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Meet the media – Clive Akass, PCW

Written by Paul Stallard

pcw mag closes

Following the news at the start of the week that a piece of UK computing history had fallen by the wayside, this week’s Meet the Media interview is with Clive Akass of Personal Computer World Magazine. It was with great sadness that I heard that PCW was to close on Monday and felt that it was a scary sign of the times.

I first met Clive a good few years ago when I worked on the Autodesk account and am delighted that he has agreed to take part in this interview. He has listed some great tips for those of us in the PR industry and has some interesting ideas for the future. He has made some good points about the types of documents journalists like to receive, good photography and my favourite – man bites dog survey tips.

Name: Clive Akass
Title I work for: Personal Computer World for the next few days. As you probably know PCW is closing. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all the PR people who have helped me over the years

Paul Stallard: What is your pet hate of PR?
Clive Akass: Vital information in a form that cannot be copied, pasted and edited. In press releases this usually comes in the form of PDFs with the text locked in one way or another. I’ve noticed recently that I have been getting more PDFs with the text freely copyable, which is great: maybe PR companies are learning.

The issue is not just that locked PDFs cause journalists more work: it is easy to make mistakes when having to retype details such as price, web addresses and specifications. It’s far better for everyone if they can be copied and edited. Even copyable PDFs can be awkward because the clipboard text comes up crudely formatted with a carriage return at the end of each line. If you don’t know what you are doing with a PDF, send in DOC format.

A particular irritation are invites in a graphics format such as a jpeg. If you must do this, always send the information in text too. Retyping text from a jpeg can be very awkward, even when working with two screens. Again, the major issue is to prevent mistakes when retyping. But it also causes a lot of unnecessary work: before big shows or in the run up to Christmas journalists often get scores of invites. We don’t have secretaries and it can be very hard to keep track.

Another pet hate is the false start: rushing out on a press day to catch an event, only to find you have to hang around for an hour before it begins. There is no point fibbing about the start time to prevent latecomers: journalists need to be there and will arrive on time if possible. If you want to set up a bit of networking time beforehand, but be clear about what you are doing; if people have the time they will come early and the rest will try to make the main event.

Finally there are the daft surveys. I know PR people love these because they can get coverage on a slack day. But remember the old journalistic adage: dog bites man, not interesting; man bites dog, good story. A survey that tells you people don’t like computer crashes is no use at all because we already know that; one that discovered that in reality people love crashes would be a big story. I’d say at least 50 percent of survey stories are dog-bites-man.

PS: Do you think that most PR professionals read the titles you write for before contacting you?
CA: Many don’t, for sure. Many also don’t appear to research the journalist as well as the publication.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
CA: There’s a few tips up there under pet hates. Also I am constantly astonished how many marketing people do not realise the advantage of pictures. I’d say that if you include a good picture with a press release you double your chances of getting coverage.

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
CA: It depends on what you mean by social media. Blogging is changing journalism but not destroying it. The crisis in journalism (and commercial broadcasting, come to that) is caused by the fact that the old business models are breaking down. Computer magazines have been hoist by their own petard: PCW was destroyed by what it helped to create: the rise of the internet, which has sucked away advertising and readers (though our last ABCs were relatively healthy). We saw it coming but it was easier for start-up techie sites to adjust to the new medium because they had a single focus and no print costs.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
CA: To an extent but perhaps I have not done so as much as I should have done.

PS: Is there a future long term for hard copy publications or will online rule?
CA: Online is not the word to use. We are going through a major cultural revolution caused by evolving technology. Our media intake (not just reading) will be done on portable readers/computers that are beginning to come on stream. There are various ways information could be delivered: for instance, your TV set-top box might download during the night a newspaper (or news aggregation tailored to your interests) that you might read offline on the Tube. These developments could take a decade or more to work themselves through; until they do, and new business models emerge, print publications are going to have a hard time.

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across?
CA: PR is a lot more professional now than when I started as a general news reporter in the sixties. My introduction to PR cock-ups was being sent to cover a “story” about a brass band being sent to Russia. The one remote chance the PR firm had of this getting any coverage in the national papers was to provide a “photo opportunity”. Somehow they persuaded Fleet Street’s news and picture desks to send people down and we all arrived in time to see the back of a bus leaving to take the band to the airport.

I once went to a product launch at Comdex that must have costs tens of thousands to stage. There were dancing girls. There was music. There were flashing lights and coloured smoke. There much much talk of new dawns and changed paradigms. At the end, after half an hour of this nonsense, I still had absolutely no idea of what was being launched and had to take an executive to one side to find out.

PS: Are there any PR agencies you have black listed because of bad practices?
CA: No

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
CA: I think some are horribly rude. I have always tried to be polite because, particularly in tech journalism, PR people do a valuable job.

PS: What is the best way to contact you?
CA: For the next few days at I’ll probably be doing some freelancing, though I have a couple of private projects to pursue, so please send any releases or invites you think I might be interested in to

Previous interviews in the meeet the media series:
Sally Whittle
Peter Whitehead, FT Digital
Alan Burkitt-Gray, Global Telecoms Business
Alex Blyth
Christine Horton, Channel Pro
Jon Gripton,
Dan Oliver, .Net
Guy Clapperton

Forthcoming interviews in the series:
Adrian Bridgewater (scheduled for 16 June)

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