In every publication I have ever worked for, there’s been a box in a corner, or on top of a filing cabinet, marked “Unwanted items”. In The Times, every few days the box is emptied into another, bigger box that’s put into a locked cupboard. And every now and then a few diligent members of staff will lay the stuff from the cupboard out on a huge table and sell it all for charity.
The sales are unbelievably popular. In fact, you know that one is about to happen because queues suddenly develop outside the biggest glass meeting room, populated by expectant-looking women clutching purses and nervous-looking men who know they’re about to be trampled in the shopping scrum.
The items being sold? Books. Make-up. Beauty products. Tights. Fashion samples. Technology. Perfume. Things sent in by PRs that a) weren’t of use to journalists in their line of work; that b) journalists weren’t allowed to keep because of bribery laws; or that c) were sent in on spec.
When PRs send items to journalists that haven’t been requested for review, what do they think happens to them? Surely they can’t think that busy writers spend hours poring over them? And surely they can’t be naïve enough to believe that, just by sending something in, it will be written about?
Every single week I put things in that box: things that were unwanted, unrequested and not relevant to my job. And every few months I get in that queue, like everyone else, to buy bits and bobs for family and friends: dog-leads and tights, bath oils and books. The proceeds go for charity and it’s kind of fun crushing into a tiny room with journalists you don’t often see – who cover obituaries, or work in the accounts department, or fix computers – and are equally bemused by the tat that gets sent to the paper.
None of the shoppers will ever write about the products they buy: the sales are regarded as a sort of posh car boot sale.
Although we all love the opportunity to buy stocking fillers, at knock-down prices, I have a feeling that the brands wouldn’t be all that happy knowing that their products have ended up in some massive, faceless pile and will end up being given by Stella in Accounts to her granny.
Send in stuff on spec, and this is where it will probably end up. While it might work for Stella, and is a boon for the charity that benefits from the sale, it’s probably not great PR.