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Meet the media: Theunis Bates

Written by Paul Stallard

Theunis Bates

My meet the media interview this week is with Theunis (Tee-Unce) Bates a regular contributor to TIME, Fast Company and AOL News (in the US). I thought it was interesting that he saw the influence of social media has meant that he now has to PR his own work.

Name: Theunis Bates

Paul Stallard: What are your pet PR hates?
Theunis Bates: PRs that don’t consider the titles I write for. I’m never going to write about a £10 MP3 player, or a new data storage service for TIME or Fast Company magazine

Uncooperative PRs who refuse to offer any form of help if your request falls ever so slightly out of their domain.

PRs who try and dictate what/when I should write. I’m the journalist, and I’ll make those decisions thanks. If you want total control of copy, then take out an advert.

And a very individual pet hate: PRs who don’t ask how to pronounce my name, but who — over the course of several conversations — decide to stick with their own bizarre construction. I honestly won’t be offended if you ask how to pronounce Theunis. (Which, by the way, is “Tee-Unce”).

PS: Do you think that most PR professionals read the title you write for before contacting you?
TB: No. I think they see that I often write about technology, and so assume I must be interested in a gold-plated digital photo frame. (Which, by the way, I’m not). Occasionally, though, I do get a very well considered pitch. And those are the ones I typically follow up.

PS: What is your top tip for PR professionals?
TB: Please, please, please think about whether I’m really going to able to write something interesting about your product/service that will appeal to my audience.

PS: Can you recommend a PR training course?
TB: Jonathan Margolis from the FT’s How to Spend It magazine offers top quality media training.

PS: How many emails / calls do you get a day?
TB: Too many. Probably around 20 press releases a day.

PS: How has the increase of social media affected traditional journalism?
TB: It’s blurred the lines between PR and journalism. I now have to promote my own articles via Twitter, Facebook, Digg etc.

PS: Have you had to change your writing style for online copy to incorporate SEO?
TB: No. Good quality writing should hit all of the relevant words/phrases anyway.

PS: Is there a long-term future for hard copy publications, or will online rule?
TB: I’d like to think there is a future for hard copy publications. The world would be a far duller place without long-form magazine journalism. But there’s one good reason paper publications may stick around: Will people read an iPad on the loo? I think the magazine will always be king of the bathroom.

PS: Bar your own, which news titles do you read?
TB: All of the British papers (except the Express and the Star), the New York Times, Wired, the New Yorker, and the New Scientist.

In terms of online: BBC, Boing Boing, Gizmodo, Engadget and Gawker.

PS: What is the worst case of PR you have come across?
TB: Being contacted by a press officer who wanted to tell me about the great advances being made by hi-tech firms in Sri Lanka, just a week after the country’s civil war had ended. Thousands of Tamil civilians were being held in detention camps, a practice the UN and others loudly condemned. The PR was clearly working on a poorly timed campaign to improve the image of the Sri Lankan government.

PS: Are there any PR agencies you have black listed because of bad practices?
TB: Nope.

PS: What is your favourite restaurant/coffee house for briefings?
TB: Anywhere quiet in central London is fine by me.

PS: Do you believe journalists are rude to PR professionals?
TB: Yes. Sometimes with good reason, sometimes because they’re on a deadline and don’t have time to talk and sometimes simply because a lot or journalists are rude jerks.

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