Bitter with baggage? Yes, today that is me. And while I don’t really focus on ‘insider’ stuff as much as I used to, today is definitely an insider day. If you’re a regular reader of BBB, you’ll know that my day job is as a freelance beauty writer and for now, I write regularly for one print publication. If you’re freelance you don’t really have to place your loyalty in any one place, but I have to say that I am pretty fond of the paper I write for, not least because the editor I work for is easily the nicest I have ever worked with (and she doesn’t read my blog in case you’re suspecting a sycophantic moment). So, when I got told the other day by a PR that they would prefer if I didn’t feature their super-swanky product in my paper I was gobsmacked. Actually, that word doesn’t really do justice to the feeling of shock – I had to blink back some tears. Not least because the email was issued with the formality of a solicitor’s letter from someone I’ve known for over a decade. Ultimately, the hidden message is that my paper isn’t good enough, in their view. And that hurts. It is of course, good enough for every other product they’ve sought publicity for over the years to prove what a great PR job they’re doing.
So, then I have a very unexpected call up re the blog from a luxury brand for a cup of tea (and the subtext there is that even after a decade of writing nothing but good things – genuinely, I love the brand – I’ve still not escalated to breakfast or lunch (and I don’t eat much!!)). So, while we’re slurping our tea in what is quite a socially awkward gathering (there are two of them), I ask them if they have any upcoming plans or interesting things going on. They say no, nothing. And then, a month later, reveal probably one of the biggest fashion and beauty events that London has ever seen.
Then, I hear from a brand that their PR had told them not to bother taking me out for lunch because I’d ‘feature the product anyway’. They’re right, I would, and I don’t need lunch to sway me to feature something, but Jesus, don’t say it out loud.
To compound these incidents, I’m in the middle of compiling a feature for the paper and wanted to call in a picture of a new product that will have launched by the time the feature goes to press. I phone up for the picture, which doesn’t come straight away – in fact, it comes much later in the day. Via twitter I discover the delay is because they’ve been holding a launch for the product I’m about to show to over a million people that I wasn’t invited to.
I’m very well aware that PR strategy works in a certain way, and that it is a good PR’s job to do the very best for the brand. But, in these instances, which is worse? To be told flat out (albeit in a very roundabout way) you aren’t good enough, to be told a big fat lie or not to be offered the courtesy of launch invitation. Either way, it’s truly shitty to be on the other end of. From my end, it would be unprofessional to not feature the product because I feel excluded, so of course, I’m going ahead.
I’m way past needing my worth proving by PRs with dinners or cakes or whatever else, but with the advent of Twitter, how the tiers of treatment work has never been a more open book. Pictures and tweets of cakes, gifts, invitations, trips and treats ensure that the tiering has never been more obvious and let me tell you that the view from the bottom isn’t great. It’s galling that when coverage hasn’t gone as well as expected, the first place they turn is to on-line. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve been asked to use my blog space as a way to bump up a PRs coverage portfolio.
You can read what you like into this – it’s from the heart – most readers will know, I think, that I’m not a freebie chaser or won over by treats (and I’ll just add here that being invited on a spa trip two days before the event doesn’t fill my heart with joy and racing to pack my best nightie, it just makes me wonder who dropped out at the last minute), but none of this feels like a two-way street to me. I have far more respect for the PR of a luxury brand who said, ‘Jane, we want product placement in a top ten list of publications and after that, we’re not bothered whether we get coverage anywhere else at all.’ Because, that at least is open, honest and truthful. Dealing with PRs is sometimes like a game of chess and it’s not til the game is fully played out that you realise you never had a chance of winning.
Blogging has changed all the rules: I work incredibly hard to find exclusives or things of interest to blog about because otherwise, I can’t really expect anyone to read it, and I mind enormously if I miss a trick because I spend so much time trying make BBB a worthy port of call. Some PRs have been beyond supportive – others ‘say’ they’re supportive. There’s a massive difference, and I know what those differences are.
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