Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Black Sheep of PR: A PR Nightmare of a Survey

 A PR nightmare of a survey

Published April 23, 2011

IF you were among the 500,000 people worldwide recently that a certain PR firm had chosen to annoy, you would have stood a 1-in-500,000 chance of winning an iPad 2.

All you would have to do is answer 15 questions in a survey called ‘What Journalists Want From PR’.

I suppose that after figuring which end of the phone to speak into, the hardest task is figuring out what journalists could possibly want from PR professionals.

But you would have thought that what journalists do not want would have been obvious: an e-mail like this.

The questionable nature of offering a freebie this shiny and coveted to a journalist aside, the survey gets a little bit ahead of itself by asking a barrage of questions about social media such as ‘Do you follow and friend corporate communications or public relations professionals on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook?’.

‘What, they think the answer might be ‘yes’?’ a horrified colleague had asked.

That the question even had to be asked means we can assume that these are the PR people who are not already friends with the journalist in question, who have no legitimate reason to want to be their ‘friend’ on a site where people do overly friendly things like ‘poke’ each other.

To be sure, such a question needs another kind of survey instead – one of your Facebook friend requests and every journalist who has not accepted yours.

It is baffling that anyone would think that someone else would welcome being followed around on Twitter and harassed in 140 characters or less. ‘hi when is the story cmg out? tks!’

In any case, the survey gets ahead of itself because it does not ask the most fundamental questions that PR people ask on nose-to-the-grindstone days. While the survey might fail to ask them, I will provide the answers:

  • No, you may not read the story before it comes out in print.
  • No, The Business Times and The Straits Times are not the same paper even though we have the same parent. Would you like us to run a story on your sister instead of you and ask you what the difference is?
  • No, you may not have the questions beforehand. It’s an interview, not an exam, and your CEO is a big boy.

Growing numbers

These questions are bound to be asked over and over, and in much greater frequency. In a cover story for the Columbia Journalism Review last October, Dean Starkman said with a tinge of foreboding: ‘We are living in a time of PR ascendance.’

He cited figures showing that the ratio of PR people to news reporters has grown drastically in America. In 1980, that ratio was 0.45 PR folks to 0.36 journalists per 100,000 population. Today, that ratio is 0.90 PR people to just 0.25 journalists per 100,000 population.

Mr Starkman estimated that since 2000, the news business over there has lost 15,000 journalists, all of whom were presumably too busy to come into work after rejecting friend requests from PR people on Facebook became a full-time job in its own right.

‘While journalism has withered, PR has bloomed like a rash,’ he noted morosely.

To be fair, there are many PR people on the island who are a dream to work with, are intimidatingly competent and make navigating unfamiliar territory a less onerous experience.

But this survey unwittingly reveals that some only signed up because they thought they would be a PR person the way Samantha from Sex and The City is a PR person – with exclusive parties every week, lots of air-kissing and utterances of ‘Dahling’.

They hadn’t bargained for having to jump up and down in a suit, yelling, ‘Off the record!’ to drown out their client’s answer to anything not in the press release or suffering the indignity of pitching news about people sitting in the dark for an hour every year in a bid to save the planet.

Some of them must not have foreseen the tedious reality of writing press release after press release on matters they neither understand nor care about – which would explain one of the questions in the survey: ‘What elements should a press release contain so as to make it most helpful for your writing/reporting?’.

In responding, you are invited to check any number of available choices which include, ‘Clear and concise facts about the ‘who, what, where, when, why’ of the release’.

English, please

No, please, forget the ‘why’. It’s heaps more fun to make that stuff up. And please, if you must include a ‘why’, such as why a certain executive is stepping down from the board, being ‘clear and concise’ is overrated. You should, in the words of a certain MNC’s press release, say that he did it because of ‘diverging views on the future strategic focus of the company’.

Then, we get to call you up to ask that you translate it into English. We might eventually fall into such a rich and rewarding conversation with you that we add you as a friend on Facebook and spend the rest of our days blissfully exchanging Farmville requests.


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$5 for a travel pillow

Grapevine Fires – Death Cab for Cutie

It’s about 1.23 in the morning and I’m curled up on a plane bound for Melbourne. Usually I’d be heading out for some snacks with the midnight buddies or tucked away in bed either knocked out from the exhaustion of work or passing the time watching some silly sitcom.

Instead, I’ve just awoken from my countless attempt to get some shuteye on JQ8. It’s my first long haul flight on budget. I’ve not flown more than three or four hours in a couple of years, and definitely not on economy. I’m fortunate enough to have not one but two seats to myself on this flight, and located next to the window near the front – which means easy access to the loo. I personally don’t enjoy long flights, 1hr into it and I’m bored outta my wits. I’ve now watched two episodes of Gossip Girl’s re-runs, one and a half movie, and read a magazine. And yet, I still have about 5 more hours to go. Dear God help me. I’m wide-awake and my body is aching as if I am 99 years old.

So here I am, up and writing and thinking, and seeing ancillary services take place live before my eyes. It’s funny how much we used to talk about it while I was working on Amadeus, and the countless articles I’ve researched and read about it. The online debates, trends and what-nots.

As the carts go down the isle, something different is offered each time, be it food, in-flight entertainment, a wine or two, and even pillows and blankets. Everything you can possibly think of to make your flight more comfortable and enjoyable. I can’t help but think about how these components and services offered to airlines gives travellers a new sense of transparency to what they are paying, and allow low cost carriers to create a whole new market share in the airline industry.

To my right is a big Caucasian dude, probably in his 60s or so, curled up fast asleep. Lucky for him, he has the whole centre row all to himself. A few hours earlier, as the various passengers peer into the pushcarts and browse through their menus, Mr BigGuy whipped out a foot long Subway sandwich from his bag and gobbled it down like it was the best steak sandwich he’s ever had. As I flipped through the menu, glancing over the price of each items, AUD$3.50 for a bottle of water, AUD$4 for a pack of crackers etc., I saw how these ancillary components start to take place. If you’re stuck up above the skies, with 5hours or longer in the plane, you’d do anything to make yourself feel better and more comfortable. Even if you have set your mind to not give in to these extra charges and inflated prices. I couldn’t help but feel ripped off for having to pay such inflated prices for items you can grab off a convenient store before hopping onto the plane.

Like Mr. BigGuy, I had just finished my tiny pack of petit Danish that I grabbed off Starbucks while running for boarding. That and a small pack of Ritter Sport and I was all set to go – yes, you always have to have chocolate. If its anything, that will keep you happy. So now I’m sitting here craving for a glass of ice tea to wash it down, or perhaps something a little stronger, Whiskey perhaps to put me back to sleep. And I contemplate about having to fork out that extra ridiculous amount, and having less shopping money. Yes, it’s always fashion over food. So for people like me, does ancillary services work? Anyone can easily grab a bag of chips and some soda before entering the gates. Laptops, iPads, iPhones can easily replace inflight entertainment. Most unfortunately, nothing can replace the uncomfortable seats.

These little add-ons, are as easily avoidable, as they are readily available and convenient to travellers. Perhaps if these costs were actually hidden within the ticket price, as per a normal air ticket, we might not feel that ripped off after all. Then why break up these costs? Why give people the option? Do airlines make a profit from these ancillary goods? With the demand for low cost carriers constantly being on the rise, especially in APAC where travel is often relatively short distanced, it does prove that people would pay for choices and transparency. Maybe it is a matter of camouflaging the hidden costs by making them ‘transparent’ and separate. Either way, the more comfortable you want to feel on board, the more you’ll have to pay, whether you see the costs or not. 

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Keeping it a mystery

The XX  – Stars

The research is endless, with so much you can read online, on blogs, news sites, travel sites etc. Everyone who’s been is more than happy to share their take of the place with you, what you should look out for, what’s good to try. It’s exciting as hell, with all the planning, but this just raises the expectations subconsciously. Don’t get me wrong, these are definitely note-worthy tips and insights to remember, but every experience in itself is unique.

The Top 13 places, as recommended by The New York Times, to rub shoulders with Melbourne’s ‘it’ crowd, to eat, breathe and live the culture seems enticing. Sure, all these planning seems to give this trip some order, but how much of it will i possibly follow? Being the free-spirited girl I am, having some sort of plan always puts restrictions to things. Isn’t travel all about discovering new sights, sounds and meeting all sorts of people who come your way?

I had always thought the fun and excitement came from the great unknown, the mystery in foreign land that you know nothing about, and the moment where you encounter everything for the first time. Planning sets expectations, and expectations often lead to disappointment because the greed in our human nature always asks for more, and thus, is never satisfied. Pictures are edited, experiences are personal and subjective, reviews might have an agenda, and travel sites market only the best. These ‘farang’ areas are usually the eye shadows, mascara, and concealers of a city. It is what makes a city look beautiful and appealing, not exactly what it really is. To me, it’s the hidden imperfections that gives a place character, the tucked away gems that adds that spark in the eyes, and the rustic rugged edges that gives it the charm and demeanor it possesses.

Sure there are places to go, sights I would like to visit, but the whole mystery of what the place is actually like, how it smells, the bustling crowd or the serene nature of it always intrigues me. I’d rather have no clue about what to expect than to go with a check list of things I’d like to tick of.

For now, browsing through all these sites just makes me more anxious of jumping on that plane!


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In Black and White

Good Days Bad Days – Kaiser Chiefs

A girlfriend of mine shared this with me, and trust someone to come up with something so apt! Well if only it was all that simple hassel free. That said, this is so perfect for a ladies night out-ish type of party. no it’s not for me, i just found this amusing! i’m sure there’s one out there for the boys as well.

Imagine the whole process it cuts out, the pin-drop-awkward silences, the “no-thank-you-i’m-trying-to-be-polite-here” smiles, the shut-up and drink up moments. On the flip side, can the things that really attract you, the tingles in your fingers, the coy gaze, and that twinkle in the eye, really be penned down and documented?

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