Friday Q and A with Edwin Smith
Edwin is a journalist, writer and editor based in London. He has written in-depth features, exclusive interviews, longform pieces and agenda-setting news stories for the Telegraph, Guardian, Esquire, Wired, Men’s Health, Vice and others.
1. What makes you open an email from a PR?
Two things. First, if I know them. Second, if the subject line makes me think there might be a compelling story lurking in there somewhere.
And what’s a compelling story? Well, I’ve never written for The Sun and probably never will, but I once saw some footage from the Kelvin MacKenzie days. There was a banner in the newsroom that read: ‘News is anything that makes the reader say, “Gee Whiz!”’ For any type of publication, that’s still a pretty good rule of thumb.
2. Would you open emails from PR’s you don’t know?
Yes, but not without that killer subject line.
3. Do you answer your landline during a working day?
I’m a millennial (and a freelancer), so I don’t have one. I’ll usually answer my mobile even if I don’t recognise the number. But if the caller doesn’t explain who they are and what they want in pretty short order (many don’t) it’s likely to be a brief conversation.
4. Do you like images within a PR pitch?
They often help, but only if they are A) good enough to be used in an article, or B) illustrate something that can’t easily be explained verbally.
5. When is the best time for you to meet a PR?
6. And which day suits the most?
Mondays tend to be busy and therefore difficult. Wednesday to Friday tends to be best.
7. What are your top 2 tips for a PR trying to secure coverage?
One: Try to put yourself in the shoes of that journalist. If they’re a freelancer and principally work for print publications (like me), you know they have to go to an editor with a fully formed idea and make the case that there’s a reason to commission them and them only to write this story, rather than get a staffer to do it. In practice, that might mean offering something unique or exclusive. If you’re hawking a product, you might try to do a bit of research and think of an idea for a whole feature that the product could fit into, rather than just expect someone to write about why that particular product is so great (that’s advertising, not journalism). Of course, if you’re speaking to a staffer who specialises in content for online, for example, they’ll work in a different way and value different things.
Two: Do your level best to know your client and your product inside out. It’s surprisingly common to ask a fairly simple question and be told that the agency is contacting the client to ‘find out for you’. It’s frustrating to go back and forth endlessly over email; it’s refreshing - and enjoyable - to be able to fire ideas back and forth with someone who really knows what they’re talking about.
8. Are you happy to be contacted via social media / what are the boundaries?
I’ve received quite a lot of Whatsapps from PRs recently. It’s fine if they build on an existing rapport and help to deepen the type of productive, mutually beneficial relationships that enrich our professional lives. But, also, it can be totally not fine.
9. Spirulina or Sauvignon?
I hate to say it but, these days, spirulina.
10. Stylist or The Spectator?
The Spectator. Although better still would be The New Yorker, which I’d love to write for one day.
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