Last week I machine-gunned out a succession of urgent requests to selected tourist-board PR contacts. I was writing about six European and six UK cities for the Sunday Times, and had to include new things for the coming summer. Each article was due ASAP, so I basically needed information yesterday or, failing that, right away.
The range of responses was revealing: a real blend of admirable efficiency and strange stumbling – all of which trumped Liverpool’s marketeers, who simply didn’t respond at all.
Leading the way courtesy of Copenhagen was Maria from Visit Denmark, which is no surprise because by now we all know that the Danes are generally better at everything – cooking, design, living well, even just being good-looking. She came back in minutes with three spot-on NIBs which had all the information I wanted, such as weblinks or prices.
Others immediately replied with lengthy docs, which was ace, too – more wading through necessitated, but far better to have 78 suggestions than none. The trick here, evidently, was preparation: they had these documents to hand, are always maintaining them, ready for quick-turnaround requests from time-poor journalists like me. It was really impressive. Some took an hour or so to come back with similarly spot-on lists: less helpful in terms of my absurd timeframe, but still pretty superb.
Over on the naughty step were PR officers who sent non-new stuff, presumably having misread my brief, or those who said they first had to quiz their tourist-board client – indicating a corresponding lack of prep. Several asked what my deadline was, which I felt was a further waste of time – a journalist doesn’t put URGENT in the subject line for nothing. Others thanked me for the opportunity, but said they couldn’t get the information to me quick enough, so they wouldn’t be able to help.
Response times for those who needed to ask their client seemed certain to be too long for me to endure, so in the end I did the work myself – some demented news-trawling with help from Google Translate – and filed slightly late.
The problem with no replies or slow replies is that they dent my trust. Next time round, when the Sunday Times or whoever enlist me to write something in five minutes, I know that I can rely on Maria and those other PRs who excelled here. But I’ll be reluctant to contact the naughty-steppers, because sufficient help seems unlikely – and their clients will miss out (again).
Ultimately, the learning here is to try and respect (and forgive) last-minute requests from journalists, and honour their urgency. Tight deadlines are part of the game, and playing along is likely to reap rewards down the line.