Tag Archives: press releases

Plan-A

Ok so

Silly season is upon us. The Olympics is over and the press & media are flailing around like a thresh in a barn clutching for husks and straws of news to throw about.

At this time of year things are normally pretty desperate, but now more so than ever. Last year there were riots to report. Just last week we had wall to wall coverage of the world’s biggest sporting event. Now there is a bleary-eyed collective press hangover as families go on holiday and the news grinds slowly to a halt. Sure there’s Syria (but that’s foreign stuff stupid) and a few other *actual* stories for the media to feed on, but where’s the FILLER? The pap that you put between news and sport.

At this time of year the press are generally at a loss. It’s a great time to put out press releases. Churnalism reaches new highs in the month of August. You could probably put out a press release about a giant mouse in your garden eating all your carrots and they’d be sending the paps round before you could say glis glis.

Yes that’s right. Sheep. Text messages!

That’s why A-levels day is such a special occasion. It gives the media something to focus their efforts on. All those people who spent the last 2 weeks in Olympic park living it up get dispatched to schools around the country in search of bouncy young girls.

And that’s the other thing about A-level day. It seems that for one day and one day only the press seem to collectively engage in the dubious practice of ogling at young girls (ahem, except the Daily Mail which runs its sidebar of shame all year round). To be honest this is nothing short of sinister. Last year the FT ran a piece on how the media thirst for images of pretty pubescent girls was so established that schools were actively trying to market their best looking girls for the press to come and take pictures in order to help school PR. The exploitation gave rise to a blog, SexyAlevels which poked fun at the whole practice (now closed but living on via twitter)

This morning the biggest shock for me was seeing BBC Breakfast interviewing a BOY about his results. It was so out of kilter I thought I’d passed into another dimension where we lived in a matriarchy or something.

Not just one boy, but TWO. Has the BBC been taken over by FEMINISTS?

But the lone boy interview will always be the exception. Today the media start girls off on a lifetime of objectification and exploitation in our society by trying to squeeze in as many shots of them giggling, whooping and bouncing around in delight as they open their results.

Watch out for pictures like this. You won’t be able to avoid them

Maybe they’ll throw in some tears, y’know , for the people in their audience who like to see girls crying. Then tomorrow, like it never happened, the press will be all straight-faced again. As though they never willingly sent out legions of camera crews and photographers to schools with the explicit aim of gathering and publishing images of 6th form girls! A convenient and collective amnesia where regular journos go back to raising their eyebrows at the Daily Mail sidebar of shame and make ‘tut tut’ noises.

There’s another annoying news agenda that seems to go out on A-level day too. Suddenly the media love to read out letters, texts and emails from Joe Public about how graft is the key to success. You know the one’s those generic missives that get repeated like a mantra on every news and radio channel after every A-level skit.

“Troy Michaels has texted in. He says ‘I got all D’s at A level and failed to get into University. Now I’m a billionaire playboy with a wife, mistress and yacht. And I got it all through hard work'”

“Billy Balls says ‘I failed everything, even my mental health check up, so I had to work in a factory. Now I own half of Westminster and it was all down to good honest graft'”

It strikes me as odd that these get rolled out with such vigour, but they perpetuate the myth that the society wants to perpetuate, that it is somehow meritocratic. It’s not kids! For every success story they hold up like a cardboard cutout there are thousands more who will spend a lifetime working their fingers to the bone without ever rising above a relatively low-level of income.

This man is a great success story. He is the son of a Barrister and attended one of the countries leading independent boarding schools in Buckingham

Hard work doesn’t equal success and we do not live in a meritocracy. Privilege, position, networking, education, luck. All these things and more are components of “success” (as defined by society). Good looks probably help too, just ask all the girls getting their picture taken today!

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How the news sells stuff

Ok so.

The way I see it there are three types of news.

The first is the most basic. Events driven news. When something occurs and it gets reported. It’s a simple dialectic process. Shit happens. Someone tells you about it. Bang – you have news! A bomb goes off. boom! Cue the headlines screaming about bombs going off. Someone famous says something. blah! Cue Huw repeating it in Welsh monotone. This is news… Well it’s not news if it’s Azerbaijan winning Eurovision but even banality like that fits neatly into this category. Eurovision happened. Azerbaijan won, that got reported. Simples!

The second category involves a bit more legwork. Let’s call it investigative journalism. A reporter uncovers something that they see as being in the public interest. They research it and use that to produce a magazine type piece, usually critical, to inform the public. Ideally this would be uncovering deep shizzle like corruption or cover-ups and the like. But more often than not these days this style of journalism exposes ‘fixes’ on reality television or the secret lives of celebrities. Still it’s all news in the murky world of media hype.

See now. This is news

The third, however, is the news as an exercise in marketing. Where people not involved with the news want the news to talk about them to help them reach their audience. So they court the news like lovesick stalkers throwing them gifts and writing stuff for them. Lazy journalists duly oblige, eating up press releases like fat kids in a thin sweet shop and everyone’s happy: News people have filler to bulk out their bellies in exchange for a free bit of advertising. If news was a drug, with a street value, events driven stuff would be your pure uncut base straight from the poppy fields of Afghanistan. Investigative journalism would be whatever synthetic complementary pharmaceuticals you add to refine it a bit. Press releases would be the milk powder, quinine, or sugar used to cut it with so you can raise the volume.

There’s nothing new here. I can’t hark back to a golden age of news cos I really can’t remember one. When I was a teenager doing work experience on a local rag 20 years ago, my first job was to open all the mail (before email caught on) and type up any newsworthy press releases. Things haven’t changed much since then – except you can just copy and paste it now.  If I sling out a press release from the other side of the fence it just gets faithfully published by journalists too lazy to even use a thesaurus. Now is it just me or is this a bit wrong?

After all – What PR does is market a product or a brand through non-advertising channels. So in effect, when the news reports on a press release, all they are doing is providing free marketing because they’re too lazy to fill in airtime or column inches with their own work.

Looks like news. Smells like news. Is it news?

This has become a thriving industry now. There is an open collusion between news providers and PR agencies. PR agencies even have a means of monetising their influence on the news. It’s called AVE or Advertising Value Equivalent – ie how much you’d have to pay for airtime or page space if you’d stuck your brand in an advert where the press had, instead, obligingly done it for free.

Now, I’m sure there are some very worthy reasons for an organisation to use PR as a means of communicating with the world. “Awareness raising” is a modern mantra for the plethora of charities, firms and governments to justify the existence of their PR machines. It’s surely in the public interest to tell people stuff about stuff that they might not hear about otherwise.

Maybe so. But it takes up a disproportionately high share of the news that gets reported, precisely because it’s so mutually beneficial to do. Try reading a paper or watching the news and working out exactly how much of it comes from journalistic endeavour and how much comes from a press office. Here’s a clue. Anything that says “according to a new report” or anything that cites a product, an advert or a company is likely to be based on something from a PR agency.

Today’s front pages would, you’d expect, be driven by “events”. Decapitation leads the red-tops while IMF allegations and Huhne cover ups account for much of the rest (ahem – the Star is running something about X-Factor… whatever). But look. The front page of the Express leads on hay fever – which must surely originate from “PollenUK”. Meanwhile the Independent leads on an article about life length blood tests, again something that can only have its origins in PR. Similarly the Metro has the results of a report on drug bans on its front pages.  This means that on a random day three national papers are leading on PR driven stories.

Now the media aren’t content with that. Not at all. The PR machine is well beyond name-dropping reports into our laps under the guise of news. Now they supply “experts” to talk about other stuff to taint even the purest events driven coverage with their own brand. So when you are watching the news covering something big like OBL or the Japanese Tsunami there are people they’ll bring into the studio to ask questions.

So what is this bloke selling?

These people aren’t there for the good of their health. They aren’t paid by the BBC. They may be a little fame hungry – but they’re mainly there for branding purposes. They’re there to put their brand – whether it’s public sector, private sector or whatever – on the telly. All these people you see commenting on the markets during the business news. They aren’t there because they’re stock market enthusiasts. They’re there to represent HSBC, Barclays or whatever. It’s like product placement extremis. In our news 24/7.

Now this worries me. I can see the validity of press releases. I think awareness raising is good and I can also see how companies and organisations do stuff that is in the public interest and should be given a bit of airtime. I find the whole thing far less offensive than the celebrity pressmosis I endure. I also work in the business of putting out reports and writing press releases and it’s actually something I quite enjoy. Don’t blame the player – blame the game!

The worrying factor is the insipid way that organisations and firms can influence the news without anyone batting an eyelid. “Advertorials” in the press already showcase a horrible mix between marketing and news – how long before the public can no longer distinguish between what is actually news and what is actually an exercise in marketing.