Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

How to avoid being “that annoying PR person”

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 17, 2009

The phone rings – London number.

“Newsdesk, Adam speaking.”

[Excitedly] “Hello Adam, it’s Christabelle here calling from Markettowers PR*, how are you?”

Markettowers. Bollocks.

[Tersely] “I’m OK thanks.”

“Great, that’s great. Hey look, I’ve got a great story which I think you’ll really like – with some great local stats.”

“…go on”

“Well we’ve done some research into when people fill in their tax returns, and discovered that 18% of people in your area leave it until the last day.”


“And we’ve got David Nobody from available for interview tomorrow morning to talk about why we should get them in sooner – can I book you in for a slot?”

“Send a press release and we’ll take a look delete it immediately.”

And so another London PR agency calls with another lame story. It’s one of the minor annoyances of local journalism, albeit a neccessary one, as once in every 15 calls, they bring you a story with some tickle factor that you know will make a light mid-bulletin filler.

It wasn’t until I saw a job ad in the Guardian that I realised what the game really was: it advertised a position at a marketing agency – and the job was to “sell” (their word) stories to radio stations.

Essentially it’s a glorified call centre job. And when I also spotted they get paid £10k more than me, my patience for PR hacks fell through the floor.

So if you work in PR, if – heaven forbid – it is your job to ‘sell’ stories to busy journalists, please read the following advice – it might stop your press release entering the recycle bin.

Don’t call anywhere near the top of the hour

Radio journalists in particular read the news at the top of every hour. Calling anytime after 00:40 will most likely result in a brisk “sod off”. It’s different for newspaper and TV journos of course.

Pitch in 10 seconds or less

It’s a skill journalists are trained to do, so you should too. If you can’t explain your story in less than 10 seconds, don’t bother.

Do your research

I have actually had calls offering me “great local stats” for the wrong county. The phone was hung up pretty soon after. Also, for many local media, regional stats are not local stats.

Do your research

I’ve had calls offering stories about where to invest your money-when most of my target audience shop at Iceland. Sell it to Classic FM, not me.

Do your research

Local commercial radio does bulletins of no longer than 3 minutes. They never do longer interviews unless its with someone off X-Factor. So don’t pitch long 2 ways. Journalists need short clips.

Don’t keep calling

Newdesks fully realise the more times you call, the more desperate you are, ergo the fewer other outlets have used your story, ergo your story blows. Call to pitch, and don’t call back. If a journalist likes the story they’ll make the call – we’re quite clever, you know.

And know your client will very rarely get a name check

You may pitch them as ‘David Nobody from” but 9 times out of 10 they’ll be referenced on air as ‘Money expert David Nobody”. We’re not interested that it’s Tesco, sorry.

*not a real company


7 Responses

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  1. Chris Doidge said, on January 17, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    *not a real company, but I can guess which one you mean!

  2. adamwestbrook said, on January 17, 2009 at 5:44 pm

    Haha, not very subtle is it!

  3. Matt Rebeiro said, on January 19, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Useful advice. Not least as i’m currently The Daily Beast’s UK PR bitch…

  4. Boon said, on January 20, 2009 at 1:25 pm

    Woah, rant or blog?! It’s a moan we’ve shared on many occasions, I’m only surprised it took you until now to put it in writing! PR types take note!

  5. Paul Fernley said, on January 20, 2009 at 1:57 pm

    My favourite is when they get the station name wrong…’Q103′ – that’s not in Manchester, or when they argue with you about your TSA…

    It’s quite nice to go to small stations sometime -you can sometimes only get one call an hour then!

  6. JJ said, on January 21, 2009 at 10:25 pm

    ‘Markettowers … ‘ clever 😉

  7. […] How to avoid being THAT annoying PR person :: advice for those unfortunate PR professionals […]

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