A lesson for the over-controlling PR

From the journalist’s point of view it is always enormously enjoyable to see the over-reaching PR person put in their place in print. In an era when PR agencies are starting to position themselves as ‘content providers’, while by contrast newspapers suffer budget cuts and redundancies, it is a way for the reporter to show that he or she still has the upper hand. I remember a few years back when the Daily Mirror turned TV presenters Richard and Judy puce by printing two copies of an article side by side, the original plus a version ‘approved’ by the couple and their PR, with anything that wasn’t gushingly positive airbrushed out. In cases like this the PR’s desire to control exactly what appears in print (particularly noticeable in celebrity PR it has to be said) proves utterly counter-productive. There was a delicious example in this week’s Sunday Times (News Review p5, now only visible online if you sign up). The tennis star Boris Becker was being profiled in connection with a virtual tennis clinic (whatever that is) which he is running with Wimbledon outfit suppliers Ralph Lauren. The RL PR, described as a ‘Sloaney blonde in shorts and a peculiar white ruff’ wanted to dictate what the Sunday Times lady could ask about – which certainly didn’t include Mr Becker’s famous ‘sex-in-a-broom-cupboard’ incident. Indeed there was so much pressure to avoid this topic that it became inevitable it would be raised. So the whole piece became less about the perfectly pleasant-sounding Mr Becker, and more about the Ralph Lauren woman and her hissing anger. Papers like the Sunday Times take positive joy in demonstrating that, apart of course from their proprietor, they are beholden to nobody – the PR should have been smart enough to realise that. Try too hard to enforce rules and regulations about what the media can write about, when giving access to any interview subject, and you will almost inevitably draw more attention to the very issue you want to keep out of the paper.