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Meet the Media – Guy Clapperton


Written by Paul Stallard
Source: Guy Clapperton

Source: Guy Clapperton

This weeks Meet the Media interview is with a freelance journalist whom I have the upmost respect for, Guy Clapperton. To say I was delighted that Guy agreed to take part in my series of interviews would be an understatement and his answers are a brilliant example of why I started this series in the first place.

It isn’t just a platform for journalists to say what PR professionals do wrong but an opportunity to explain how to work better. The tips that Guy has listed are a must read for anyone who wants to understand the pressures of a freelance journalist. These have come from his unique position of having been at the forefront of his profession for many years and also the training courses that his company offers PR professionals/clients. Enjoy.

Name: Guy Clapperton
Titles I regularly work for: Guardian, Times, Independent, Sunday Telegraph, Sunday Express, ComputerActive specials, loads – mainly people who throw money at me!

Paul Stallard: What is your pet hate of PR?
Guy Clapperton: That would usually depend on what’s been happening to me just lately. At the moment I’ve had three people in the last week approaching me to work as a speaker or panelist at a conference – and then letting it slip that they’re expecting me to work for nothing. One of them this week accused me of being personally disrespectful when I asked her whether she was being paid for her time approaching me (and if so, why should I work for her for zippo?) She was wrong to be offended, I’d paid her the basic respect of telling her where she was going wrong and why no self-respecting freelance would work for nothing. The idea that we should really gets to me. I’m not above doing freebies of course; if it’s in a cause in which I believe, if it’s for a mate starting a business who needs a bit of content then I’ll help and have done so recently. I’ve been a Bafta juror without payment because I loved doing it and frankly I was honoured to be asked by a body like that. But using my experience and whatever skills I have to add value to something aimed at adding value to a commercial business without any benefit to me is plain crazy, and please don’t tell me about benefits of networking and exposure if you’re being paid to organise an event – you could get the same benefits but you’re being paid!

PS: What is the best way to contact you?
GC: Email to Guy@Clapperton.co.uk. Twitter is also good (@guyclapperton), but I find it bewildering when people mail then Tweet to tell me they’ve mailed – I’m at the same computer, I know you’ve mailed!

PS: Do you think that most PR professionals read the titles you write for before contacting you?
GC: PR professionals are like drivers. The vast majority are fine but you always remember the loony who went into your car at 4am and wrote it off. (Sore point, happened to me a few weeks back). But yes, the vast majority of PR professionals are competent, courteous and professional and have enough nous to check a couple of clippings before picking up the phone. It’s actually embarrassing when I’ve forgotten writing a piece – if it’s in a monthly publication now I’ll have finished it a couple of months ago!

PS: Have you ever done any PR work and if yes what was the experience like?
GC: Case study writing, the odd bit of speaking and panel work, but no direct PR work. That said, when I tried to start a newsletter business a few years back (I managed to offer loads of information just months before the Internet made it all available for nothing, bit of a disaster all told) I did my own publicity and learned to respect what PRs and marketers actually have to do to bring the prospect to the point of becoming a customer.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
GC: Try to know a bit about who you’re talking to, although the bloke who once phoned me and said ‘how is your daughter’ before telling me who he was freaked me out a little. Best tip I can give is to stand your ground, really – you’re doing a respectable job to earn a living and there are some journalists out there who love nothing better than to throw their weight around, regrettably. My pet hate is the journalist – particularly the tech journalist, or any other business to business journalist – who sees their role as somehow more pure than everyone else because everyone else has vested interests. I don’t write unless I’m going to get paid so my interests are as vested as everyone else’s, they’re just vested elsewhere.

PS: Do you run or can you recommend a PR training course?
GC: Yes. I run a course as an individual (www.mediatrainer.biz) and for people wanting a broader overview I’m one of the directors of What The Press Wants (www.whatthepresswants.com), with former Sunday Mirror assistant editor Sally Morris and former Woman editor Lori Miles.

PS: How many emails / calls do you get a day?
GC: It varies. Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring at all and I get paranoid; others it doesn’t stop. How people know when I’m on deadline so they can call and bother me I don’t know, I’m not paranoid but…why are you staring at me?

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
GC: It gives us the opportunity to be aware of what our readers want because they’ll tell us; it means we’re starting to compete with the blogs (and indeed become bloggers) so we’re under more pressure than ever to deliver quality. It’s what we claim we’re doing so the customer has the right to turn around and say ‘OK, prove it’.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
GC: I’m starting to on the blogs, but nine times out of ten if you’re going to write succinctly about a subject and make it clear what you’re writing about you’re probably going to be SEO’d up to the eyeballs without realising it.

PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
GC: I can see stuff you wouldn’t read for pleasure going exclusively online. My forthcoming social media book should be out in October, but since it’s all about social media in the business world, hence you’d only read it to make a business more profitable, I don’t see any particular reason anyone would want to buy a hard copy when the eBook is really established as a medium. Likewise some of the B to B titles I’ve written for; you’d only read them to get business info so I can see electronic-only appealing a lot. But there’s no substitute yet for curling up with a paper and a coffee, so I wouldn’t want that or much-loved novels to go electronic during my generation. I do think there are a lot of people out there taking it for granted that there’s some sort of status quo that won’t change; newspapers and books aren’t a natural phenomenon, they’re how things happen to be right now, and I do accept that this could change.

PS: Bar your own, which news titles do you read?
GC: ‘Bar my own’ – I write for a great many so I can’t really bar my own! I like good columnists so the Times appeals no end as my daily paper (hope the others aren’t reading this!) – my dad worked on the Guardian and I actually attended the opening of the Farringdon office they’ve just left, and they’ve been great to work for long-term as a contributor so I’m happy to read that too. If I’m in the mood to be challenged about my beliefs, which is a good thing, I read the Telegraph. Am I allowed to confess to Doctor Who Magazine..?

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across?
GC: Apart from the prima donnas, of whom there are remarkably few – I once got told a PR knew what I’d want as a journalist better than I did, which was odd as I’m actually quite familiar with the contents of my brain – there are the people who get so carried away with their client’s interests that they lose objectivity. The PR who once told me her client was offering a series of exclusive interviews on a press day (OK, now define ‘exclusive’ when there are multiple interviews on offer). And the PR who offered me an opinion piece for ‘my publication”; I asked which publication, she checked and came back explaining that according to her records I didn’t have a publication, and she hoped that was now clear to me. I mean, clear to *me*..? I suppose you were expecting me to talk about interviews not happening and stuff – well I’ve messed up arrangements too from time to time and see no reason I should complain because someone else is human.

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.
GC: No. A relationship is a two way thing and this is a business relationship. It’s as much down to me to be courteous as to them. If they seem really hopeless I’m not stupid, I offer media training! Of course the really hopeless cases don’t think they need it.

PS: What is your favourite restaurant/coffee house for briefings?
GC: Wherever I’m sent, and I get bored with places after a while. I’m attached to places that are easy to travel to, really, so ‘within reasonable reach of Victoria Station’ would get my vote, but that’s mostly a selfish and idle view.

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
GC: Yes. I’ve mentioned the PR who took exception to my comments earlier this week, and you do run the risk of people misreading your intentions (note to self: stop blaming the reader, you wrote the bloody thing) on email. I’ve seen journalists on mailing lists and online conferences describing PRs as ‘there for our convenience alone’ which I’ve always thought is a mad view. They’re there to run a business and serve their shareholders, same as me, even if as a freelance I’m the only shareholder.

PS: Is being London based an advantage for PR professionals?
GC: No, as long as they don’t mind travelling to meet up occasionally!