When I started in journalism there was definitely a culture of freeloading. It was the late 1980s and one of my editors told me, only half-jokingly, that borrowing a laptop for review was fine but the manufacturer should not be encouraged to ask for it back.
That’s gone away, mostly, I hope. There was also a trend for PR people to send all sorts of souvenir type junk or corporate nonsense to try and attract a journalist’s attention. It was occasionally amusing – then I started working from home as an independent.
The junk slowed down during the recession but it’s creeping back. And here’s my point: independent journalists, working from home, do not have a receptionist. We may occasionally be out, say on the school run, taking the dog out, whatever we do before starting work. Then we find a “sorry you were out but this item needs signing for” card waiting for us. Which sounds important.
So we go to the Post Office. And we queue. We wonder what can be so important that it requires a signature before they hand it over.
This time, after 15 minutes waiting (not the fault of the local delivery office who are as nice as anything), it was a retro games console. This was good targeting, or would have been if I wrote about games. Which of course I don’t.
(Side note: this was nowhere near Christmas, at which point it’s accepted that some of the PR community takes to sending calendars, pens with corporate branding and whatever – that’s all part of the game, and since it’s now October could I just say less than a Rolex is an insult but I’m quite fond of single malts).
How to waste a journalist’s time
Longer-term readers of this blog will be aware I try to highlight good practice rather than moan when someone gets it wrong, but this wasn’t the first time I’d had my time completely wasted. I’ve previously queued for an item in which the postage was underpaid. I won’t miss the 93p or whatever it was, that’s not the point – but the hour out of my day for something that might have been important (it was a bland and irrelevant press release) when I have constant deadlines was an issue for me.
Not that I mind getting fun stuff. In recent years I’ve been sent a deerstalker/Sherlock Holmes hat (x2), toy army helmet – which makes a good impression when you’re presenting on press relations (wear it onto the stage and ask “Do journalists still get unsolicited junk?”), wrinkle cream (ho flaming ho) and an origami kit. These, however, were from companies working in areas that I cover (security in most of those instances). And as luck would have it I was indoors to receive them.
The second point is beyond anyone else’s control. The first is crucial to any piece of communication. If a journalist gets an email that’s wholly irrelevant we’re likely to shrug and hit the delete button. I hear a lot of moaning from other hacks but it’s not a big deal. If we get a call about something about which we wouldn’t write, it’s a little more annoying but again, part of the job so we’re likely to get on with it and move on.
If you’re going to send us something, particularly to our homes, it’s different. It takes extra effort on your part and possibly ours. The only objective you can have is to make a little more impression and draw attention to your client. So you’d better be sure that the biggest part of your message isn’t “I haven’t troubled to find out what you write about but here’s a big box with a feather in it to waste your time.”
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Image: Flickr:Matt Brown