Frankie Flack: Yelling, PR pitches and business journalism
OK, sports fans. Confession time.
I’ve been known to send pitches over email that are beyond the pale. I’ve sent stuff to reporters who I know would never consider the news in a million years. I’ve called reporters to garner their thought on my story idea even when I know damn well what they think. I’ve purposely wasted people’s time. Not often, mind you, but even once is enough send me to the my own personal penalty box, where I feel shame.
Here’s the thing: I don’t do it because I’m a moron or because I lack a fundamental understanding of how the modern newsroom works. I do it because I work in a culture of yelling and ridiculous demands, and sometimes it’s easier to tarnish my reputation with you guys than fight the good fight.
Here’s how it works: at some point, someone in my chain of command will have a silly idea about media (“Why didn’t we pitch our story about self-tying wingtip shoelaces to Modern Farmer? I hear that’s the hot new publication. Why in the world would we pass on the chance to get in front of that urban demo!”). Maybe it’s one of my co-workers. Maybe it’s a client. Maybe it’s an exec. And maybe they yell.
Here’s the funny thing about bureaucracy: yelling gets amplified as it moves down the chain of command, because no underling wants his or her boss to think they’re not taking the request seriously. So the underling gets even more worked up, and the head of my agency will get a call: “How could you have been so sloppy as to have forgotten Modern Farmer!” Maybe profanity will be used.
In turn, that person — the person responsible for making sure our highly profitable shoelace client doesn’t dump us — yells at me to just do my job and sell wingtips to the farmer wannabes. Now, at this point, I have two choices. I can make an impassioned argument for the stupidity of that choice, hoping that the the agency head can make that case to the underling who can in turn make the case to the boss. This is a low-odds proposition. Alternatively, I can swallow my pride and shoot off a wildly misguided email to the wonderful editorial staff at Modern Farmer.
Now, this doesn’t always happen. I work with good people, and I have excellent clients, and we’re adept at managing the worst of the silliness, even when someone is hollering at us. But not always.
And when that happens, I usually tilt at the windmill, take the abuse and push back (and I encourage my staff to do the same). But sometimes, for reasons of timeliness or fatigue, I’ll fold and take the easy way out. And I apologize for that.
In my defense, flacks are not the only ones who make those small compromises. Good luck, for instance, finding a Bloomberg scribe who has ever gone toe-to-toe with noted yeller Matt Winkler on sticking the word “but” (banned at Bloomberg) in a story, even if it improves the reader experience.
But our tiny compromises are not victimless crimes. They do add bulk to your inbox and length to your voicemail. It’s enough to make a man yell.