x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Golf with Diaz would be welcome release. Kindly forget the rest

Focus: A warning to public relations professionals - don't believe everything you read in the press.

Among the curios that came to my inbox a couple of days ago were a paean of praise to my piece on where to play golf in Abu Dhabi, an invitation from Amazon to buy my wife's latest novel - thanks all the same, Jeff Bezos, but I've got boxes of them already - and this, from a public relations person in Dubai:

"Dear Editor,

Please find attached the press release titled 'Lufthansa standardises baggage rules' for immediate release. Associated with an image. Please do not hesitate to contact us should you have any further queries."

This came with a bundle of images, press releases and other information. I don't know how best to break it gently to the sender, for they were very polite and repeated "please", but I have no interest, not a jot, nary a scintilla, in pictures of suitcases with Lufthansa tickets carefully placed on top of them, nor do I care that Lufthansa has changed its baggage rules.

I don't even know what the old ones were, nor do I ever fly Lufthansa, and even if I did I still don't think I'd care. If I ever do I shall be sure to check the rules and hope they are standardised. Will that be all?

Poor public relations person, I hear you mutter. They are only doing their job. But thanks to a piece of research that has also crossed my path called the Insight/MediaSource Middle East Journalist Survey 2012, I can see I am not the only journalist in the place who feels that some of the press releases we receive are not wholly welcome.

According to one anonymous hack, one of the 251 respondents questioned by the survey: "Ninety-five per cent of the press releases we get are badly written, have no news value and are presented with the expectation that they will be published verbatim - they are ignored."

However, more journalists are claiming to be reading more of their e-mails.

I hate to disabuse the professionals, but they're lying. Most journalists don't even read the daily news sked, which tells them what everyone else is writing and, in particular, what they are supposed to be writing themselves and at what time they should be filing the copy.

The Arabic media, who make up half the number of journalists questioned in this survey, have done a good job of convincing the survey otherwise.

"The Arabic language media in particular indicate a sharp shift into positive territory, with more than half claiming they never delete e-mails without reading them." What they fail to point out is that half of the journalists lie, too.

The journalists are then asked: how do they view a good press release? Personally I have always enjoyed those that include subject lines such as "golf day" or "your chance to get close to Cameron Diaz", but according to the survey the real hits are those that are "straight to the point with no jargon" or are "brief and to the point, with all the information included, such as who, what, where, price, contact numbers, etc".

Call me old-fashioned, but I always thought it was the job of the journalist to do that. I'm not such a fan of conspiracy theories that I think Lady Diana was murdered by Prince Philip on a scooter, that nobody landed on the moon and that Dominique Strauss-Kahn was set up by Algerian feminists, but I have always thought there is a conspiracy among public relations firms to write press releases that are largely irrelevant, incomprehensible or just downright dull.

It is your job as a journalist to find the story; the press release is just an indicator that something might be happening in your area.

My favourite response to what makes a good press release, and it must have been liked by those compiling the survey because they picked it out for special attention, was this: "Because I am a Beauty Editor [note the capitals; nothing frivolous about this gal] the best press releases include samples mailed directly to me so that I can experience the beauty product first hand and can have it photographed in-house."

Doubtless she would also like it biked over by George Clooney wearing something orange.

The more I read of the survey, the more I started to dislike the journalists, whingeing like an Australian cricket captain after a particularly brutal defeat.

I always enjoy the company of reporters. They always have a tale to tell, are often irreverent and occasionally thirsty. But I wouldn't want to be locked on a cruise liner with this bunch.

Their complaints include being "harassed by PRs to attend useless events they themselves wouldn't go to" and "being taken for granted". How would they react when we ran out of ice or hit an iceberg?

One even whines: "I have yet to meet a PR who acts as anything but a hurdle between the reporter and the subject."

Whatever next?