There are things that a young PR person must do in order to remain viable. One of these is go to lunch with journalists. This is called all kinds of awful things in the agency world: ‘strategic relationship building’; ‘influencer outreach’; a ‘media relations campaign’. However, in reality, it means that in the nano-second that you call a journalist with a story, if you have shoved a cake in their face at some point, they might remember you and listen to your story.
What then usually happens is the phone is put down in a slightly more respectful way, because they are busy live-blogging from Apple’s factory line where iPods in a new type of beige are being produced.
Today I have such a lunch with a writer from a consumer technology publication. I will take someone I have never met before out for a two-course lunch and associated sundries. I wouldn’t even typically do that for my friends, family or loved ones, however for someone who might run a story or two, The Agency will roll out the cheese board.
Upon arrival, I walk to our table and sitting at the table is what appears to be a 14 year old boy. “Hello mate,” he says. His less-than-Paxman approach is welcome.
We order beer and after some awkward commentary on the state of the weather and how much the Olympics is going to make London crumble at the seams, we do the usual PR/journalist dance:
“So what clients do you work for?”
Here it is. An open goal; I just have to tap it in. Swathes of glossy coverage await. I tell him about the four tech companies that the Keen Team back in the office are convinced will be of desperate interest to him. Instead, I sense a mixture of boredom and just plain confusion; it could be said that he isn’t aware of the importance of these life-changing tech goliaths, or it could just be said that he doesn’t really care.
“I have never heard of any of those, but I wrote about something similar recently. Got any news?’
"Right, another beer?"
It seems my strategic outreach isn’t working. A small bubble of resigned hopelessness gives way to acceptance. I am just another face from an agency and he just wants to eat two courses and sundries. Fair enough. Fuck it, I resolve to do the next best thing and get drunk with him.
Lunch bleeds out into the afternoon: there is Tsinga, sport talk, puddings in trios, more Tsinga, missed calls from the office and follow-up emails. These are batted away under the auspices of me building a strategic relationship. Before I know it, I am in a Soho pub that smells of urine; it's dark outside, and I am confused. My erstwhile editorial companion is jabbering away at the bar to two men in fluorescent builders' jackets.
I notice raised voices, and then one shaped like a fat Dolph Lungren tries to grab his throat. After some slurred diplomacy, and an uninformed apology on how much Polish aircrews really did achieve in the Battle of Britain, we leave together, powerfully bonded and as one. We are Butch and Sundance, a friendship created in the forge of war, forever to watch one another’s backs. Maybe The Agency will forgive my afternoon-long absence because of this. In fact, I will be roundly applauded and carried around on the MD’s shoulders whilst everyone celebrates my ability to save the lives of vital journalists.
A few days later I call Sundance Kid, ready to be warmly welcomed into the bosom of the magazine. A seat on some kind of Editorial board surely beckons after we swap war stories.
“Alright, it’s Donal, got five minutes to talk about a story?”
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.
If you like Donal's work, check back every(ish) Monday for his columns, or tune in at 1pm on Tuesday for the anonymous writings of a London drug-dealer in Exchanges From the Curb; 1pm 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.