Well, I finished my Huge Project O’ Doom, and have been lying in a small ball under the desk, rocking back and forth and muttering to myself ever since. Just the usual, then.
This particular project involves me receiving a couple of hundred press releases from PRs working for house builders across Scotland, which I then have to sift through to find the interesting stuff. This is made difficult by the fact that some PRs? Are crazy. Here are some actual, real-life examples of press releases I received this week:
- Two paragraphs – no header, footer or contact details, just the two paragraphs – extolling the virtues of what sounded like a truly fabulous new development located “on the waterfront”. Just which waterfront this was, however, will forever remain a mystery, because whoever wrote the press release didn’t bother to include that irrelevant piece of information. It could be Edinburgh, could be Glasgow – hell, it could be Aberdeen, for all I know. Who cares! It’s nice! And luxurious! And buying it would be like going on a mystery tour, never knowing where you would end up. Not that anyone could actually buy it, of course – no contact details, remember? Actually, it’s a little bit unfair to single out this particular PR here, because it’s amazing how many of them do this – send out press releases without mentioning where the development they’re trying to promote is actually located. Amazing.
- A press release complete with changes tracked, allowing me to see, in detail, the many redrafts it had gone through before reaching me. Interesting.
- A copy of a company’s receipt for buying advertising in the paper, complete with their credit card details. Did they want me to publish this, I wonder? Whoops, too late!
- An email containing four pictures of houses, with the words “here they are” at the top. Uh-huh, but WHERE are they? What are they? Oh no, let me guess – two words, sounds like “boat”…
- Numerous poorly written, almost-illiterate press releases, with such scanty details that I was forced to go to the company’s website instead to try and get the information I needed.
- A press release about a housing development in Dubai. Purpose of my articles: to discuss new developments in Scotland.
- And, finally, at the other end of the scale, two seventeen-page press releases, containing much more detail than anyone could ever wish to know. GOD.
And this is why journalists hate PRs. Well, partly. There’s also the complete inability to understand that a “deadline” really cannot be missed when you’re dealing with a newspaper, and that no, “5pm on Monday” cannot safely be interpreted as “8pm on Tuesday, or, actually, whenever you feel like it, we’ll wait for you!” I think the PRs have probably seen two many newsroom dramas, and have this mental image of me calling up the paper and shouting, “HOLD THE PRESS! There’s a development of two bed homes in Auchterarder that we need to include!”
Last time I dealt with this particular project, I got an email with some pictures I’d asked for TWO DAYS AFTER THE PAPER WAS PUBLISHED. I was really tempted to call up the PR and say, “You know, the deadline was two weeks ago and the paper came out last weekend, but don’t worry, what I’ll do is, I’ll reverse time and just pop it in for you, no sweat!” Because I can totally do that, you know. Such is the power of the freelance journalist.
The thing is, I have a lot of sympathy for PRs – no, really. I mean, I used to be a PR. I spent two years doing time in a press office (funnily enough, that was right around the time of the nervous breakdown), and I know that it’s not easy. When I worked in PR, I hated journalists with the fire of a thousand hot suns – mostly for their habit of sitting on a story all day and then calling me five minutes before their deadline and saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m writing a story that totally knocks your company and leaves them without a name – would you like to comment?” Also because they would always refer to me as “a spokesman” when they quoted me. Swines.
So. Does anyone need a press release written, then?