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Meet the media: Bryan Glick, Computing

Written by Paul Stallard
Source: Bryan Glick

Source: Bryan Glick

This week’s meet the media interview is with Bryan Glick. If you work in PR and don’t know who I am talking about please follow these three simple steps:
1. Get a box
2. Pack everytrhing from your desk into it
3. Leave the office now. Seriously, you don’t deserve to be a part of our industry.

Bryan has provided some insightful answers on hardcopy V online, writing with SEO in mind and the increase of social media. These are not just simple yes or no answers and I think he has provided well thought out responses.

He has also provided the piece of advice , constantly shouted from the roof tops by the media and then promptly ignored by many. Remember that a good journalist is not interested in what your client thinks is the story – journalists are motivated by what is important to their readers.

Sound advice. Enjoy.

Paul Stallard: What is your pet hate of PR?
Bryan Glick: The all-too-frequent calls, usually from fresh-faced, eager account executives, who clearly have to tick your name off a list, are reading from a script, typically calling to check you have received an emailed press release, and seem ridiculously pleased even if you say you have no need for a follow-up.

Oh, and PRs I have never met or talked to, trying to sound as if we are best buddies over the phone. You are calling to do your job, I am answering to do mine, there’s no need to pretend otherwise if you don’t know me. Courtesy is welcome, intimacy unwarranted.

And any call asking if it is OK to send me an email. Just send it.

PS: What is the best way to contact you?
BG: Email, always. I typically receive 150+ PR emails a day, but every one will be opened and read – although clearly very few will be read in their entirety – and if there is anything that catches my interest, we will always get in touch in response.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
BG: Remember that a good journalist is not interested in what your client thinks is the story – journalists are motivated by what is important to their readers. If you pitch a story or a release based upon why it is important to a publication’s readers, it will be far more likely to receive a positive response.

Any publication, whether in print, online or both, is defined by two key things – its readership, and its editorial agenda. If you understand both of those things, and target your PR strategy accordingly, you will be far more successful.

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
BG: There must be 10 dozen blogs dedicated to answering this question so it’s a bit of a challenge to come up with a short response, but here goes. In my view, the main change is in the role of the journalist. Traditionally, journalists were trained to be gatekeepers of information relevant to their readers – they have historically used their privileged position to analyse all the information / news they can find, then using their judgement decide which is the most important to impart to readers.

But today, readers have access to the vast majority of that information themselves through the web and share it through social media, increasingly bypassing traditional journalism. So, the role of the journalist must change from gatekeeper to curator; from news source to centre of debate; from purveyor of the facts to analyst or commenter.

A successful journalist in the internet era will be measured by the authority and opinion they have on their subject matter, and that will be gauged in part by the sphere of influence they have among relevant social media, as well as by the quality of what they write.

However, the one thing that will continue to make the best journalists stand out from the rest and allow them to add value amid such fragmentation and democratisation of information, is their contacts book. A top journalist with trusted access to the people that matter will still be able to set the news agenda. Social media can be a valuable tool for making and developing those contacts too.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
BG: No, and woe betide anyone who does – or at least, anyone who wants to maintain the distinct nature of the brand they write for. The needs of the reader must always come first. It is important for every journalist these days to understand the principles of SEO and the importance of keywords to help search engines find their stories, but that should never be the over-riding consideration.

If SEO drives the content of a story, there is an inevitable end result – every version of a story on every web site that covers it becomes identical, because they all target the same keywords. You might as well write a piece of software to regurgitate press releases and web-based news in a standard format that uses the most relevant keywords to maximise SEO – and I expect that at some point, somebody probably will do just that (if they haven’t already). There are certainly plenty of web sites that exist for just that purpose of re-writing SEO-optimised news/releases. The one area of online copy that does need to consider SEO is in headline writing and standfirsts.

Given that most online readers will judge a story and decide whether or not to click though to it based upon a headline and short summary, that aspect has to be SEO-friendly and self-evident. The use of clever, pun-filled print headlines just won’t work on Google News or an RSS reader, sadly. Sub-editors have to tell Google what the story is about in plain English. Newspaper classics such as “Gotcha” or “Up yours, Delors” will disappear in a web-only world, which is rather sad. Although “Freddie Starr ate my hamster” would no doubt still bring in the clicks.

SEO is an issue of good web site design – the Google bait should be in the supporting elements of a web page through the use of links, tags and keywords around the story.

PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
BG: Did TV kill radio? Did video kill cinema? Has downloading killed the music industry? Oh…

There is a massive structural change taking place in the media industry and hard copy publications are being hit harder than most of them ever expected – and more than many want to admit. But the internet is not the death-knell for print – however it will be the death-knell for those who do not understand the way their audience is changing, or who do not provide a quality and constantly improving product.

Too many people forget that there is still one very good reason why the best print products will survive (especially once the recession is over) – they are very profitable. But what has to happen for any publication to survive is it must reduce its dependence on print advertising. Smart publications are diversifying their revenue streams. I’d like to think Computing is a good example – where once the majority of our income was based on print ads, now we have a healthy web site, a thriving web seminar business, and a growing events portfolio.

Publications also need to diversify their content. Despite all the agonising going on in the US newspaper industry, I don’t believe there will be a future for paid web content or online subscriptions, apart from in niche or specialist subjects. News is becoming increasingly commoditised, there will always be someone providing it for free. In print and on the web, diversity of content will be just as important as diversity of revenue – that’s one reason why so many formerly news-oriented magazines have become increasingly focused on analysis and opinion.

The big unknown at the moment is in e-book readers such as Amazon’s Kindle. There is a small but loud body of opinion that predicts this will be the iPod of newspapers, magazines and books. I’m not so sure – not for a long time, at least. It will be a factor once costs come down, but the technology needs to develop a lot more before the majority of people start downloading their daily newspapers to read on the train.

The future publishing industry will be very different, and the internet will play a dominant role, but print will still be there, even if there will not be so many print publications. The fragmentation of media will continue, there will be multiple channels, and the role of print will be less than it has been in the past, but it will still exist.

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across?
BG: Not so much a bad case of PR, but I was quite amused to find myself copied on an email circulated by one PR to all her female colleagues at the agency where she worked, encouraging them in some detail to take more care in maintaining the state of the office’s ladies’ toilet.

Nonetheless, it is an example of the danger of email – I can’t count the number of emails I receive with a salutation to somebody else, or in particular asking me if Computer Weekly would be interested in their press release. Please – at the very least, get the basics right.

Anyway, back to your question. Thinking back, I remember perhaps the only time a PR actually made me shout at them down the phone. He was pitching a meeting with a client, and as usual I explained I would get no value from such a meeting, but might be keen to talk to one of their customers. The PR not only questioned our editorial policy and suggested I should quote his client rather than a user of their product, but tried to blackmail me into meeting the client by threatening not to let us talk to any of that client’s customers / case studies unless I did. After some heated debate, I told him that was fine by me and said goodbye.

PS: Are there any PR agencies you have black listed because of bad practices?
BG: No, and I can’t imagine how bad they would have to be for us to go that far. Having said that, there is a very small, extremely select bunch of agencies that we know are, frankly, rubbish and while we don’t tell them that, we know from experience that we’re very unlikely to run anything they pitch to us, and if we do follow up with them, they usually manage to disappoint every time.

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
BG: I know some are – and it makes me cringe every time I hear it. I have worked with some – no names – whose telephone manner with PRs stinks (including one who is, ironically, now a PR…). If any journalists working for me are rude to PRs then I want to know about it.

Yes, there are some annoying PRs. Yes, sometimes PRs are a distraction from the day job of a journalist. And yes, there are occasions when I have had to bite my lip. But every PR is just trying to do their job, the same as every journalist, and they should be treated with suitable respect. PRs do have a valuable contribution to make and I would expect my team to have a good, professional relationship with those PRs that prove to be a useful contact. Journalism is all about having great contacts, and a good PR can be a great contact too. For the rest, even if a journalist would rather not be troubled by them, there is no excuse not to be at the very least courteous and polite.

Previous meet the media interviews:
Adrian Brigewater
Clive Akass, PCW
Guy Clapperton
Dan Oliver, .Net
John Gripton,
Alex Blyth
Christine Horton, Channel Pro
Alan Burkitt Gray, GTB
Peter Whitehead
Sally Whittle