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Tales From The Dark Side

Tales From The Dark Side

By Robert Brumfield, Account Manager, D.C.

So in my first couple of weeks here, this jerk journalist just hung up on me, screaming something about how he told me not to call him until X company had something to say about Y product, and not before. He must cost his company his salary in splintered telephone receivers.

Did I ever do this? Scream when I was a journalist? I remember–it’s almost dream-like now–being contacted by several PR people a week, avoiding calls by virtue of the caller ID that Vince the IT guy finally installed after two years of bitching from editorial. I remember taking the occasional call, begging people off to a later date, sometimes deleting voicemails with entire passages of pitches unheard, and only rarely responding to any pitch that I wasn’t directed to cover by the managing editor.

But I never yelled at anyone. What’s with all the hostility?

Ok, so this one time, I yelled. But she totally deserved it! This woman from a pay-per-clip shop (a term I now know well from the below post Just Say “No!” to Pay for Performance) didn’t get back to me for almost a whole week. When I finally got fed up and needed the interviews to meet my deadline, I set them up myself. As I was ready to do my first of three separate interviews in what was originally meant to be a cheap and easy conference call, this PR rep called me back.

Addressing me with the maple-syrup-thick condescension usually reserved for television personalities on a news network owned by a certain multi-bazillionaire with a funny-sounding name, she said that she “understood it must have been frustrating” that I couldn’t get her to return my calls, but that I must “realize she is very busy,” and that it was “her job” to make contact with the clients. You know, the same clients who’d already contacted me back and set up appointments for interviews.

In the interest of fulfilling this job description, she explained to me that she’d cancelled (yup, cancelled) all of the interviews I’d set up and rescheduled them as a conference call at a time that I’d not been asked about before it was set. I explained that was probably not necessary as, in her absence, I’d taken the time that I’d taken to set up interviews that were now perfectly timed so far as I was concerned. But whatever, that’ll do. I like for people to feel self-actualized. As a society, we tend to pass the time more agreeably together when that is the case.

Then she screwed up the time zones and the interviews didn’t take place. I blew my stack because that nifty trick blew my deadline. However, said stack-blowing didn’t take place over the phone; it was in an email densely populated with exclamation points and number of low-frequency bad words (I categorized not using the F-word as “restraint” at this point in our relationship).

Had she been representing a company that may have brought ad revenue to the paper, my actions would have likely been a problem for me. Luckily, this rep—whose name I find myself really wanting to mention in this post now that I’m writing it—was not well regarded by our publisher either. Once she’d forwarded him my email along with a carefully crafted message designed to make me look like I’d murdered a family of four and was trying to cover it up with a beach towel, he jovially explained to her that sometimes journalists are known to get a little hot-headed ahead of a deadline and CC’d me on the message. Said publisher never mentioned it to me directly.

I think about the advice I got from the most well-established and likable PR person I’d met in my time as a tech journalist: Get ready for people to treat you like you’re in PR.

What? Nah, not me. I’m charming and likable. I know what annoys journalists, having been one for what was, compared to my years spent on this planet, quite a long time. Why would they treat me that way? I’m not like all those other guys. I’m one of them.

Did I really talk to that guy before? That guy who yelled at me?

Oh. Yeah. The list said I did. Woops. Perhaps he will have forgotten by the time X company releases Y product. I should have enough time for him to forget.

Somewhere in all of this, a lesson lurks about The Dark Side: a lesson about egos, attention to detail, learning from the mistakes of yourself and others, the antagonistic symbiosis that exists between journalism and PR, et cetera.

I also remember another lesson, this one from my college mentor, Jeremy, a gay South African philosophy professor who somehow found himself plopped down at a university in West Virginia.

“Bob, learning is painful,” Jeremy would say. “Now you’re here on the learning curve.”

To illustrate this message that he would come back to ad nauseum, at this point in the conversation Jeremy would draw a swooping line somewhere, and place an X on its bottom-most spot. “This spot is the most painful spot the learning curve has to offer.”

Once I’m beyond this spot in the PR learning curve, I will perhaps understand what this all means.

–Bob, month 4

  • TaraMetBlog

    November 29, 2006 at 10:46 am Reply

    Although I’ve been in PR now for sometime, my former career was in journalism too and can understand the shock of being on the other end of a pitch call. When I was a daily reporter though, I’d often respond to email pitches and accepted calls from this one PR professional at the Red Cross who always had an interesting story for me like a woman donating her 80th pint of blood, etc. However, since I’ve switched to the dark side (literally what my journalism peers call it) I’m really feeling the animosity that the media has for us. I’m tempted to remind them who helps facilitate most of their stories, but I’m sure that wouldn’t help my case, lol. Good luck with your continued PR adventure Bob.

  • Anonymous

    November 29, 2006 at 7:00 pm Reply

    In an effort to do a little PR for the PR industry itself, I invite journalists and ex-journalists alike to consider referring to PR as the “strategic side” rather than the ever daunting “dark side.” I don’t disagree that some people practice in a way that puts them in the dark side category, but I wouldn’t refer to them as PR professionals. I would say they are going about it the wrong way, are misguided and should reconsider their approach. A PR professional (or someone on the “strategic side”) is knowledgeable, understands their audiences and is tenacious, which sometimes means picking yourself up after a solid rejection (or yelling) from a reporter and contacting the next target on their list with a better understanding of their position and knowing they have something important to say…oh, and as you say Bob, it better not impose on their deadline.

    Great post Bob…

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