addie probably always has wings ;-)

Po: That's a good name, actually. Hehehe...

Anonymous said...

Hehe I enjoyed that!

AngelConradie said...

heh heh... i have similar hassles trying to explain my job!

Dash said...

nice, no one ever really understands our own work.... we have a Celcc C voice that reads teh late news back home...we call her Sandra Sultry..