Brit Awards #prfail

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Brit Awards: Don't forget the sponsor
Brit Awards: Don't forget the sponsor

This is an article by Robert Minton-Taylor.

A PR agency handling the MasterCard account for the Brit Awards broadcast this week (20 February 2014) on ITV1 showed a distinct lack of professional PR nous.

House PR‘s attempt to influence journalists into tweeting about event sponsor MasterCard UK in return for Brit awards accreditation backfired spectacularly, after the Daily Telegraph’s Mandrake diarist Tim Walker was asked “to guarantee coverage of their client as the price of attending” the Brit Awards according to media trade paper, Press Gazette.

Before providing two journalists from the Telegraph with accreditation to attend the event House PR has asked them to agree to a number of requests about the coverage they were to give to the event.

According to Press Gazette House PR allegedly even went as far as to draft Twitter messages which they wanted journalists to send out – and asked that they include a mention of the marketing campaign #PricelessSurprises and @MasterCardUK.

House PR managing director Ginny Paton told Press Gazette that a PR agency’s role was to “pursue all coverage opportunities on behalf of its clients”, including providing accurate brand references. This involved a “two-way conversation between the journalist and the PR … editorial control always remains with the journalist”.

As Tim Walker correctly pointed out attaching ‘strings’ to invites were “normally much more subtle, normally done in a much more gentlemanly way”, but when it became like being required to sign a contract, “that crosses a line”.

The golden rule of media relations is don’t preach. Don’t tell journalists what to do, don’t over influence them. Respect that they are there to tell the story and your job as a PR faithfully give them access to the information and the people they need to interview to help them write a story.

Putting preconditions on attending events is frankly crass. It’s also cynical and disrespectful to journalists and frankly it’s treating the end customer (yes you and me of the great British public) with disrespect. Call me old fashioned, but having trained as a journalist I hate being treated to so-so obvious ‘placed’ PR stories on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook or in print. Especially when I have paid good money to subscribe to a newspaper or a magazine. I know it’s done but it’s pathetic.

Once you step over that ever so thin grey line of dictating (or seeming to) dictate to journalists or suggesting to them how they should respond to piece of news – I’m afraid you have lost the plot as a PR. It’s a bit like suggesting to a chef of a Michelin starred restaurant what ingredients she/he should use for a meal and how it should be cooked and plated. You would hopefully be thrown out of the restaurant. Need I say more?