‘That bloody Shahzad, just cause he’s run some PR training and workshops in the past, he thinks he knows it all.
‘We have certifications and qualifications, we have cool hipster offices with desk toys and thinking rooms, we have schmoozing accounts, German cars (not our client’s makes) and Very Nice Hair. He doesn’t even have a clue!’
If you are in PR – particularly in the Middle East, specifically in the GCC and possibly in Automotive, these will be your thoughts in just a few moments time if you deign to get even partway through this discourse.
And you’ll probably be right. Although I’ll counter that nearly three decades in the Media Malarkey endows me with a modicum of credibility – which then causes the incredulity when I see the sort of stuff that’s bounced into my email inbox of late – and from recent media/PR interactions.
For example from a few days ago, when I received a freaky flowery press release that was verging on a 50-Shades-of-Fetish literary work of art, of epic love-in proportions, but a nightmare for harassed editors who are looking for bullet-point brevity and obvious missions statements to help them punch out those sidebar NiBs (or a caption/post online) – cause if it’s not a major story, that’s all it would be worth, as would have been the case in this instance.
And then two releases in succession today that left me appalled by the imagery sent out in accompaniment – and to note, in this fast-scrolling world of thumb-rubbers that can’t actually read anymore (or least can’t be bothered to) – IMAGERY is everything! It’s beyond crucial. And if it moves even better – yes, I know that means video. That’s what I meant, not some kind of Potteresque newsprint scenario.
The first was a release about a Model-Year update and facelift to a popular car that was just going on sale in the region. As an editor you’re immediately looking for information on key changes over the previous version, price and on-sale dates and relevant imagery to go with the story.
The release emphasised the styling tweaks to the car, particularly the front. So obviously you need a crisp, bold front-three-quarter image of the car, against ideally a plain or clean background. Instead you got a distant tracking shot of two cars. Oh. Perhaps the rear shot then? Reflections and cluttered surrounds meant that wasn’t ideal either.
But what’s even more remarkable is that the main picture supplied only featured the important new model just poking in stage-right, whilst most of the image is packed with a crowd of people attending a launch event.
Nice pic, but clearly something that should be for internal use or for distribution to those featured in the image. Why send it out with a press release? What does the PR agency think an editor will do with it?
Also where’s the tact in sending an image of invited media attending a plush launch event to media that wasn’t actually invited to the event? Yeah, that’ll earn you some love, innit?
‘Post the pics,’ you’re thinking, ‘let us see them!’ Well I don’t want to single out or name any particularly manufacturer, or rather the agency involved, because it would not exactly be alone in being guilty of such things. So it’s not fair to single anyone out. And to be fair the structure of the release itself was actually fine, but it was all let down by the images.
Not that it would be the photographer’s fault if he or she wasn’t properly briefed, directed or given enough time and space to capture the appropriate images. I do a lot of car photography myself and know just how hard it can be.
The second instant today, was actually not automotive-related, but a press release that included what would appear to be an official portrait photograph of someone. Except that the picture was very obviously a casual Selfie, and the person taking the Selfie wasn’t even looking directly at the lens but probably instead at the display screen.
Perhaps it was not intended for publication, but if you send an image out with a press release, the probability of it being used for publication exists. To be fair Smartphones have great cameras now, and for web use offer more than enough resolution, but at least TRY to make it look like a properly-taken photograph.
Anyway these are the basics of PR, but on another level, agencies need to learn how to foster relationships with journalists; be trained up for fire-fighting and damage-limitation; practice flexibility for unique and sometimes obtuse media requests and requirements; comprehend that engaging is more productive and valuable than blacklisting; develop a thick enough skin to brush off the apparent trauma of critical critiquing – funny, don’t they sort of mean the same thing? – and comprehend the economic realities of present day journalism, particularly in markets and niches like ours.
There’s a lot of clearly apparent, to somewhat subtle, aspects of the PR/Media working relationship contained just within the paragraph above, and that’s not even your lot.
But all of it is something that PR professionals need to grapple with and to do so with clarity and open-mindedness, rather than take umbrage at people like me when we occasionally hit our limits and cry: ‘Enough, stop, look, listen…’
Listen… Yeah, now that’s the key here. Listen, observe, absorb, learn. Don’t be a know-it-all. None of us can ever be know-it-alls, well apart from Spock of course, but he’s Vulcan.
By bashing out the above on my keyboard and through my social media posts, I’m not intending to just rant and rave, and especially not to offend, or worst still, get any particularly individual into any kind of personal or professional difficulty, but rather I hope to enlighten and inform.
After all, how can one know that something could be done better, if not for someone telling them? Same applies to us media of course – and believe us our readers and viewers are never shy about telling us when we fall short of the mark, and they’re very generous with their ‘could do better’ comebacks. But that’s fine. We try to take on what we can and improve where it’s possible.
And similarly, I’m not that bloke that’s just always moaning about how it’s all wrong. I can also be – and have been – that guy that helps to make things work better, harder and more appropriately. Call me – reasonable rates, I promise!