PR pet peeves: Even more IRL examples from a freelance journalist

Jan 19, 2017
PR pet peeves: Even more IRL examples from a freelance journalist

Last summer, when I wrote about my PR Pet Peeves, I thought it would be a one-off.

But six months later, I’ve amassed a new stack of irritating (yet avoidable) experiences with PRs.

Join me now, as I look back in despair at the latter half of 2016 and dream of what might have been:

The PR pro who lied to get me in the door

I was writing restaurant reviews for a newspaper, when a PR invited me to visit a cosy gastropub. It was British game season, and this place would serve grouse, pheasant and partridge – so the PR claimed. My editor gave me the green light to eat there, provided I ordered the partridge. I passed this on to the PR, who confirmed in a series of emails, that partridge would be available on the date of my visit.

When I arrived at the restaurant, there was no partridge on the menu – perhaps it was one of the specials? I asked the waiter, who said no. He brought out the chef, who confirmed they simply didn’t serve it.

The PR had told me there’d be partridge to get me in the door.

She assumed that once I was there, I’d review the place anyway. In fact, it put me (and the restaurant staff) in a tricky situation, as my editor had been clear about what I should order, and there was no guarantee she’d run the review, if I ordered something else.

I agreed with the staff that I’d eat there on the understanding that the review might not run. As it happened, the food was beautiful – I’m only sorry they didn’t get the review they deserved.

What might have been:
If the PR had been honest with me, I could have reviewed the restaurant at another time (or for another title), with a different hook as the focus. Now, however, I’d be wary of working with that PR again.

The PR pro whose client was unaware I was coming

I liaised with the PR of a London hotel, to do a celeb photoshoot in their spa, for a national magazine.

It had been agreed, and confirmed, over numerous emails, that the spa would be blocked off for us for two hours. However, when the photographer arrived to set up, the hotel knew nothing about it.

And it wasn’t just a blip at the reception desk. The spa hadn’t been reserved for us – instead, it was booked up with clients.

We had half an hour before the celebrity was due to arrive, and in that time, we found a way to make it work, thanks to the willingness of the hotel staff to accommodate us.

What might have been:

The PR claimed they had emailed the hotel to let them know about our spa shoot. This may be true, but it would have been good practice to follow up the email, to confirm it had been received and to ensure we were expected.

The unprepared PR pro

I was invited to a cookery class with the founder of a restaurant chain. When I responded to the PR’s initial invitation, I told her that my editor would want to publish the recipe of the dish we were making. The PR said this was fine, she’d send it to me. A week or so later, I took part in the weekend cookery class, and the next morning, I reminded the PR that I needed the recipe that day, to submit with my copy.

It was time sensitive, as the dish was related to a particular date in the calendar. Towards the end of the day, the PR sent me a link to the recipe – which turned out to be just the ingredients, with no instructions for making the dish. I messaged back to remind her that I needed the method too, but I received nothing else that day.

The following day, the PR messaged to say that the link had been updated to include the method. At this point, I read it all through, and realized that one of the key seasonal ingredients was missing. I messaged the PR to ask for a quick answer on the correct quantity for this ingredient, reminding her that I needed to get the recipe to my editor ASAP. She replied, “If you’re ok with leaving it out then I think that might be best. It’s now service time so will take a while to hear back from X and completely understand you need to get it to your editor.”

What might have been:

The PR knew over a week in advance that I would need the recipe. Why not ask the chef for the recipe ahead of time, rather than waiting until the last minute, when I’d be on a deadline and the client might be hard to get hold of? Even if the PR held onto the recipe until after the class, as least she’d have had it ready to send. Secondly, the PR should have looked at what her client had sent her, to make sure it was the complete recipe, before passing it on.

The unprofessional PR pro

I was interviewing a celebrity, and we were doing a drinks tasting as the backdrop – it was really for photographs to accompany the piece. I’d set it up with the PR for the bar, and she in turn had involved the PR of the drinks brand we’d be using. I was informed of the drinks PR’s involvement the day before the shoot.

On the day itself, I sat down with the celebrity, and the drinks PR stood over us.

“What’s the nature of the piece?” she asked. I was surprised that she was asking me this in front of the celebrity, as it’s more of a behind-the-scenes conversation. I was also surprised that she had queries at this stage - presumably the bar PR had told her what the piece was about when she involved her. I responded by outlining the piece, the focus of which was on the celebrity. The drinks PR was annoyed. “I thought it was about X drinks brand,” she said, “how is it going to focus on X brand?” she continued, in front of the celebrity. At this point, I felt the conversation was entirely inappropriate and suggested that if she had any queries, she should put them to the bar PR who’d involved her.

What might have been:

In my emails with the bar PR, I had been clear about the focus of the piece. Whether or not she conveyed that accurately to the drinks PR, I’ll never know. It may be that the drinks PR was misinformed about the focus of the piece. But regardless of any misunderstanding, the drinks PR should never have asked me those questions in front of the celebrity. If she had any queries, she should have contacted me directly, ahead of time.

The PR pro who left me in the dark (at Christmas)

In the week before Christmas, I was in touch with a PR who was sending me products for a January online feature. On the 22nd of December, I emailed her my address with the following note, “Please let me know when to expect the delivery, as I imagine I'll have to sign for it. Would it be possible to arrange for it to arrive on the 28th or 29th of December?”

The PR replied late that evening to say, “I’ve now arranged for this to be shipped out to you. It’ll leave the warehouse tomorrow [December 23] so will either be with you on Saturday [Christmas Eve], or (because of the bank holiday) Wednesday, December 28.”

I had planned to go away for Christmas on the evening of Friday December 23– I’d be staying with my family in the country, and returning to London on the 27th. I messaged the PR first thing in the morning, when I saw her message: “thank you for arranging this. Do you have a way of tracking the delivery? I intended to go away for Christmas today. I can postpone leaving London until tomorrow, in order to be here to receive the delivery – however I’d rather only do that if it's definitely being delivered tomorrow.”

There was no response, so I messaged again in the afternoon, “Do you have a tracking number for the delivery? I was due to go away for Christmas today and now I am in limbo as you've said the delivery may arrive tomorrow. It would be helpful to know for definite.” Again, there was no response.

Afraid I’d miss the delivery, I postponed my journey, and stayed home on the night of the 23rd. Fortunately, the delivery did arrive on the 24th, so it wasn’t for nothing – but with better communication and planning, it needn’t have impacted my Christmas plans.

What might have been:

If you’re sending products to a freelancer who works from home, run the delivery dates by them – particularly over the Christmas period. I was able to delay my journey, but if I’d been booked on a flight, I’d have been unable to change it. Secondly, give them the tracking number, so they can follow the delivery’s progress, and lastly, if you’ve made an arrangement, wait until you’ve received confirmation that it’s OK before you switch off your phone for the Christmas period!

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Samantha Rea is a freelance journalist living in London. Her writing is a disarray of filth, food, poker and peccadilloes. She likes an Old Fashioned, and writes travel features for the vitamin D. 

Photo via Pixabay

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