Cut The Crap

Greg Dyke was a fascinating character, and in my opinion, one of the best bosses I ever worked for. He did many things as Director General of the BBC. But I didn’t think that nearly a decade on from one of his infamous initiatives, I’d be using it to open a blog.

For a start, there were no such things as blogs back then. Or, if there were, they were mostly written by nerds. Ahem.

No, Greg didn’t like to be bogged down by red tape. Long, pointless meetings. Bureaucrats telling staff they couldn’t use a perfectly nice outdoor area at Television Centre because of Health and Safety. So in 2002, he issued us all with yellow cards.

Greg Dyke told staff to just get on with it

Ah, happy days. Of sorts. But this blog isn’t a plea for the BBC to cut through its layers of management to make savings. Nope, this one is for the people that journalists cannot live without – but would so often love to shout Greg’s famous phrase at.

Don’t get me wrong, there are some very nice and some very good people working in public relations. These are the ones who know my audience as well as I do, have done their homework and have the ability to call at just the right time, often as my lead story has just fallen down. More often than not (though not exclusively), they’re based locally.

But then there are the Droids. Agencies who think that by inserting RELEVANT TOWN OR REGION NAME HERE into a press release, I’ll somehow want to lap up their celebrity interviews, often sponsored by a huge commercial brand.

Sure, for some people, talking about how “Brits” (a common cliché) used to love hanging their washing our, but wish their clothes could smell fresh, might be a perfectly acceptable way to fill ten minutes of speech content on a quiet Monday morning. And the best thing is, the well-known-kids-TV-presenter-from-1988, will only mention a new fabric softener once. I mean, that’s not exactly product placement is it. Where’s the harm?

But I really do wish that the PR agencies attempting to sell me a story that I probably won’t use anyway would have the honesty to tell me about the sponsorship at the top of the press release. Seriously, it’d make my day and yours whole lot easier – knowing I could simply delete the email rather than having to read through to the smallest of small print to spot the sponsor – and saving you the trouble of calling me.
 
And it doesn’t stop at fabric softeners. Would my audience be interested in talking about migraines? Of course they would – everyone loves a discussion about medical matters. And look, Pointless PR has that nice doctor off the telly lined up. Since they’re frequently on other BBC programmes, surely they won’t be mentioning anything commercial. Or will they? Treatments, techniques and tips can all – and frequently are – sponsored by companies or organisations with commercial connections. By the way, I should point out that this TV doctor is entirely fictional. And also freelance, so they’re not breaking anyone’s contract – and I don’t have a lawyer at my door.
 
Of course, just like miracle cures, everything in moderation. There are occasions when it’s perfectly legitimate – and editorially sound – to take up a PR on their offer. It’s a matter of balance. However, I’d like to respectfully offer the big agencies the following advice :
 
    • Be honest with me. Cut the crap and tell it up front.
    • If you’re using statistics, make them credible. Questioning 2,000 people is admirable, but if you can’t tell me how many of those came from my area, I’m not interested.
    • On that subject, invest in a map. Know where you’re calling before you pick up the phone or send the email.
    • Understand the medium of radio. Sounds, not pictures. Real guests, not quotes.
    • Don’t try to tell me there’s no commercial reference if there is. We’re journalists and we’ll ask questions.
    • Be aware of the rules. In particular, the BBC Editorial Guidelines have a whole series of basics which many PRs seem oblivious to. The link above even has some online training courses to help you.

Oh, and finally. don’t take a single word of this blog personally. I know you won’t….

 
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2 Comments Add yours

  1. John Rockley says:

    Thought that you’d like these posts that support what you say, only shout lots more 🙂

    http://www.jdoubler.co.uk/blog.php?url=2011/11/come-on-then-have-go.html

    http://www.jdoubler.co.uk/blog.php?url=archive/2011/10/archive.html (the 2 at the top of this page are particularly relevant…

  2. Rob Pittam says:

    Spot on – and I speak as someone who’s been a journo and a PR. The sad thing is that the PR companies charge their mug customers a fortune for sending out those press releases that are destined for the bin.

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