Don’t get me wrong. Some PRs are fab – the ones who have been in the business since Sun City was just a twinkle in Sol Kerzner’s eye, and who understand how media works, but they’re about as prolific as aardvarks.
Then you get the ones who invite you to their client’s venue as a freelance travel journalist but insist that you fill in a form upfront stating (and I kid you not) how you intend to write the story. What angle will you take? And what tone?
They extended the “invitation” to you. You have not clapped eyes on the place. How then should you form an opinion or decide on your angle? Remote viewing?
What I find even more annoying – and why I refuse to fill in their poxy forms is that they also want to know what publications will be running your pieces – note the plural – when they will be published, how much this would cost in ad-spend, oh yes, and the latest circulation or LSM figures. Seriously? I’m afraid so.
As a freelance journalist, you submit copy to an editor of a publication. You wait. And you live in hope. Sometimes there’s no response for three weeks. Sometimes there’s no response, ever. But we freelancers live by our wits. If one door closes, we kick another one down. And we manage somehow. We’ve been doing this – many of us – for the last 20 years or so.
But – as I’ve pointed out many a time and oft – there ARE no guarantees. Period. Forcing freelance hacks to sign “guarantees” that a glowing report on their client’s venue will appear as the lead item with 12 images spread over five pages in a mainstream newspaper or magazine – even if you regularly contribute to said publication – is not worth the paper it’s written on.
I asked one PR offering me two nights in a “luxury” self-catering apartment in Cape Town – no meals, flights from JHB to CT for my own account – how she expected me to get (closely-guarded) circulation figures of a publication that hadn’t agreed to accept the piece I hadn’t written yet.
How would I know what said publication might charge for ads on the pages where my hypothetical piece might run? This felt like an incomprehensible algebra problem and my head was beginning to spin.
But guess what the PR said to me? Just guess. Seriously. That’s what she said: “just guess”. So to humour her I threw out a figure of R100 000 for an ad on the front page of a newspaper, a “hypothetical” guess. What would I know?
I’ve never sold ads. Editorial and advertising are not supposed to get into bed together although times are a-changing on that score, more’s the pity.
I ended up staying two days at the self-catering venue at the end of August, gave them a good write-up in a widely-read, quarterly business magazine, mentioned them in two other articles, and sent PDFs of all three pieces to the PR. Thanks? You must be joking. The PDFs were not even acknowledged.
I can’t say what my work was worth in “ad-spend” but the pee aar’s client got the better end of the bargain by far – I got a bed for two nights in the low season. Meals and flights were for my own account. Had I paid for the accommodation it would have cost under R5000.
Imagine my surprise when I get an email from the PR, saying “the client” was “very disappointed” with the exposure as he didn’t see how it worked out to R100 000’s worth. Excuse me? Yup. Was I gob-smacked? Did the pope resign?
Yes, I do recycle my articles – how else can a freelance hack survive – but I wait at least six-months to do so. When I pointed out this out to the PR and reminded her what had been published, she admitted she had “forgotten to send the PDFs to the client”. Could I please search for them and send them to her again?
As of writing, I have not yet formulated a reply. Perhaps I’ll maintain a dignified silence. Or not …
Caroline Hurry is the editor-in-chief of Travelwrite.