As a journalist, I get into all sorts of conversations with PR people. Sweet, bitter, cool and hot. In fact, in tech journalism that is massively PR driven, there is no way you can work without these conversations.
But this one was slightly different.
“Hello, this is Javed. I got a call from this number.” (It was a landline number and I got not one but two calls from that number in quick succession. Looks like it’s something mighty urgent, I thought, and called back.)
“Hello… who, Javed? Hmmm, yes sir, Javed… hmmm, is this Javed from India Today, hmmm, just a minute sir.”
I understood what it was. The PR person on the other end was shuffling through her list of journalists, trying to figure out when she had called and possibly for what. She came back.
“Sir, is it a good time to talk”
“Not exactly. But quickly tell me what it is about”
“My colleague had sent a press release earlier, have you got it”
“Yes, I have got it”
“So sir, are you using it”
“No, not now”
This would have been the end of the conversation, but for me that day was turning out to be the Friday 13th. I had already told four or five people that I had received their press releases, a scheduled meeting had been delayed, the stream of news stories was endless (and relentless) and a few personal matters were keeping me busy. So I asked.
“Why do you guys call journalists to ask if they have received the press release or not”
“Sir, it’s my job,” came the answer.
“Job? But it should not be. I don’t see how calling people and asking if they have received the press release can be your job.”
“Sir, please don’t tell me what my job has to be or what I should do. If you are going to use the press release, use it. Or don’t. But you can’t tell me what is my job.”
Before I could say something, the call was disconnected.
Fair enough. I had possibly erred. And may be the other person too was having her Friday 13th. But I wanted to understand. So I called back after 5 minutes.
I explained that may be she misunderstood my intentions. I was trying to say that calling up journalists and asking whether they got the press release or not was of no help to anyone. Now, I was also curious. So I asked if it was the PR company that had told this young, and possibly new, PR analyst to do “this job”. Or was it the client who told the PR execs working with it to chase journos with these calls?
I didn’t get the answer. Though I did get to know that the PR firm was Zenov and the client was Guvera.
All journalists get these calls. Though, I don’t know why. As far as I see it, these calls don’t help at all — not with me and I am sure not with anyone who is doing journalism and not churnalism.
Guvera can do whatever it wants, but I won’t cover it until it can show something that is newsworthy in my eyes. And once it shows something newsworthy, it doesn’t matter if I have the press release or not. If I don’t have it, I will seek it out, I will call people, I will beg for information. If there is news worth writing about, worth reporting, journalists will do it. They will cross seven seas and will do it. If there is nothing worth reporting, it won’t be covered. Period.
Yes, we don’t live in a perfect world. Conversations with PR people are part of the job, and they help. There are many in the tech PR who don’t like me because probably I have written something that their clients didn’t like and there are many who I avoid. But we still talk because it’s the job.
Unfortunately, answering calls and telling PR executive that I have received the press release and then sharing a timeline for a news item is not part of that job.
PR agencies may want the “have-you-got-the-release” calls to be a part of the job that their employees do. That is for them to decide. As a journalist, I work best when I don’t get these unnecessary and useless calls.
PS 1: Considering I am talking of the tech PR, I do want to share this. I respect the work PR people do. Dealing with journalists is never easy. Most in the PR industry — though not all because some also try to act oversmart — deal with absurdities, which come while dancing with journalists, with grace. And they do it day after day, hour after hour. Sadly, there is nothing graceful about these cold calls. At best they are pointless, at worst they are akin to hassling.