Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Return of the #prmasterclass. Part 1.

I've been neglecting this blog so I've decided to kick off again with a couple of posts that will thrill the diligent PR folk and freak out the others. First thing to say I don't have some kind of problem with PR people--they can be tremendously important and helpful. In a best case scenario they identify interesting stories in the weeds of a company or university, polish and find a good home for it.

Having been on the receiving end of bids of all kinds though, it remains and open question whether they, on balance, make my life easier or harder. The great PR people are diluted by large numbers who are thrilled to direct a giant hose of nonsense my way and have the cheek to ask for feedback or suggestions as to whom else might want to publish their nonsense. Some even mislead or manipulate.

I don't appear on media disks because it encourages too much spam. For a while I tried to discourage the most spammy behaviour with a #spampr hashtag to highlight to clients the wealth of nonsense that agencies were turning out on their behalf (and presumably charging for). This worked for the totally random submissions.















But that still left me stuck with a lot of bad behaviour which just seemed to be part and parcel of the job--after all there are no rules to how to do this. But last December, after one particular PR outrage I was inspired to fire off a torrent of irritable tweets with the hashtag #prmasterclass. Someone from Canale emailed to say how helpful it was. So I'm going to repost the tweets with a few more thoughts in two parts. 


1. Work on your bullshit ratio



Every time you pitch something that is total nonsense, or a send a overly long email of high bandwidth and low information content, you are eroding your value as a source of information. When that client convinces you that you absolutely must pitch something and you know for a fact that the journalist isn't going to be interested you give away a bit of your credibility. Even if you happen to get on well at a personal level with the journalist, don't make the basic error of assuming you can get away with sending them endless reams of information of little practical value. If it is a chore to read your emails then it is something that will fall to the bottom of anyone's To Do list--let alone a busy journalist. Don't go there. 

Journalists figure out who the good PR people are by trial and error. The good ones are rewarded with our time and attention. They know that the currency for knocking on my door is a story, or a good prospect of one. We don't do this job to rub shoulders with their clients (who mostly we are unimpressed by) or have a free lunch. There. Has. To. Be. A. Story. And if you don't see that, you shouldn't be wasting my time.


The good PR people know what I'm interested in, read what I/we write and rarely waste my time. Their payoff is that I answer their questions, take their calls and will even tell them broadly what I'm interested in at the moment. They know I'm looking for unique, new stories and themes to tell my smart, globally connected audience. They understand that a story is rarely about one widget or company but an idea. So how do you get into this exclusive set of loved PR people? By keeping the bandwidth low, being selective about what they send and knowing what they are talking about.

2. Stop sucking up to clients

Tell them how it is. Show them the actual stories that run in The Economist. If their request for coverage is unrealistic tell them so. You can even refer to the sorts of stories that I write (check my Linked in page for recent clips or this blog) in order to back up you up (and hone your pitch). 



3. Know what you are talking about

In health and science, and most technical subjects, PR folk who know what they are talking about are worth their weight in gold. If a pitch grabs my attention they can answer questions about it straight away and I can make a decision on the spot about my level of interest in pursuing it. A PR person who is able to answer questions has a chance of converting a spark of interest into something more tangible. Even if they don't know the answer they know how to get it quickly.




One infuriating situation is being pitched something, by phone or email, and responding with a reasonable question and being told "I don't know but I can arrange a call with the CEO/CTO etc...". The reason this is infuriating is that it means I have to take a call to find out if what you have told me is bullshit or not. Which, sadly, chances are that it is. So newsflash: I'm not going to take that call. So your choice is simple, either be ready and willing to answer a follow-up question related to what you have sent or don't bother sending me the press release in the first place.

Lastly, one of my pet peeves is asking a question and then having a NON-ANSWER emailed back three or four days later. Hate it. With government agencies you expect it. When following up a press release from a company or university it is annoying.



4. Don't email or ring with stupid requests. Don't ask for feedback on your awful pitch. 

These include asking me to complete surveys. I'm busy. No.



Don't ever ring up to ask whether I'm going to cover a story you sent via email unless you or your client has hand crafted and typed every single word to me personally. If you have sent a press release out by email, and followed up by email, and I have not replied it is quite likely I'm not going to do it.


This is what will happen if you ask for feedback for your awful pitch:

"Well for one thing is sounds really dull and worthy and nonscientific and possibly even largely made up. A "case study in healing" sounds like totally flaky nonsense. Another thing the pitch also looks as though you have never even opened a copy of The Economist and have no idea who we write for or what they might be interested in. You also confuse a subject with a story. This is a junior error of PR/journalism that you need to figure out. I'm surprised. Generally when people put in pitches this bad they don't ask for feedback--they just sent it because the client told them to."

Don't try to make me feel guilty for not being interested in your story or for telling you it isn't interesting if you do insist on asking for feedback. That isn't because I'm worried that it will hurt my feelings. You shouldn't do it because it would be a waste of your time and basically unprofessional. See 5. 

5. No, No, No.

Journalists say this a lot. It is the nature of the game. We are not interested in meeting your clients just for the sake of having a meeting. Please don't use us to try and fill up the dance card of a bored exec while they are in town. 

There are exceptions to this rule. 1. There is an actual story to tell and not a retreaded idea that has already been published. 2. we are going to a conference and we have made time in our schedules to catch up with significant people or companies. (Watch my twitter feed for notices about which conferences I'm going to.) 3. I might take a phone call, particularly if the subject is topical. 

Why not send me your client list from time to time? With a one-paragraph description on each client saying what they are doing and what is interesting at the moment (Do they have any news coming? Are they good on a particular subject?) Make it neat, and crunchy with lots of useful information in it. 

The exception to meeting your client story is this: that they have a story or the hope of one. A genuine story. Of the kind that my magazine might actually publish. Not a piece saying how wonderful their company or institution is. Not a retread from another outlet. 


With that I will leave a brief pause and let that sink in before going to Part 2. 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Cancer treatment: On target. The personalisation of cancer treatments is leading to better outcomes for patients.

Cancer treatment

On target


The personalisation of cancer treatments is leading to better outcomes for patients. It will also pave the way to cures

Jun 11th 2016 | CHICAGO | From the print edition
Timekeeper

“CURE” is not a word much used by oncologists. The best they normally talk of is “remission”. But the past five years have begun to change that. More than 70 new drugs have come to market, and describing the consequences of some of them as revolutionary is not hyperbole—at least for those patients lucky enough to respond positively to them. Being given a diagnosis of advanced melanoma, for example, was once tantamount to being handed a death warrant. Median life expectancy after such news was six to nine months. But recently developed “immuno-oncology” drugs, which co-opt the immune system to fight tumours, are so effective that, in around a fifth of cases, there is talk among experts that the patients involved have actually been cured.

This sort of upbeat news is reinvigorating the study of cancer. At this year’s meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), held this week in Chicago, doctors had a spring in their step. Not only do they have new drugs to deploy, they are also developing better ways of using existing ones. They are getting better at diagnosis, too, finding methods to study the weak spots of cancers in parts of the body conventional biopsies cannot reach, and also to pin down tumours that were previously unlocatable. The upshot is that they are beginning to be able to tailor treatments to the needs of individual patients, an approach called personalised medicine. [More...]

Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Banged up. The science of concussion.



This week's edition of The Economist features my story about the science of concussion, and how growing understanding of what is going on in the brain. Paired with this piece is an op-ed at the front of the mag, a joint effort.


Concussion 
Bang to rights 

Science is taking big steps toward understanding the impact of concussion 

Mar 5th 2016 | From the print edition

FRED McNEILL, an American-football player, died in November at the age of 63. Between 1974 and 1985 he appeared for the Minnesota Vikings. After leaving them he became a lawyer but in later years suffered from dementia and was told that he had signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. His recent death has become a milestone in the understanding of brain disorders, for post-mortem examination has confirmed this diagnosis—retrospectively making him the first person to be so diagnosed while alive. [More...]


Concussion 
Schools and hard knocks 

Children need protection from high-impact sports such as rugby and American football 

Mar 5th 2016 | From the print edition

IMAGINE being asked to take part in an activity that gives you somewhere between a 1-in-5 and 1-in-20 chance of a serious head injury over a four-month period. That could lead to weeks of impaired mental performance and headaches, and, especially if the blows are repeated, the danger of longer-term mental-health problems. Now imagine that your child is the one taking that risk.

 Such are the dangers associated with playing American football. The risks of concussion are higher still in rugby, one of the world’s fastest-growing sports. These concerns have already prompted some changes. Rugby has introduced “head-injury assessment” rules, enabling players who have suspected concussions to be substituted temporarily so that they can be checked by medical staff. All 50 of America’s states have adopted “return to play” laws that require medical clearance before younger athletes who have sustained a concussion can take to the field again. [More...]



Friday, February 19, 2016

Some classic Michael Hanlon pieces at the Daily Mail...

A dear friend, Michael Hanlon, passed away recently. He was a great writer. Here follows some excerpts, with links, to a few of his greatest hits at the DM.

Sceptic:

The lion on the loose in Essex. 
"It’s always a tabby cat. That’s the rule. Or, sometimes, a spaniel. Often there is no animal at all, just the fevered imaginations of mass hysteria. The science of phantom cats is a very strange one indeed and while it says nothing about cats it does say an awful lot about humans."....

... and...


"In Essex, van driver Rich Baker came out with the brilliant quote “It was one million per cent a lion. It was a tan colour with a big mane, it was fully grown, it was definitely a lion. It was just standing there, it seemed to be enjoying itself.”  [More...]


Inside the strange world of the lunar hoaxers.

"They walk among us. From the outside they appear to be normal human beings. They speak our language, appear outwardly intelligent – well-read, even with university degrees. The way their move their limbs, the gait – they have got it all off to a tee. And yet underneath that fa├žade of normality lurks a terrible, sinister secret. These are not People Like Us (well, not like me anyway).

No, I am not talking about the Illuminati or David Icke’s Lizard-people, nor about reclothed Roswell aliens, but about that strange subset of humanity known as the Apollo Deniers or Lunar Hoaxers. I have long ceased to be interested in what these people believe. Refuting their simple-minded claims is so embarrassingly easy it is like using dynamite to catch trout in a fish farm." [More...]



Ahead of his time

The great diesel con exposed.

At last, someone is talking sense about the Great Diesel Con. Diesel cars, I have been saying for years, are expensive, inefficient, dirty and unreliable compared to their petrol equivalents. This contradicts just about every piece of received wisdom concerning motor fuels.

People buy diesels because they think they are more fuel efficient than petrol cars. As a new Which? Report out this week confirms, while this is (marginally) true, overall the economics are mostly in favour of gasoline. This is because - believe it or not, and even in the era of the £6 gallon - slight differences in fuel efficiency really are not a big factor in the overall cost of motoring. [More...]


Why car makers lie about fuel consumption

There are lies, damn lies, statistics – and official EU car fuel consumption figures. I and others have been banging on about this for years; the figures quoted by manufacturers in their ads usually (but, interestingly not always) bears absolutely no relation whatsoever to what happens in the real world.

This scandal has been highlighted in a What Car Report which this week looked at some of the claims made for the most allegedly economical cars sold in Britain and compared them to real-world consumption figures. [More....]

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Usual Breakfast: I'm a worm.



Hi folks. I'm calling the new cartoon strip, The Usual Breakfast. Today's strip is one of a series. Come and visit again soon for the next installment. If you like the work, please share it and I might do more of it.