London. It’s big, it’s bustling, it’s got every modern convenience one would expect in a major international city, and it sits up there on list of the world’s greatest cities alongside New York, Hong Kong and others. But London is illusory to a certain extent. Unlike New York, beyond London isn’t a 3000-mile wide country with three time zones and 300 million people. Beyond London is a little island, home to 60 million people- it takes a mere 16 hours to drive from top to bottom! So, how does this relate to PR? Well, coming from the US, home to a seemingly infinite number of media markets, outlets, TV channels (and living in London), it’s easy to forget that I’m really dealing with a much smaller media market and ultimately, fewer journalists!
In the US I worked hard to build relationships with my media friends (not least because that’s my favorite part of PR- being out meeting the people and pitching a story), and over time I made some great contacts that I keep in touch with even though I’ve moved overseas. In the UK, I’ve been working hard to do the same, which leads me to what, from my own observations, is the biggest difference between US and UK press: UK press actually answer the phone and get back to me (more often than not)! No disrespect to my US media friends- I know how insane life in a newsroom can be- but it does seem that the overall relationship between the media and the PRs is better here, a stronger mutual understanding of the job each is trying to do. Being told ‘no’ by a journalist with some feedback is always better than radio silence and having to tell a client “We just couldn’t reach Bobby at that major national paper you want to be in. He just doesn’t answer the phone or respond to emails.” My new-found media friends have been very open to meeting me for coffees and lunches to talk about how best to work with them- it makes sense that if they meet me once and let me know how they like to pitched, it reduces the likelihood of time wasted with off-topic pitches in the future.
Other than the journalists themselves, my observation of the media as an institution in the UK is that it’s much more sensational, and a lot tougher on its subjects. The US can sometimes seem a bit fluffy by comparison. During a coveted interview with Obama, a US journalist wouldn’t dream of asking some of the questions our Prime Ministers get from the likes of Jeremy Paxman, or outright disagreeing with him. This again emphasizes the importance of those close relationships. And, back to the small market thing- 60 million people and yet a very broad selection of daily national papers: The Guardian, The Times, The Daily Mail, The Independent, the famous ‘red tops’ of which News of the World was one. This means that the “Extra! Extra! Read all about it!” theme still readily exists here too. Big, splashy exclusive headlines are highly desired.
Despite all this, however, the fundamentals of doing PR in the UK are the same as in the US, and around the world, I imagine. A proper understanding of the media you’re pitching and the message you’re sending, strong writing and presentation skills to convey that message and a willingness to get out and actually go and relate to the public are vital, and will take you far wherever you may be.