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PRs: a necessary evil? | We're commissioning | AMA
We love to complain about our PR colleagues, but is it OK?
Happy February subscribers! Before we dive into this month’s free newsletter, we wanted to let you know we’ve got an Ask Me Anything thread open right now where you can ask either Steph or me anything you want — be it freelancing advice, pitching tips or money questions, we are here to answer for the next week or so. Shoot your questions this way if you want to pick our brains. Now, here’s Lottie with a little piece about PRs…
Much has been said about PRs — mostly by disgruntled journalists. We love to b-tch about inane press releases, misnamed emails and all manner of PR mishaps that make our jobs a little frustrating every now and then. I watch journalists and editors on Twitter call out stupid portmanteaus (gal-cation, gay-cation and gram-cation some of the worst — the Mail even has a whole story about it), and plenty of us have taken to social networks to criticise over-eager follow-ups just a few hours after a press release went out. I am guilty of it myself.
In fact, back when I was an editor I was really quite rude about PRs on my timeline. It’s not something I’m proud of, and now after a decade in the industry, I am somewhat ashamed of my public venting. It’s easy to get angry with the PR machine, sure, but behind all those email addresses there is an individual — just like me or you — and all they’re doing is their job. We really ought to give them some slack.
This topic was also covered in Roxhill’s PR-facing newsletter by Richard Mellor here and it’s an equally interesting read.
These days, I’m far more forgiving — I think (and hope!). And I actually love working with PRs. Not just because they’re often lovely people, and many have become good friends of mine, but also because they have been enablers for my career. They are the reason I got to write this story for The Telegraph, they’re the reason I can afford to write books about dog-friendly travel (because they can convince their clients to host), and they’re the reason I’ve been to South Africa, Ethiopia, Namibia, Slovenia, Portugal, India, Canada, the USA and many more destinations over the last 10 years.
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Sometimes, without PRs as a vehicle for news and unusual angles and access to otherwise tricky people or areas, we might not have a story at all. Sure, we get hundreds of impersonal emails a day, many irrelevant to our respective niches. And yes, sometimes PRs make mistakes or are slow to reply or can’t support a trip so you can’t fulfil a commission. But when they do support us, it translates into actual cash. Without their help, many of us wouldn’t make the profits that we do. So are PRs a necessary evil? No, they’re a largely brilliant group of people doing their best to help us. There’s no “evil” about it. They are indispensable for many of us.
But I still can’t shake the feeling that it’s an odd, sometimes uncomfortable relationship. Often the journalist or editor holds all the cards — that commission, those column inches — and the PR must bend to our whims. It is not always an equal exchange. And sometimes, once we’ve taken a PR-led trip, or bagged a freebie or two for an individual press trip from a friendly PR, we might feel beholden to them. Like we owe them something — coverage — and like we have to now bend to their whims (or their client’s, more often).
We shouldn’t, of course, as this compromises our ethics. We must remain editorially independent and able to include or exclude hotels, restaurants, destinations or operators as we see fit. But it’s a tricky balance to strike — keeping the PR happy so they’ll work with you again, but ensuring your copy is a genuine reflection of the truth.
The PR-journalist relationship can sometimes be a bit mysterious, too. Not least because few of us have probably taken the time to understand what their job is really about. So instead of writing them off as annoying little fruit flies buzzing about your inbox, cut them that slack I spoke about earlier, gather your empathy and be curious about their work. You might find you learn something — and forge better relationships while you’re at it.
To help, during the rest of February’s newsletters we’re going to explore the PR world. Here’s what paid subscribers can expect:
🔒14 Feb — Inside the PR machine: we explore the ins and outs of being a PR, what budgets look like, what the pressures are and what their roles and responsibilities are beyond answering a journalist’s call.
🔒21 Feb — Horror stories from the road: we’ve all got our own PR horror stories, but what about theirs? We give PRs a chance to air their frustrations.
🔒28 Feb — How to work more effectively with PRs: we get the lowdown on how PRs would prefer to work with us, what works, what doesn’t, what’s negotiable and what’s unreasonable to ask for.
We're commissioning a new series for Talking Travel Writing all about how freelancers got their gigs. These pieces aim to demystify the process of ideation, pitching, travelling and writing, and offer insight to fellow freelancers about how others make this business work.
We have a set Q&A template you will follow for this piece, which includes questions such as:
Where did the idea come from?
How did you pitch it?
How many editors did you pitch?
How did you set up the trip?
How did you do the research?
What was the editing process like?
What did you get paid?
Did you get any other commissions from same trip?
Was it worth the money?
We are seeking pitches for this series, so please fill in our pitch form with some brief details so we can commission a variety of pieces. We will only be commissioning four articles, so please only submit this form for one story. We will be in touch if your pitch is successful. We will pay £100 on submission for the finished article once commissioned.
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We regularly praise Stuart McDonald’s in-depth reporting on industry topics and this Couchfish newsletter is another corker, all about AI and trains that don’t exist.
The brilliant Jeremy Bassetti has written a whole book on how to write a travel book! You can get the free download here. And to see a slightly different perspective on the PR-journo relationship, subscribe to Richard Mellor’s excellent weekly Roxhill newsletter. It’s always short, sharp and genuinely interesting.
This is the first of February’s series on the PR-journo relationship. Know someone who might find this interesting? Share Talking Travel Writing so they can subscribe and get access to all past and future newsletters.