Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Anti-PR rant 71: excessive politeness

Some people try so hard to be polite and obliging they don’t realise they’re just being a nuisance. Many of these are PR people, about whom I made an ancient promise never to blog again - but it’s time to break that promise now. The latest incident involves an appointment I had last evening with some corporate type, for the kind of interview whereI try to keep a straight face while asking questions like "What’s your turnover and how much did you grow last year?" The venue was Greater Kailash, which falls neatly on the route I take to go home from office, so I managed to get the appo fixed for a time that meant I could leave office once and for all. I explained this in great detail to the PR person: that I would be leaving office, reaching the venue in my own car and then proceeeding home after the interview. A sequence of events that should be simple to follow, or so I thought.

So yesterday afternoon, just as I’m staring darkly at a sheaf of press releases on watches, which have to be converted into readable stories, I get a call.

PR Creature: Hi Jai, just checking, what time should I pick you up?
Jai: I thought I told you I’d get there on my own.
PRC: Ha ha, don’t be formal yaar, we will pick you up from your office and then drop you back after the appo.
("We"? How many PR people are there going to be at this
"one-on-one" interview?)
J: It’s not a question of formality. I have my car and I’ll be going straight home once the thing is over.
PRC (misguided attempt at being casual): Oh ha ha, I see, you’ll katto home straight. You journos have a great life man, no fixed timings or anything. You are just like nomads. Ha ha. Anyway, no problemo, we can drop you home.
J (through gritted teeth; despises people who say ‘no problemo’): But what then do I do about my car, just leave it outside office overnight?
PRC: Oh I see! Well then, we’ll drop you back to your office after we’re done and you can pick it up.
J: Why would I want to go all the way back to office and then drive back home in late-evening traffic?
PRC: Hmmm. Okay, so you’ll come by yourself then?
J: Yes please. As was agreed on long ago. Goodbye.


Fifteen minutes later, phone rings again.

PRC: Hi Jai, this is PRC. Listen, my senior is telling me we should pick you up and take you to the venue. We have only recently acquired a couple of new cars just for such meetings, and they are both fully air-conditioned.
J (temper soaring): PRC, I’ve explained the situation to you. The only way this can be resolved to your satisfaction is if you pick me up and simultaneously hire a large vehicle-carrier to transport my car to the interview venue.
PRC: Uh, I’m not sure if that is...
J: That was a joke. See, there are no easy solutions here. Just make your peace with the idea that I’ll be getting there on my own.
PRC: Are you sure about this, Jai? I just hope you don’t think this will be inconvenient for us in any way. Because it won't.
J (losing temper, sweeping TAG Heuer and Rolex press releases to the floor with dramatic swing of hand; colleague in next cubicle rises, scared): Listen boss, from the moment you called to brief me about this stupid non-story I’ve been thinking only about my own convenience and no one else’s. Which is why I tried to get out of the assignment in the first place. It’s entirely convenient to ME that I come in my own car, not in your foul, air-conditioned new pick-up truck, or whatever it is.


Long silence.

PRC: Err...so you'll come on your own then?

After killing the rest of us with large doses of Excessive Politeness, PR people will rule the earth.

47 comments:

  1. oh god, this sounds terribly familiar and you have my sympathies. the other sort of PR (and all of them fall into some category or another) that really get my hackles rising are those who try and tell you how to write the story. with infinite politeness, of course, which makes it worse.

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  2. Jai, you need to podcast these conversations. And a webcam feed would also be nice when you sweep press releases onto the floor. Much fun.

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  3. My deepest empathy, and sympathy. Here is a sample conversation I has this morning:
    PR: Hello I am Anjali from XYZ PR. Am I speaking to Rashmi Bansal
    Me: Yes (but not sure why I am speaking to you)
    PR: Can you tell me if you have an education section?

    Beats me why I should be educating THEM about what sections appear in my magazine! Can't they just buy copies and figure it out for themselves?

    PR in India is basically 'Publication Ragging'. They rag you to death, until you give in. Unless you manage to scare them off like I did this time by asking for her boss ...

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  4. Aee Hero,
    Just thought it would be a good time to remind you of my conversations in the PR world with a creature by the name of Mark Martin.....yaad hai woh din?

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  5. Yaad hai dude, bilkul yaad hai. I wish he'd call up and ask for me one of these days.
    Will mail you at Gmail soon.

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  6. A PR company took me on a nice jungle junket, a guided tour of coffee plantations of a big coffee company. They had excellent guesthouses in the thick of the forests, but they wanted to give us "only five star" so we journos had to ready our asses for four hours of driving through bumpy roads every day to the jungle from the city's five star and back. A little conversation took place on the fourth and last day.

    Large PR woman: So what's the angle you are taking?

    KK: What angle?

    LPRW: Of the story?!?

    KK: What story?

    LPRW: Aren't you going to do a write-up? (How I hate the word!)

    KK: I am not here to write a writeup. This is supposed to be a junket for me. I was told this was an opportunity to see how the beans travelled from plants to coffeeshop. It's a great personal experience. I don't want to kill by writing about it.

    LPRW: Oh...

    KK: ....yeah!

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  7. The first person to start a half-decent PR company in this country will be richer than Saharashree. Even Posco ended up in a disaster.

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  8. haha
    ridiculous
    next time, tell them to pick you up from home, give you the car for the entire day, ensure the stock it with RD burman CDs and the like, and leave for Manali in the evening.
    or not...

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  9. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  10. And forwards. My inbox is brimming over with forwards of vegetables decorated to look like animals - "VEGGIE ART - These are good!" writes the PR person, or lists of salaries/perks that MP's get with the PR person's helpful tagline: "Think....of Joining Politics...!!!!" etc. Augh.

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  11. Hahahahahahahahahaha.... ROFL, this one was good man. I hate these dumb fuck PRs anyway. Especially when they really try to act as if they're your chaddi pals. Good one my man.
    One's off the list... NEXT...

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  12. Kamakaze...
    lol... Angle!!!!! What angle????!!!!! hahahahahahahahahahahaahhahahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahahahahahaha
    Write-up hahhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
    Brilliant... absolutely brilliant. No clue after how many days I'm laughing like this.

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  13. Lol....reminds me of my encounters with HRP! Back after a spell n its good to read u again....

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  14. i was in PR for 6 months. the job sucks. and u know what sucked the most? having to be polite to journos, who made terrible grammar mistakes without even knowing it; having to take their attitude when i knew i was 10 times more intelligent than them and then have them fall all over themselves to get the freebies and free booze and then put up with them making lecherous passes at u.....and having to be excessively polite thru it all:)cos i was told that was my job. *sigh* what torture. so glad i left. ass-licking journos...ugh...and they dont even taste nice:p

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  15. *grin* oh well. btw, errrr.....are u the erstwhile "jabberwocky" on rediff??

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  16. and hey..u've inspired me...i think i shall write abt my terrible PR job and abt all the journos who were absolutely nasty with each other cos they were fighting over my hand at the party we hosted for the media. never felt more flattered *giggle*i swear...this is SO true!!i hated being a "PRC"!

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  17. liquid sunshine: good you got out. I respect people who have the guts to ditch PR once they realise how degrading it can be. And about having to put up with journos' tantrums, I know quite a few of those stories too. The PRCs I personally enjoy talking to most are the ones who are capable of cockiness and irreverence and don't fawn shamelessly.

    And no, I'm not the Rediff jabberwocky.

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  18. Hahahahaha !! This was hilarious !!!!

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  19. You mean there are PRCs capable of cockiness and irreverence and all the most superlative qualities of mankind? where and why have they been hiding from me all my life? I actually have friends who used to be cocky and irreverent and generally fun to be with till they went and joined PR and became prototypes of other PR types -- that is to say crashing bores, even in social settings.

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  20. err..liquid sunshine, I'm sure you meant grammatical mistakes, not"grammar mistakes?" People in glass houses.....

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  21. Incredible how funny/irritating these situations can be. One thing though, the guy was just doing his job, even if he was pretty bad at it. Picture a pointy haired boss right behind him and then you probably get the full picture.

    Kaashyapeya, just as a matter of interest I checked with a readily available expert (Mom), if 'grammar mistakes', was correct usage. Interestingly, it is :-)

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  22. @r,
    No disrespect intended, but to the best of my (rather limited) knowledge of English, it isn't. Pronunciation mistakes, perhaps. But I wouldn't be able to bring myself to say grammar mistakes.

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  23. Whatever man... Jai... u haven't lost your touch. Ur blogs are fantastic. Keep em coming my friend.
    Catch u soon.

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  24. I feel your pain, Jabberwock!

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  25. Hilarious! But I can empathize with the PR person. Probably just doing his job. I wouldn't last even a day in that kind of a job -- fortunately for the world and particularly for the company that would have been foolish enough to hire me.

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  26. Hi all…

    I’ve never come across a debate more hypocritical than this one…

    I presume that most of the anti-pr rantings here have been articulated by journalists, who in their all wisdom, have decreed – PR wallahs are no brainers…they are some duds, who having failed to do anything worthwhile in life, hit upon this brilliant idea to make some easy money. (sorry…it can never ever be a brilliant idea if it concerns PR wallahs, that is best left, of course, for the know-alls, the demi-gods, the journalists…)

    I’m neither a PR wallah nor a journalist, yet can claim to know both the industries like the back of my palm, and can vouch for the fact that most of the journalists, especially the ones given to this level of incomprehensible ramblings, are failed professionals, and failed, dare I say, humans. I’ve never come across successful ppl with such fragile egos. In this context I’m reminded of a book written by one of the most eminent lawyers of our times: SMALL MEN, BIG EGOS (or smthng to that effect). And the bigger the egos, u can rest assured, smaller the men.

    This is no commentary on the entire tribe of journos, naturally. There are honourable exceptions.

    But all u journos out there: pl answer a few Qs: while PR wallahs are the ones to vent ur frustration at, what happens when it comes to accepting gifts from them? How many of you can actually stand up and say in their face that it’s beneath ur dignity to accept such freebies?

    Ms/ Mr Kamkazee who gleefully managed an invitation to a coffee transplantation is not an exception…this is the norn in today’s journalism. Which is unfortunate, to say the least…

    In the west, PR is not looked down upon; it’s a respected part of the services industry. In india, well, we’re just beginning to see PR mushroom…

    but journalism? We’ve already seen the golden phase, and today we’re seeing the degeneration of the worst order…pay them to get published, take them out on junkets…and well, u mention it, and it’s there…

    and despite all this, they have the illusion that it’s they who’re running the country…and, thus the most imp ppl around…

    wake up, boys…the PR wallahs at least know their limitations.

    YOU DON’T.

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  27. Whoever you are anonymous, you're obviously not aware of this generation's new-school journalism.
    What you're talking about - the freebies, the gifts etc etc - is long gone and ancient.
    Today, there are some who say NO to gifts, because they just don't want them... and there are others, who accept gifts because they're being gifted BY the PR company or their clients, but still go ahead and write what they want to. Not what the PR people have sent in their releases. We use certain press releases, yes, but that's just a filler in the newspaper, nothing more.
    So no point you talking crap, when you're not even part of the entire thing. In the west, PR people are respected because they are intelligent and well trained in their profession. They just don't hire anyone straight out of college and send them out to journalists with a press release in their hand.
    They talk professionally, not like they're known to the journalists since ages.

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  28. hey, the comment was for the anonymous writer!

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  29. conman, accepting a gift and then writing what YOU think is the story? well, you ARE a CONMAN!

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  30. Interesting argument. Guys don't you think you are generalising too much? I'm not too sure about this logic of this magical ever correct and proper 'west' nor am I sure about the logic of 'stupid PR people' and 'greedy journalists'.

    To generalise in such cases is very wrong and does injustice to the people in question. Everytime I hear someone say 'corrupt policemen' I think of those fine people who stand for long hours in the sun or rains, regulating traffic or those who solve everything from domestic disputes to more serious crimes.

    Labels suck! Lets get beyond them.

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  31. 31 comments (including some holier-than-thou rants) for a post that was written as a joke?!

    People, seriously, go get a life. I mean, on one level it feels good to see lots of comments on a post (regardless of whether they're good, bad or abusive). But on another level this is just so BLAH. I was joking with Samit the Duck about how depressingly easy it is to predict what posts wil get the most comments - more often than not they're just the most meaningless posts that too many people end up taking seriously. But this is a bit much.

    Defenders of PR people, I shamefacedly beg your pardon. PRs are the salt of the earth and journalists the scum. Happy? Now go comment on blogs run by people who count each comment they get and hold them up as examples of how popular and widely read they are. Me, I'll settle for quality over quantity.

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  32. quality over quantity... here's another holier-than-thou...

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  33. Jabberwock, with all due respect, descend.

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  34. Jabberwock, your sarcastic apology only underscores your cockiness and maybe even arrogance. You are talented no doubt, but a little sensitivity and humility would be even more appreciated.

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  35. Anonymous: your anonymity only underscores your scaredycat-ness. Thanks for the compliments though - I'll take cockiness, arrogance and talent over sensitivity and humility.

    (P.S. Seriously, if you're really so intent on preaching down to others, dignify yourself with a name - or at least an email ID. It'll add to your credibility. If you feel up to it, mail me privately - my mail ID is on the 'Profile' page. But any further "Anonymous" comments will be deleted.)

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  36. There are both sides to it...I myself as a PR consultant, have been faced with situations when rather (un)reliable scribes have promised to make it for one on one interviews "on their own" and never landed up. They seeem to have left their offices for the meeting and switched off their cells!! Since they are the only ones taking the interview, the poor PRC is left giving an explanation to the "client" on why they have to bother with such journalist types... so there!!

    And what about the times when PRC's have to manage crisis situations for companies? When journos go crazy trying to get some dope on the story and the only person who is available with ready and intelligible information is the PRC?

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  37. Guys..just let it go..we all are mature professionals..at the end of the day both of us need each other..but frankly people should not think PR is a glorified call center there are people who I think can write better than lot of so called writers..similarly I have seen journalist respecting PR professionals for speedy replies and accurate information..

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  38. Guys..just let it go..we all are mature professionals..at the end of the day both of us need each other..but frankly people should not think PR is a glorified call center there are people who I think can write better than lot of so called writers..similarly I have seen journalist respecting PR professionals for speedy replies and accurate information

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  39. Guys..just let it go..we all are mature professionals..at the end of the day both of us need each other..but frankly people should not think PR is a glorified call center there are people who I think can write better than lot of so called writers..similarly I have seen journalist respecting PR professionals for speedy replies and accurate information

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  40. Having done the stint on both sides, this is how it works best: PR guys, you trade in a commodity called STORY, not RELATIONSHIP. So there are those that you wine and dine and you pay off newspapers that hock their space like the august Old Lady of Boribunder but you still need to deliver a STORY. I havent had a single story I had to bribe, feed or carry people to get the story out. So, the journo gives attitude... big deal, you know he is missing the story... after all check the relationship between PSU PR Offices and the beat correspondets: They get a bone every day, apart from the freebies. Correspondents, make a friend of a PR guy. He usually knows the story before you. He often gets paid to act stupid. He most often gets paid a huge lot to cork up a STORY. Believe me, you just might beat every other guy in the business. Most important, there are certainly not too many human beings who will treat you as intelligent, gods gift to manking!

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  42. I know this coversation is long over. But couldn help posting a comment.

    I'm a PR creature. I understand the situation you mentioned and the views of the posts that followed.

    I'm not speakin for the industry. I don't believe in the ass-licking tradition you highlighted.

    I just have a problem. When someone new enters the profession and is faced with this anti-PR rant how would he or she be able to do his/her job without being type cast as the PR creature?

    When I call up a journalist, I look at news value. If the journalist buys it, good. If not leave him alone. Thats it. Nothing more.

    I know, but why do you need me. Who the hell am I? I'm someone hired by my client to represent him. Thats all. We don't call the shots, they do.

    What most people don't realise is that, most of the time I bear the brunt, the heat, the boot from both the client and the media for their screw ups.

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  43. Sorry for the repeat...didn read your line about the anonymous..


    I know this coversation is long over. But couldn help posting a comment.

    I'm a PR creature. I understand the situation you mentioned and the views of the posts that followed.

    I'm not speakin for the industry. I don't believe in the ass-licking tradition you highlighted.

    I just have a problem. When someone new enters the profession and is faced with this anti-PR rant how would he or she be able to do his/her job without being type cast as the PR creature?

    When I call up a journalist, I look at news value. If the journalist buys it, good. If not leave him alone. Thats it. Nothing more.

    I know, but why do you need me. Who the hell am I? I'm someone hired by my client to represent him. Thats all. We don't call the shots, they do.

    What most people don't realise is that, most of the time I bear the brunt, the heat, the boot from both the client and the media for their screw ups

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  44. thenarratingwriter: thanks for the comment. (Btw, anonymity isn't a problem in this case - my earlier comment was directed at people who were preaching and engaging in personal abuse without having the courage to reveal anything about themselves.)

    Let me just make a couple of points here:

    The post was written in a facetious key - more for humour than anything else. I know that will sound like a cop-out, but honestly I have nothing against PR people in any general, overreaching sense. I just think the profession by its very nature can be quite humiliating (which is a point you make in your comment too) and that it's up to individual PR people to try and maintain their dignity even in difficult situations (demanding client, non-responsive journo, whatever).

    (Incidentally, I've written quite a few nasty things about my own profession - journalism - too, in other posts.)

    When I call up a journalist, I look at news value. If the journalist buys it, good. If not leave him alone. Thats it. Nothing more

    I appreciate that. Unfortunately, that's not the approach taken by a majority of the PR people I've dealt with as a journalist. Many of them continue to push and push and grovel (or get nasty and bitter) long after they've been given an explanation as to why we can't do the story. It's irritating and saddening at the same time.

    When someone new enters the profession and is faced with this anti-PR rant how would he or she be able to do his/her job without being type cast as the PR creature?

    You're right, and I sincerely hope someone who's just joined the profession doesn't get to read this rant - or if they do read it, they should get something useful out of it (the journo's perspective) without being put off the PR profession altogether.

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