Today’s meet the media interview is with freelance journalist Cath Everett and I believe it is one of the most interesting I have conducted. Even if you don’t read all of it make sure you scroll down to my question What is the worst case of PR you have come across? – your jaw will drop.
Cath also gives some insightful tips for best practice which most would think are common sense but there are clearly many out there not heeding this good advice. Enjoy.
Name: Cath Everett
Titles I work for: I’m freelance, but work mainly for (in no particular order) Sift Media’s HRzone and myCustomer.com, The Manager, Businessgreen.com, ZDNet/Silicon, Government Computing, Smarthealthcare.com, Microscope, Computer Weekly and Computer Fraud and Security
Paul Stallard: What is your pet hate of PR?
Cath Everett: Inane/misleading pitches that don’t fit my brief/publication and just involve people chancing their arm as it’s a dreadful waste of my time – and theirs, particularly if they mislead you to the extent that you do an interview and then can’t use it because it’s irrelevant.
I also get irritated by people pitching clients to me and then simply failing to let me know what’s happening re interviews etc so I’m just left hanging. Again it’s just a time-waster having to constantly chase people up because they haven’t bothered to let me know progress or where things are at.
PS: What is the best way to contact you?
CE: Email. I’m usually pretty busy and it’s the most time-efficient means of contact.
PS: Do you think that most PR professionals read the title you write for before contacting you?
CE: Some obviously know their job, are professional and do. Too many don’t.
PS: Have you ever done any PR work and if yes what was the experience like?
CE: I’ve done a lot of back room work eg writing publicity material such as press releases, internal communications pieces for PR agency customers, customer case studies, ghost-written stories for clients and the like.
I’ve not done direct interfacing with either clients or the media on behalf of a PR function/agency though. I admire anyone who does really as it’s a tough life being caught in the middle of often very conflicting interests.
PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
CE: Remember the basics – have some idea of the target audience of the publication you’re pitching to; provide pitches that are relevant to the brief/publication worked for not just what your client is trying to sell; let journalists know quickly if you can’t deliver so they can find another spokesperson. And finally communicate. Don’t just disappear into the woodwork because you feel you’re too busy /don’t want to have a difficult conversation/are having a bad hair day.
PS: Do you run or can you recommend a PR training course?
CE: Afraid not – sorry. I haven’t done one.
PS: How many emails / calls do you get a day?
CE: About a 100 emails and the number of calls varies widely.
PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
CE: I think the rise of the internet in general has affected journalism more than social media per se – quality has fallen like a stone due to a focus on quantity, speed and regurgitated stories and publishing revenue/margins are dropping through the floor because, even at this stage, very few have worked out how to make money online.
As a result, things like investigative journalism are definitely on the wan as it’s expensive and no one wants to fund it/give it the time any more because of the above. And the old-fashioned art of networking and contact-building seems almost dead as no one appears to have the time to even leave the office any more.
Social media has just exacerbated the trend, so while news may travel faster and can be useful for leads/getting information out there quickly, there’s so much trivia around that you can just end up drowning in inanity if you’re not careful.
Maybe I’m just an old-fashioned girl, but I don’t think just because something is deemed ‘progressive’ that it’s entirely positive in every facet. I understand the economics of the thing, but I do think there’s a danger that the baby could end up being thrown out with the bathwater. So it’s about balance.
PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
CE: Some publications require it, but it can end up being very stilted if there’s too much of a focus on including search terms in the main body of the text. They definitely make sense in headlines/standfirsts though and they do make a difference to the number of hits received in that context.
PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
CE: I first joined the online world in 1996 when I was an investigative journalist because I could see the writing on the wall for news then. And that will continue. But I think hard copy has a key role to play for some time to come as long as the focus is on analysing the news/coming up with interesting in-depth features etc. It can’t compete with the speed of online, but it is an important medium to explain the news or key events/concepts.
And anyway, being an old-fashioned girl, I personally really don’t like reading on screen much (so I tend to print things off), although it’s quick and convenient for search/scanning purposes for work, obviously. Outside of office hours though, I still prefer to hold a nice, real, physical paper/book in my grubby little mitts, although I do read news web sites (see below) to keep abreast during the day.
So in a nutshell, I’d say that different media work in different environments depending on what you’re doing and where you are. But there’ll be no ebooks for me in the foreseeable.
PS: Bar your own, which news titles do you read?
CE: The Guardian and the BBC website mainly.
PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across?
CE: This is years ago, but I’ll never forget it for as long as I live. I was writing a feature on software development for Computer Weekly and received a pitch from a guy whose client’s customer case study was in the right space but didn’t match my brief. So, shame on me, I went with other customers.
While he didn’t bother to follow up his email pitch at the time, he then phoned a couple of weeks later asking if I’d used the canned case study he’d sent over. I said ‘no’ because it didn’t match my brief and he lost it. He was shouting at me down the ‘phone saying that his client only got one opportunity a year to appear in a feature of this type for Weekly and how could I let him down like that etc etc. It was incredible cos he just went on and on, getting more and more worked up. So in the end, I managed to break in, said ‘it’s not my problem, mate’ and put the phone down. I also pressed the delete button every time I got an email from him in future.
PS: Are there any PR agencies you have black listed because of bad practices?
CE: No, but see above ie I’ve avoided rude people.
PS: What is your favourite restaurant/coffee house for briefings?
CE: I tend to just do ‘phone interviews these days.
PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
CE: They can be. You wouldn’t talk to a dog like some people talk to PRs, which is simply about playing power games, in my view. Everyone’s just doing their job after all -although some better than others, it must be said.