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Meet the media: Alan Burkitt-Gray on PR

Written by Paul Stallard
Source: Alan Burkitt-Gray

Source: Alan Burkitt-Gray

Next in my “Meet the media” series is Alan Burkitt-Gray the editor of Global Telecoms Business where he has been for the past eight years. Prior to becoming the editor of this prestigious telco title, Alan was the editor of Government Computing. He also spent seven years as a freelancer writing for Broadcast, Computing and a variety of other technology/business magazines.

Alan has answered the questions with brilliant honesty which makes for great reading. For example when asked about working in PR: “I’m not a PR person. The skills are different, and they’re skills I don’t have,” or has Alan black listed any agencies because of bad practices “Good PR is done by individuals not companies and I know who I get on with and trust.” You can’t say fairer than that.

Paul Stallard: Do you think that most PR professionals read the titles you write for before contacting you?
Alan Burkitt-Gray: “Most” implies I’ve done an accurate survey. I’m amazed by the number of people who send emails about new product launches. A quick glance at our website will show that we don’t report new product launches, except when they’re on the scale of the iPhone. A new router, or a new release of billing software: no.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
ABG: Know your client and understand the publications you’re pitching.

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
ABG: What’s traditional journalism? Journalism has always moved fast as the technology of production and distribution has moved. I’ve been using Twitter since mid-2008, following and being followed by a group of technology-oriented journalists and PR people (; now Twitter links that I post are the second biggest producer of visits to the Global Telecoms Business site.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
ABG: All professional journalists adjust their writing and editing style for the medium they’re writing for. So I’d write and/or edit differently for a weekly news magazine, a national title, a monthly technology magazine, a bi-monthly business magazine (which is what GTB is, on paper) and the web — in its many different formats. So writing a headline and standfirst for a one-page feature is very different from writing and editing an item that will appear on a website. Of course.

PS: What is your pet hate of PR?
ABG: A phone call asking: “Did you get my email?” I get 150-200 some days, and if everyone did that, taking up two minutes per call, I would lose five-six hours of my working day. If you have no further information to communicate, and just want to tick a box on your client report sheet, don’t bother.

PS: What is the best way to contact you?
ABG: Email, despite the above, is reliable. I do go through my emails. I highlight those I want to follow up, and drag many to folders I have created for news on the website, people changes, features I’m planning, and so on. If it’s an invitation I will reply in time, though not necessarily straight away. If I want to follow up I will reply in time. Often though, I will just save the email for future use. Or, if it’s unlikely to be of use to me, delete it. Sorry, that’s the way it is.

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
ABG: Yes. I am, sometimes. Sorry. Sometimes I have bad days, like other people, when there is too much to do and not enough time to do it.

PS: Have you ever done any PR work and if yes what was the experience like?
ABG: I’ve never pitched stories or releases at journalists. In my freelance days I occasionally got offers: once even a job offer, when I walked into a PR company in SW1 for an IT-oriented discussion and was asked if I wanted to join them to work for a chemicals client. I said no to all, simply because I’m not a PR person. The skills are different, and they’re skills I don’t have. The closest I got was in the early 1990s when I wrote in-house newsletters for Amdahl, a US-based mainframe computer company. The director of communications told me I was too journalistic — getting stories that were too good. She fired me just as the first Gulf War started (though she was more concerned about her and her colleagues being told they weren’t allowed to fly until the war ended).

PS: Do you run or can you recommend a PR training course?
ABG: I’ve helped out a couple of times, again in my freelance days, but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to be involved in training courses — and I just don’t have the time. My job is more than full time,

PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
ABG: Those are not opposing statements. Online will rule — online is already ruling — for many sectors or readers; print magazines will continue to have a role for some sectors and readers. The balance will change, as will the economic model.

PS: Bar your own, which news titles do you read?
ABG: On paper, I read every issue of The Guardian, New Scientist, Private Eye, The Observer, as I have since I was 16. A very loyal reader of all of them. Online, it depends what’s news: the BBC is a regular, as is The Register, and various international titles from Sydney to New York. And Google News and Google Finance.

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across? You don’t have to mention the company unless you really want to.
ABG: I don’t think it would be helpful to dig up the bodies of past mistakes. We all make mistakes. Learn, make amends, move on.

PS: Are there any PR agencies you have black listed because of bad practices? You don’t have to mention the company unless you really want to.
ABG: None at all. Good PR is done by individuals not companies and I know who I get on with and trust.

PS: Is being London based an advantage for PR professionals?
ABG: Not any longer. When business journalism was done through press conferences then being in London was beneficial (when I was news editor of Computing in the early 1980s our Friday lunchtime news meeting often had a list of 10 press conferences for the following week).

Next in the meet the media series are as follows:
Alex Blyth, prolific freelancer for marketing, charity and business titles (interview live on 7 April)
Christine Horton, Channel Pro (interview live on 14 April)
Jon Gripton, Sky News Online (interview live on 21 April)

Previous interviews in the meet the media series:
Sally Whittle (17 March)
Peter Whitehead, FT Digital (24 March)