Or is there? Maybe these days there is.
But perhaps two Irish writers are the most famous proponents of the no bad publicity perspective.
The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.
There’s no such thing as bad publicity except your own obituary.
Public relations, rather than advertising, is not easy to get right. Advertising involves expensive paid-for campaigns to get your message out there. Back in my civil service days working for HMG, the department that dealt with advertising was neatly entitled ‘Publicity,’ and the publicity staff spent nice large budgets on ad campaigns with external agencies.
PR on the other hand, was the free end of publicity, dealing with press releases and media. The good and the pro-active … and the bad.
The same old questions came up over and over again. Would you get any coverage for your press release about some not very exciting news? If you had a press conference, would you have more speakers than press? Could you get on national TV? And make national print media? If you put someone forward for radio or television interviews would they perform well, or stuff it up? Would they even wear the right clothes?
‘Light blue shirt, or soft grey,’ I would advise my public sector chief executive. ‘Picks up the colour of your eyes, and looks so much softer than white. And don’t make the suit too dark either.’
For a pre-filmed session, re-arrange the office furniture. Check there are no incriminating confidential documents lying around. Make everything look warm and friendly. No scruffy coffee mugs or ring marks on the furniture.
Always visit venues for events, public meetings and press conferences. Check suitable access for disabled people, parking, public transport. Make sure you have loads of printed materials, press packs, books, photos, and some decent display stands. When people arrive early, they need something to look at to avoid appearing like a spare part.
If catering, ensure a wide range of food, vegetarian/vegan, gluten-free/coeliac, nut-free, raw foods, Kosher, Halal. OK I didn’t provide all those, but increasingly, dietary considerations are a nightmare. And you thought vegetarian was difficult?
Many years ago I chaired a press conference in Aberdeen (Scotland). It was largely aimed at local and trade media. My office manager, who sorted catering arrangements for our events, decided we could spring to Chablis and smoked salmon. I was terrified the headlines would say ‘Public sector wastes money on Chablis and smoked salmon’. They didn’t of course. They were perfectly decent reviews and everyone seemed to enjoy the buffet lunch. And with my journalist hat on, I have to say going to press conferences with endless offerings of soft biscuits, and lukewarm stewed tea and coffee was pretty poor, and even I would have appreciated some decent good food and wine once in a while.
But times move on, and before I left the UK, alcohol was banned at staff Christmas parties in my organisation, let alone dishing it out at press conferences and launches.
So, while I wouldn’t normally jump at a contemporary romance novel, the lure of reading about PR and publishing in a major NY trad pub house was too much to resist and I thought it would be interesting to compare the fictional heroine’s experiences in PR with mine.
Author Christina George has worked in publishing for twenty years or so and continues to work in publishing. Her series of books are centred around a PR Director, ‘The Publicist’ of the title, and her career, plus her increasingly complex love life.
George still works in publicity, hence the pen name, and some of the events in her book are based on true ones that she’s encountered in her career.
I read it primarily from a professional point of view, but if you like romance, it works just as well on that level.
There are three books in the series, so:
The Publicist, Book One and Shelf Life, Book Two, by Christina George
Our heroine, Kate, is a PR Director at a major publishing house, although for a director she doesn’t seem to have much clout. It’s all in the title I guess. This is corporate America, and if she was really important I suppose she’d be a VP.
We’re introduced to a couple of key characters early on, her best mate Grace, and Mac, an editor at her firm. Right in the first few chapters Grace warns Kate about Mac, who is married. Mac’s wife stays at home in Connecticut and he has an apartment in New York. Nuff said.
What I liked about this book was the sheer, stab-you-in-the-back image of the publishing industry. It’s probably no different to any other, but if anyone thinks ‘media/publishing’ is a cosy walk in the park, forget it.
For example, not from the book but one of mine: a colleague was being pushed out by management. Did the union stand up for him? Did they hell. He was out so quickly and the union official was smugly sitting in his chair and doing his job with one shake of a rat’s tail.
Similarly, in The Publicist:
1) someone under-orders book copies for a launch, hundreds of people are queuing outside the door, yet there are only 20 copies available for Kate’s big event
2) a so-called colleague of Kate’s goes out of his way to put her down in corporate meetings, withholding vital information from her, only to churn it out in front of everyone making her look a total prat
Who hasn’t been there? whatever the industry.
The MD of the company wants to accept more and more popular books, ie sex, celebrity, scandal, rather than good literary fiction. Because, he has to answer to the board. Ethically and literally (?) his actions and decisions are flawed, but financially does he have a choice? How does a publishing house keep going without best sellers? And Gogol isn’t one, despite Kate’s friend Grace endlessly recommending classic Russian authors.
In Shelf Life, Kate gets well-stitched up by her dodgy MD which turns quite nasty.
However, these books are billed as contemporary romance, so I should address the
sex love interest.
What to say? OH has the choice of the married but practically separated sexy older man, or the single younger equally sexy man. Naturally, OH does the sensible thing and has a fling with both of them.
I was disappointed to read in some reviews that people criticised the affair between Kate and Mac.
I have to say I think it was a bit unfair of people to moan about Kate—single—having a relationship with Mac. These things happen in life. Kate wasn’t Mac’s first affair, and his wife hadn’t had sex with him in nearly twenty years.
What was really annoying, was that the complaints were about the single woman having sex with the married man, not about the married man having yet another affair in his very long list of affairs.
Society’s double standards, we expect women to be the moral compass for men and if a married man sleeps with a single woman it is HER fault that he makes himself available and puts it about. Aye! Eve, ever the evil temptress. Innocent seduced man. Yeah.
Equally surprisingly, no-one seemed to complain that while Kate was seeing Mac, she jumped into bed with Nick.
Moral dilemma: Who is worse? The married man who hasn’t slept with his wife in years but doesn’t cheat on his girlfriend, or the single girlfriend who cheats on her married boyfriend?
I didn’t particularly like Kate, she seemed to be a selfish drama queen who manipulated and used people, so for me, there was some dissonance with the portrayal of her as being Little Ms Perfect and Loving, and her actions.
It’s a decent read from both aspects, the publicity/publishing side and the personal relationship side BUT, and this is a biggie, even for me, it really was full of errors. The two books together (I got a bundled version), had nearly a hundred errors.
Again, checking out the Amazon reviews, more than one reviewer pointed out the number of errors, saying surely someone in the publishing industry could have produced a better quality work. My view entirely.
I’ll leave you with one of the funnier errors. What comes after Chapter Six and before Chapter Eight? Yes, that’s right, Chapter Four! Duh. But still, if errors don’t bother you, it’s a decent read for the beach/plane/before bed, the style is easy too, and the publishing parts are interesting.
(Books courtesy of iRead Book Tours. I’ll be reviewing the last book in the series later.)
For those of you who want a serious read, I wrote about Charlie on Clouds.