Pitches From the Ditches: An Introduction to the Dark Side

By Donal Wayswin on at

Anonymous PR Donal Wayswin is lifting the curtain on the murky world of tech PR, in his first column for Giz UK... A weighty minimalist desk sits atop the darkly-varnished wood floor, enveloped in the silence of a pre-work office. Early morning sunlight streams in through a crystal-clear glass dividing wall, highlighting a Mont Blanc fountain pen; crisp unused note-pad and perfectly calibrated iPad with a messianic halo.

These are truly precision tools, forged by elves in the fires of mount doom and calibrated by military scientists. They await the touch of their master, emanating a barely perceptible hum as waves of pure potential radiate into the air.

These tools are deployed with ruthless accuracy to bring highly-creative strategic communications campaigns to some of the biggest and most recognisable technology companies on earth. To the layman this means PR; however within the four walls at Despot, Bogie and Chubber (Soho’s most respected technology communications agency) this term is banned. According to the Managing Director, PR is something that girls in tight t-shirts do when they hand out flyers outside bars in Lanzarote.

Instead, we carve strategies; re-imagine worlds and deploy creative assets in a way which is so cerebral our whole building sits in a bath of spinal fluid. Tech companies come to us as flailing unknown paupers and we make them famous, rich and successful by using a variety of Top Secret Dark Arts. To them we are a phantasm, the puppet-masters who pull the strings. When anyone from The Agency picks up the phone to a journalist, not only do they listen, but entire news rooms fall silent in anticipation. We are the butterflies, and when we flap our wings, storms form and rain falls.

At least, this is the impression given by our website and the luxuriant non-standard template company PowerPoint. This is the slick-looking and lofty vision the brand imageneers from the creative consultancy !Play! came up with when they ‘re-spliced our company DNA.’ What they were trying to do was create the PR equivalent of the super-soldier, but what they actually did was take the skin off a long-dead general’s corpse and pull it over a scared little girl. If you listen really carefully, you can still hear her hammering on the bloody insides, trying to get out.

The website depicts our staff as the perfect hybrid of smug-looking experienced communications professionals and young, pretty Oxbridge grads eager to do your bidding. The subliminal message is, “Look, not only can we definitely do your work, but you could also have a pop at Jenny, 23, whilst she talks to you about Ukranian philosophy and Taoist literature."

Disregard the cornflower-blue logo; frustrating Flash landing page; suits; friendly receptionist; free coffee bar; smiling teeth, and expensive wall-hangings, and you find out the real secret. Human beings work here, and we don’t re-carve imaginations; we just speak to journalists. Or at least we try to. When they want to speak to us.

There is no more stark evidence of this contrast than taking a look at me this afternoon. My desk looks like the aftermath of Hiroshima. The mating publications form the base strata, with trade mags currently cross-breeding with T3 and The Times' supplement on Call Centres. Scattered on top of this is the half-eaten carcass of a banana; a disembowelled M&S salad box and an exsanguinated can of Red Bulll. There is also Miso soup spatter on the lapel of my shirt; a more PR agency war wound it is harder to imagine. The sensitive thick-glassed representatives from !Play! would be disgusted with the bastardo-Frankenstein representation of their brand crawling towards them.

Today started off bad and has picked up downhill momentum ever since. My first action was having to explain to a client why the ‘news’ that they had allowed their product to plug into a well-known social media site wasn’t on the front page of The Sun; being discussed on the Today programme and generally causing zombie-like droves of digital denizens, whipped into a frenzy of desire, to break down their website. It went down like a cup of warm sick, leaving me no choice but to play subservient bad dog while they spanked my bottom. In the end I think I promised to speak with the people at the Leveson enquiry to see whether they could raise it when they speak to Rupert Murdoch.

From about 10:30 onwards, journalists began dropping out of tonight’s press event like clockwork. Each subsequent email crashed into my inbox like Jason Statham falling through a big glass conservatory. This means that, as opposed to the ‘high-level press event’ that was promised, packed with twenty or so of the UK’s leading technology press, we now have about three journalists coming along. The Reaper is definitely looming up behind me on this one.

Luckily I have been busy enough not to dwell on it, but every time it pops into my head, a small baby starts crying deep inside. At least there will be booze.

The run-in to the event doesn’t bode well either. A four-hour long meeting for a company that makes coloured plastic accessories. Four. Hours.

So this is me -- bloodied, but unbowed. Think of me tonight when I am sitting in the corner at an empty swanky central London venue; watching the event (and my hopes of career progression), crumble like an over-dipped Digestive, praying hard that the third freelancer will turn up. The baby will start crying out loud, but only when I am safely tucked up in my tiny bed in my crappy little South London bedsit, hugging my knees and thinking of the time the careers man said I should have gone into the Army.

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Donal Wayswin is a pseudonym for a PR professional working for a tech agency in London, not dissimilar to the dozens of agencies that Giz UK hears from daily. All Pitches From the Ditches are based mostly on true events, with some details changed to protect the not-so-innocent.

Check back every(ish) Monday for his columns, or tune in at 1pm on Wednesday for the rantings of an anonymous IT manager in Emails From the Command-Line, and 1pm Fridays for anonymous copper Matt Delito's Notes From the Frontline columns.

Image Credit: Businessman from Shutterstock.