The Things an EdFringe PR Cannot Do and Other Observations by an Absent Critic

27 Aug
Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe finished yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, which meant, as Edinburgh regulars like John Fleming know, that all the shops in the city were open, but all the banks were closed. Welcome to Edinburgh, we do things differently in August.

This year, I also decided to do things differently by taking a year out from the Fringe after five consecutive years of reviewing at the festival. I popped a quick “I won’t be at the Fringe, sorry” notice on my Contact Me page, and cleared my diary for the entire month of August for the first time since 2009. It felt good.

Despite the much-needed break, my absence gave me a mild case of the fear of missing out, and so, I often sauntered through Bristo Square, Fringe Central, North Bridge et al, to see what was going on. On one of these trips, I met my friend Beryl for coffee. There are two things that you need to know about my dear Beryl: Beryl is not their real name but they are A Very Good Theatre PR.

“The thing is, ” began Beryl, after inhaling her colourful cardboard cup of frothy, overpriced coffee, “that a lot of the national critics have stayed away from the Fringe this year, which some clients are finding very hard to accept.”

“I have this one client; they have a great show, they’ve had consistently good reviews, but they want the national press in, and I can’t contact journalists who aren’t at the Fringe and have no intention of coming to the Fringe.”

The lack of well-established broadsheet publications at this year’s festival has not gone unnoticed, and some of the biggest names in theatre criticism, such as Ian Shuttleworth and Mark Shenton have chosen to stay at home.

“But, they just won’t listen.” Continued Beryl. “I’ve sent them emails carefully explaining why the National press aren’t coming to review them. If they hadn’t had any reviews then I would understands, but they’ve had over 10 reviewers so far, and that’s still not good enough. In fact, they’ve started demanding that I do things that I just can’t do, it’s not my job and it’s not how PR works.”

“What kind of things?” I asked, cradling my own freakishly expensive cup of joe, “I’m impressed that you’ve managed to get 10 separate publications to review their show, that’s incredible! There are people at this festival that dream of getting just one review!”

Beryl gazed miserably into her spent cup of corporate pick-me-up and explained: “Most of our contact has been via email, but the other day the producer phoned me, he’d just finished reading The Scotsman‘s review of the show and he didn’t like that they’d given it 3 stars.”

“You need to phone The Scotsman,” he said, “and get them to change it to 4 stars.”

“That isn’t how it works!” I cried.

“I know,” sighed Beryl, “I tried to explain How It Works, but he was having none of it. He also didn’t like it when he ‘discovered’ that the reviewer was – shock horror – a freelance journalist – not a staff writer and that they were – gasp – only 24.”

“I explained that the writer, despite the mortal sin of being younger than 25, was, in fact, a well-respected critic and an award-winning reviewer who writes for several national publications, but he still wasn’t happy.”

“And they haven’t paid me.”

I slammed my coffee down. “So, in a festival of 3,193 shows, performed in 299 venues, in a year when critics seem to be abandoning the Fringe, you and you alone, have managed to convince 10 critics to review this one show, and they haven’t paid you?”

Beryl nodded. “They paid a deposit but they were meant to pay the first instalment on the 1st of August, which they haven’t. I’ve been emailing the producer about it, and he’s ignored me.”

A few days later, I sent Beryl a text message to ask if the producer had coughed up the money.

“Nope.” She replied, “But I did get a phone call saying the lighting designer hadn’t been paid and the producer had given them my number…go figure.”

Beryl, like I said earlier, is A Very Good Theatre PR. But even Very Good Theatre PRs can’t control reviewers because reviewers have free will whether we like it or not.

You can control the show, you can control advertising and you can control yourself, but you cannot control the reviews.

There will always be things that your PR cannot do, so don’t demand the impossible and pay your staff, for God’s sake, because bad press travels fast before, during and after the Fringe.

Damn Your Spoilers

15 Jun
Image by Chris, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Chris, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

My spoiler story begins in 1999, not long after the dot-com boom, when the internet was seen as a luxury, not a necessity, and social media was in its infancy. Back then, Twitter and Facebook didn’t exist, the mainstream press were becoming aware of blogs and broadband was a distant dream. In my day, we had to rely on a dial-up internet connection for our kicks, baby.

In 1999, we feared the Millennium Bug, Y2K was something people genuinely said, and one of the films that dominated the UK box office that year, besides The Matrix, was M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense. Being a teenager with an obscene amount of free time at the weekend (oh, those were the days) I was meant to see the film with some friends, but for some reason that has vanished in the sinking sands of time, I couldn’t go.

At school that Monday, my dear friend Paul, who had gone to the cinema that weekend, bounded over to me at registration. I forget what he said exactly, but our conversation went something like this:

Paul: “The Sixth Sense was amazing!”

Me: “I’m sorry I couldn’t make it.”

Paul: “It was one of the best films I’ve ever seen!”

Me: “Cool, I’ll try to see it this weekend.”

Paul: “It was amazing, the ending, Amy, the ending! Oh my God, I have to tell you…”

And that was how my dear friend Paul hurled the ending of The Sixth Sense into our conversation like a fraternity pledge on an Ipecac bender, and burned it into my memory. The ending was, at the time, a surprise and is, by now, one most people will be very familiar with, but I’m saying nothing, just in case.

I told him that I now wouldn’t be able to see the film, because he’d just given away the ending, to which he answered with all the innocence and confusion of a hungry toddler caught with their hand buried deep inside the cookie jar:

“Yes, you can! It’s still at the cinema.”

Spoilers don’t just come up in conversations with overly enthusiastic friends these days. They lurk in careless tweets, they are revealed in late night Facebook statuses, and they wait in poorly written reviews by inexperienced writers.

Unlike 1999, it’s now never been easier to have an online platform where you tell the world your opinions, and it’s the immediacy of the internet that has spawned a culture that thrives on not just new information, but the speed at which we can receive that information. It’s the ultimate competition, where those who hesitate instead of posting will not get those extra visits to their website, and they won’t have their thoughts retweeted hundreds, if not thousands, of times.

We have created an online culture that is saturated with opinions on just about everything, and the more controversial the article, the more notoriety and more attention it creates for the writer. But this yearning for affirmation on the part of the writer lacks something vital and human: empathy.

When my dear friend Paul told me the ending to the film, he did it because he was so amazed by what he’d seen. He wanted to share his experience of being in the cinema with me, because in his mind, I had missed out. However, by spoiling the film for me, he robbed me of the experience entirely, because it meant that I would never be able to view the film as he did when he watched it with no expectations. To him, and others who spoil things, he wasn’t in the wrong for giving the ending away; I hadn’t seen the film, therefore, it was my problem.

Spoiling a film is not the same as a real robbery in the street, nor can it ever equate to the violation of having your home burgled, but when someone spoils a film, it’s theft. It’s not a violent act at all, but they have taken an experience from you ensuring that it can never be yours.

I saw The Sixth Sense many years later, and although it’s no Citizen Kane, The Usual Suspects or Alien (films which, thankfully, all remained spoiler free until I saw them) I couldn’t help but wonder if my reaction to it would have been different if I hadn’t been aware of the film’s definitive scenes.

While we now know that Shyamalan’s movies typically contain some sort of twist, and his subsequent films have received very mixed reviews, whenever I think of The Sixth Sense, I remember that morning, in school with my dear friend Paul, telling me the ending to it, first, before the memory of actually seeing the film.

I want my memories of watching a film or TV show to be about that film or TV show, not of the person that spoiled it for me. I remember when I went to see Star Wars for the first time when the Special Edition was released in 1997. I knew nothing about the film, I sat there, mute and still as the action played out before me, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

I went back to that galaxy again to watch The Empire Strikes Back and again to watch Return of the Jedi with an identical sense of wonder and ignorance, and there I realised the true joy of discovery. There was no friend desperate to tell me their opinion, and no spoilerific review waiting for me in the paper, I saw the films as they were meant to be seen; for the first time, by someone with no preconceptions.

I want to be that child in the cinema once more, with no preconceptions, no prejudices, no bias. The child that walked home on air, her head full of the memory of seeing a film that I loved, a film that hadn’t been ruined or tainted by a careless comment or selfish tweet. But, in our post-digital world, where we value the immediacy of our content, over the accuracy of our content, can we learn to be silent once more?

I’ve gone out of my way to ensure that my social networks stay spoiler free; muting specific hashtags, keywords and even the names of characters in shows or a new film that I want to watch. This works, but because I can only control my own behaviour online, and nobody else’s, the odd spoiler slips through.

So, how do we stop the spoilers spreading? The answer is simple: shut up. Seen a film and can’t believe the ending? Be quiet. Did your favourite character die in Game of Thrones? Grieve quietly. Writing a review? Then be mysterious and subtle when writing the synopsis. Don’t assume that everyone you know has seen what you’ve just seen, let them discover it for themselves.

Be silent, or be damned.

How To Get Reviewed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

5 Jun
2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe image by zoetnet, shared under a Creative Common Licence

2011 Edinburgh Festival Fringe image by zoetnet, shared under a Creative Common Licence

Hold on to your hats, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is nigh! After months of anticipation, the long-awaited official launch of the Fringe takes place today in Scotland’s rather dreich capital city.

For years, the Fringe has been known as the place where some of the world’s most popular comedians, theatre companies, playwrights and directors were officially ‘discovered’, and because of this, thousands of people flock to the city every year, hoping to be the next big thing. They want to get those coveted critical bums on seats and nab a five-star review.

The Fringe, as we all know, is the world’s biggest arts and culture festival, so, how do you approach a critic and (hopefully) convince them to review your show?

A Note on Reviews

Before I discuss the finer points of Contacting a Reviewer 101, I have to explain the role of the critic, because I’ve found that some practitioners and PRs seem to be unsure about what it is that critics are supposed to do.

As we all know, critics write reviews, this is a given, but a review is like an omen; it can either be good or bad. A critic will not write a positive review just because they’ve been invited to a show; they will write a review based on their experience and it will (or should) be published in a timely fashion.

The critic is under no obligation to write either a good or a bad review, they are under obligation to write a truthful review that is helpful to the audience. The critic is loyal only to the reader; not to the venue, director, actor or playwright.

Therefore, if you want coverage that is uniformly positive and says exactly what you want it to say, then it’s better to buy an ad. If you want a reviewer’s professional opinion on your show, that you can then use in your publicity material, email the editor. Otherwise, contact the advertising department and pay for an advert.

Prepare Now

One of the more frustrating experiences for a Fringe critic is being contacted about a show that they would have really liked to review – after the Fringe has begun. This is because by then, their reviewing schedule has been confirmed and it’s highly unlikely that the critic will be able to fit the show into their itinerary.

You are much more likely to get a reviewer into your show if you contact them before the festival. I’ve been getting Fringe PRs since late April, but an editor friend of mine got her first one in February. So, if you’ve not started contacting the journalists you want to target yet, then do it as soon as possible, while the nation’s critics are thinking about their reviewing schedule.

Have Something to Say

When I worked in online PR, I often had to write press releases that weren’t newsworthy. I know, I hated it too. This was because we had clients that wanted a certain number of press releases written and submitted every month and so, I had to find something, if anything, to say about the client and their products that would (hopefully) appeal to journalists.

I did this by trying to find a newsworthy angle on the story or client. Sometimes it was because there was a breaking news story that had something to do with their industry, sometimes it was because something impressive had happened within the company, but whatever I chose to write about, it had to be newsworthy.

Journalists are always looking for newsworthy releases, we’re forever searching for a different angle to write about on the pressing issues of today. Not only do we need this news, we need to be the first to report it, so we want an exclusive. We want to get some exceptional information before our rivals and we have to be able to shout about it.

Everyone has a story; what makes your show, your company, your production stand out? Why should a critic review, or even preview your show before the Fringe as opposed to a rival piece in the same venue? Find your angle, find your voice, find your audience.

Press Release Etiquette

When it comes to press releases, everyone’s different. But, most critics I know agree on one thing; please don’t attach your PR as a PDF.

PDFs are great –  if you don’t want to copy and paste information from them or edit them in any way. So, if I’m trying to copy and paste your listings information to put it in my calendar or spreadsheet, the nature of a PDF means that I can’t do that.

However, attachments in general can trigger the wrath of a million fiery suns in even the most patient of critics. Some don’t download properly, they can contain viruses and some just aren’t compatible with the software on a journalist’s computer. So, instead of attaching anything, or adding a link to an external site in order to view your PR, copy and paste it into the body of your email; this saves time and effort later on.

If you are sending press releases for more than one show, then send one email per show, so that the email can be found quickly if needed. Also, it’s really helpful to put the name of the show, the venue and the dates in the subject of the email. If you do this, your PR will be a beacon of hope in a very overwhelmed journalist’s inbox. And please, don’t be the asshole that sends 22 attachments in one email.

Remember to check, double-check and triple check your listings information, such as dates, times and venue, a small hiccup here can have big consequences. You might find this Arts PR post that I wrote after the 2012 Edinburgh Festival Fringe helpful.

Be Human

In our digital age, it’s become far too easy to forget that the critics are actually people. I know we can have this reputation of being utterly terrifying, humourless, otherworldly sods who are only happy when we’re feasting on the broken dreams of Fringe casualties, but underneath that, we are human.

One of the things about being Homo sapiens is that we respond to being spoken to like living, breathing entities. We don’t want a generic email that doesn’t start with a greeting, demands a review, or fires the same promotional message at us repeatedly. We want to be able to read about the people and the passion at the heart of the project.

You don’t have to write a critic a novel detailing why you’re inviting them to your show, but you can personalise your email. This takes time, but it makes your email stand out. And let me tell you, when all the emails you’ve received that day have been overly promotional, full of horrendous PR buzzwords and have been devoid of any human emotion, getting a brief email that simply begins with a greeting and your name makes you sit up and pay attention.

Twit to Woo?

Social media is marvellous, isn’t it? It allows you to find and contact almost anyone, which means it’s a great place to reach out to a critic or publication. However, while social networking sites like Twitter will help you find the right people to invite to your show, I could caution against using it as a pitching tool.

The reason for this is simple: anything you put on social media is in the public domain, which means that everybody can read it, unless you have a private account. However, when you’re contacting a journalist, especially if you have an exclusive about your show, the open nature of social media means that your news will no longer be an exclusive, because everyone will have read about it online first.

Too often, Twitter accounts fire out the same promotional tweet to journalists and not only does it ensure that your news gets lost in the ether, it also looks lazy, so if you can’t be bothered to reach out properly, why should the critic go to see your show?

Feel free to make first contact on social media; follow the journalist’s account, say a quick hello and ask the critic if you can send them a PR, but don’t take up too much of their time. Social media is often treated like a platform for broadcasting, but it’s really for being sociable and engaging. You can also chat to the critic, be friendly and focus on building a long-term professional relationship with them, not just a filthy and unremarkable #EdFringe quickie. The contacts you make this year will remember you next year.

During the Fringe it’s nice to have somewhere to escape, to vent, and that’s what I use my Twitter account (*cough* @trashtaylor *cough*) for. Remember that the critic will have had lots of messages from other people trying to get them to review them too, so take it easy, you are in their space, be nice, be polite and have fun. Also, don’t forget that you are representing your show on social media, so don’t say anything stupid.

 The Follow-Up

One part of the process that some people rely on too heavily is the follow-up. While it’s understandable that someone may be anxious that their PR hasn’t reached its recipients, please rest assured that it has been received and it has been read. You can always email again, but ask yourself, do you have anything else to add, such as a piece of news, or the addition of extra dates?

Sending the same PR again is unnecessary, because you’ll just be repeating yourself. Today, I got a second email about a Fringe production and then a tweet from the show’s producer within a very short length of time, both of which told me nothing new about the piece. Don’t be the annoying person who constantly emails and calls publications; it won’t make critics magically find space for your show in their already packed schedules.

Is there anything else you really want to know? Is this year your first Fringe? Why not comment below and tell me?

The 26 Best Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

18 May
Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Esther Vargas, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Seeing/hearing the latest work from some of your favourite artists.

2. Discovering artists you might never have heard of through your work.

3. Meeting like-minded people, including fantastic writers and editors.

4. Creating lasting relationships with PR people, press officers and venues.

5. Being given the opportunity to meet some of the world’s best and most respected artists.

6. Having the freedom to research, write and pitch pieces daily.

7. Being able to combine your love of writing with your passion for the arts.

8. Receiving exclusive news of season launches, new ventures and coveted arts programmes before the general public.

9. Having the opportunity to experience new work.

10. Creating lasting memories of work you love (or hate).

11. Having people ask you for recommendations, because they respect your opinion.

12. Meeting talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

13. Having the chance to recognise talented artists who genuinely love what they do.

14. Seeing the world through the experiences and work of different artists and performers.

15. The pride of seeing your review quoted on a poster/DVD cover/social media/online

16. Writing about the arts, just for the love of writing about the arts.

17. The feeling of being completely absorbed in another, artificial world created by artists.

18. Being able to escape the pressures of everyday life for a few blissful hours in a cinema/theatre/venue.

19. Creating a lasting record of some of the best (and worst) work from some of the world’s best (and worst) artists.

20. Being able to champion the work that you truly love.

21. Dictating how you get to spend your time and what performances you review, because your time is precious.

22. The thrill of reading about a new project from a great artist and counting down the days until you can go to see it.

23. Planning your cultural calendar around some of the world’s best festivals, events, seasons and projects.

24. Free interval drinks (my favourite is orange juice, yes, really).

25. Press launches that serve coffee. Praise be to coffee.

26. Being thanked for writing a review/interview, or just being thanked for what you do.

The 25 Worst Things About Being an Arts Journalist Today

12 May
Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Thomas Leuthard, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

1. Knowing that you could not exist without the arts, but the arts could exist without you on some level.

2. The realisation that you are only ever as good as our last piece, and that last article you wrote wasn’t so great.

3. Finding out what you will only ever be as good as another arts journalist’s last piece, and they really fucked up on that one.

4. The assumption that your words have killed dreams/careers/films/plays/bands stone dead.

5. The constant fear that your words have, in fact, ended the career of a promising director/actor/playwright/writer/musician.

6. The never-ending misunderstandings about what it is that you actually write about, because the umbrella term ‘the arts’ means different things to different people.

For example, if you were to mention that you’re an arts journalist in public, the chances are that somebody in the vicinity will demand your opinion on their latest painting or exhibition, which leads to an awkward conversation where you have to explain that you don’t actually review ‘visual art’, or whatever it is that they do, and that if they’d let you finish your bloody sentence then this awkward conversation would never have happened.

(Obviously, being polite, you will never say the last part of that sentence out loud, but you’ll be screaming it inside your head. Repeatedly. With lots of swear words.)

7. Knowing that you can’t always review the things that you want to, due to time, money and editorial pressure. This will sometimes lead to only the big films/plays/bands getting written about, which is neither right nor fair.

8. Downright cynicism. About everything. Ever.

9. Genuine hunger for the arts being replaced by genuine hunger for food, because you don’t have any money left after paying your bills, thanks to your meagre earnings.

10. The comments on our reviews/previews/articles. The horror. The horror.

11. Juggling your arts journalism work with another job. Sometimes two other jobs.

12. Exhaustion from having 2 or more jobs.

13. Frustration from having far too many jobs and not enough time to dedicate to arts journalism.

14. Knowing, that by not being able to spend enough time on your arts journalism work, that you are disappointing people, including yourself.

15. That nagging sensation that what you do isn’t actually journalism at all and is probably more like PR. An inkling that isn’t helped by this famous quote from George Orwell.

16. The realisation that you will never be able to write as well as George Orwell, and that he probably wouldn’t have liked you very much, anyway.

17. Finding out that a potential writing opportunity is unpaid, but will be great for your portfolio/exposure/experience, according to the editor, who gets paid to get people to work for free.

18. Knowing that your bank will not actually take payment in the form of exposure in lieu of actual cash, even though you assured them that said exposure could lead to paid work “…in the future”.

19. Seeing that other, inexperienced writers will take that unpaid work, thus enabling those companies that can and should pay their workers get away with not paying them.

20. Repeatedly and mysteriously dropping off press distribution lists, which means that you have to sign up to the same press distribution list every few months.

21. Missing exclusives and other important news because you are no longer on said press distribution list for some reason.

22. Being added to distribution lists that you most certainly didn’t sign up to, because someone got hold of your email address.

23. Receiving a badly written, poorly researched and completely unsuitable PR from a PR company, and knowing that the person that wrote it makes at least twice your yearly salary.

24. Your publication running out of budget.

25. Your publication running out of space, because they have to sell more ads now.

Trash Goes to the UK Blog Awards!

29 Apr
UK Blog Awards 2014 Finalist

UK Blog Awards 2014 Finalist

A few months ago, I announced that The Taylor Trash had been shortlisted for the UK Blog Awards 2014. Back then, I was still reeling from the announcement and dealt with my shock by drinking copious amounts of tea and not thinking about the Awards Ceremony that was taking place on the 25th of April.

When I emerged from my tea-induced funk, I had a packed suitcase, an outfit for the ceremony, my ticket in my sweaty hands and I was boarding a train to London. This is not, as you might assume, the antics of a normal Friday in Trashland, but it was great to be nominated, it had been two years since I last visited London and I was going to get to see some good friends while I was down there.

The UK Blog Awards 2014 Invite, featuring my thumb

The UK Blog Awards 2014 Invite, featuring my thumb

On Saturday, I pulled on my dress, got as dolled up as I could (although I have accepted that I will never dress as well as the fashion bloggers that were there on the night) and headed to the Grange St Paul’s hotel, which as the name suggests, can be found in the shadow of the great cathedral itself.

Drinks and Canapes, the first of many

Drinks and canapés, the first of many

I ate free canapés, I drank free drinks, I networked, networked networked, I swapped business cards and met some wonderful people, including Rachel and Lorna from Tea With Me and Friends and My Foodee Blog’s  fellow angry Scot, Colin McQuistan, who wrote a very amusing piece about the UKBA goody bag, which, was, uh, pretty eclectic. But the toilets were very nice, and had posh folded loo roll.

Posh Loo Roll

Posh Loo Roll

In short, I had a lot of fun, and while I didn’t win the Arts and Culture Individual blog category, that honour went to Skyliner, with The Secret Victorianist and Urban Kultur Blog awarded the ‘Highly Commended’ category, I didn’t mind. In fact, my defeat has made me think more about the direction I want The Taylor Trash to go in and what I want to achieve in the next 12 months.

So, what’s next for me and my blog? Time will tell, but big thanks to Becki and Gemma, the founders and organisers of the UK Blog Awards, for a great evening, and the chance to meet some fantastic people. See you all in 2015!

Somehow, I managed to resist the temptation to draw penises all over the #ThisisLuna Board

I resisted the temptation to draw penises all over the @ThisisLuma Board

I Spent Record Store Day in a Queue and it Wasn’t So Bad

21 Apr Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence
Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Vinyl Record image by Dennis Brekke, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I’m standing in a queue in the heart of the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, surrounded by music fans, waiting for the Avalanche Records stall to start trading at 11am. We’ve formed an orderly queue, some have bags from another local record store, others have handwritten lists of all the records they want to buy.

The man behind me chain smoked while he chatted to his son about the history of vinyl; they’d already been to a handful of record shops that day, and they really wanted a copy of the Nirvana record. Somewhere behind them, I heard the faint cry of some teenage girls; they were after something by One Direction. Ahead of me, passing tourists stopped and stared at our motley queue, or hovered worryingly close to the closed entrance to the marquee.

It was 10:30am and this was just the beginning of Record Store Day 2014.

Now in its seventh year, Record Store Day aims to celebrate local and independent record shops by releasing limited edition and exclusive new releases by some of the world’s most influential artists, but only on vinyl. This year, participating shops sold an eclectic range of albums by a diverse and celebrated collection of artists, including Nirvana, David Bowie, Grace Jones, Dinosaur Jr, Dead Kennedys and um, One Direction.

But there was only one album that I wanted this year: Gill Scott-Heron’s posthumous release, Nothing New. Comprised of stripped-down versions and new recordings of some of his most well-known songs and poems, it was a must-have for Scott-Heron fans. His work had a profound impact on me. I had to have this album. No, I needed to have this album.

Back in the queue, I spotted a man wearing a long black coat and sunglasses standing in front of the man ahead of me. I didn’t recall seeing him when I had joined the queue nearly half an hour before. My mind raced with possible explanations; the most obvious of which was that this bastard must have skipped the queue somehow. In true British style, I give him as many dirty looks as I could while his back was turned. That’ll teach the Blatant Queue Skipping bastard. Somewhere behind me, the One Direction fans were getting restless, one complained of sore feet, another complained about having to wait at all.

It was 10:55am, and I still had no idea if I’d get the record I wanted.

One of the reasons that Record Store Day works is the limited nature of it. This year, around 600 different albums were made available, but the number of albums by individual artists varied, and not every singly participating shop would get every single Record Store Day release. Avalanche Records had already confirmed some of the titles they would be selling the night before, but Nothing New wasn’t named in their list, so I had to risk it.

I knew that there were three other participating shops within walking distance of the Grassmarket, with a fourth a short bus journey away, so I knew that if Avalanche didn’t have it, there were four other shops that just might. Besides, at that point, I’d been in the queue for half an hour, and I wasn’t giving up yet.

Eventually the doors opened, the queue eased forward a few feet, and then stopped. Nobody moved for another ten minutes, which didn’t please the One Direction fans somewhere behind me; who decided to send one of their number into the tent to ask about their much-wanted record. She emerged quickly saying there was “None left”. They moaned and groaned as they shambled away, as one of them muttered “It’s just not FAIR!” Their dreams were shattered. Good.

I edged ever closer to the door, as the men in front of me, including the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard anxiously milled around, shifting their weight awkwardly from foot to foot. They blocked my view of the door without realising. A woman left the tent and asked her companion why people are queueing, oblivious to the many signs proclaiming that it was RECORD STORE DAY.

It was nearly 11:25. The two men ahead of the Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard chat to the guy behind the stall. They chat for a little too long, and everyone else started to grow restless.

Suddenly, they left. Blatant Queue Skipping Bastard followed soon after, because they didn’t have his record. I smiled at the taste of  sweet, beautiful justice. The man ahead of me is then sent on his way with a brief shake of the stall owner’s head. I was at the front of the queue, oh the joy! The power!

“Hello”, I said. “Do you have Nothing New by Gil Scott-Heron?”

He thought for a minute, and then wordlessly turned and began searching through a large stack of records behind him. He leafed through them quickly, going back and forth, starting at the beginning, getting to the middle and then starting at the beginning again. I didn’t know what the record looked like, but I looked for a familiar colour, or design to point out to him. Nothing.

It was 11:32am. He was still searching. On the other side of the stall, I was growing increasingly anxious. Would they have it?

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he pulled a plain record from the stack, turned, smiled and handed it to me.

“Sorry about that, I was looking out for the name Gil Scott-Heron.” He said and pointed at the quite small font crediting Scott-Heron.

I thanked him profusely and paid. I walked, no, I strutted past the queue that seemed to have swelled and grown in number over the last hour. I walked past people who craned their necks to see what I’d managed to get. I smiled.

It was 11:45am and life was good.

The Fallacy of Banning Children From Museums and Theatres

2 Apr
Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

Government shutdown image courtesy of Reddit

It’s as we’ve feared; Other People’s Children are just terrible. Look at them, misbehaving in museums and being disruptive in theatres instead of silently appreciating the best of the UK’s culture like us uptight adults. We are in danger of being wiped out by a cuddly wave of prepubescent anarchy, there’s agony in the aisles, there’s cursing in the cinema and there’s panic in the stalls! Clearly, the only solution is to send them to theatre etiquette lessons! Let’s put age restrictions on all the museums and galleries! Then we’ll send them to bed without any dinner! That’ll teach the little uncultured sods.

Before the powers that be actually do decide to BAN ALL CHILDREN FROM EVERYTHING we need to lead by example and start by dealing with the adults that continually disrupt performances, screenings, exhibitions and annoy fellow patrons with shoddy, selfish behaviour, because the arts should be for all; not for just for a select and privileged few.

If children are merely small people with no sense of decorum, then surely adults are merely overstretched toddlers that can’t plead ignorance for their actions. They not only should know better, they do know better, yet, some of them continue to flout the rules. So then, if the problem also applies to adults, then why aren’t we calling for them to be given etiquette lessons, or muting rules that would see them banned from all cultural institutions? Because they have something that children don’t: money.

More cash means more spending, which means more investment and more profit, so museums, theatres, cinemas and other cultural attractions can stay open and accessible to all.

The thing about kids is that they are in actual fact, the world’s best critics. They’re brutally honest, easily bored and they’re not afraid of telling you so. We’ve all sat near an excitable child in a theatre or a cinema who excitedly chattered along to what they were watching, acting as an unofficial narrator to the piece, usually to their parents’ utter embarrassment and whispered pleas of “Will you be quiet?!”

This is what children do. They test boundaries so they want to know what they can get away with. If they discover that they can get away with doing something, then they’ll continue doing it until someone puts them right. Children don’t know that it’s not proper to climb a piece of modern art worth millions. They see something that looks like it can be climbed, and unless someone stops them they will attempt to climb it. The parent or guardian’s role is to teach their child about boundaries and how to behave properly in public, because funnily enough, kids aren’t born with any idea of boundaries or ‘proper behaviour’. This isn’t an easy task, but that’s because parenthood is hard.

No matter what happens, children will always be awful to someone, somewhere in some way. But banning children outright from all theatres, cinemas, museums, galleries and the like goes against every reason they were created. These cultural institutions should be accessible and open to all, not just to the elite.

The arts are the legacy that we can leave the next generation of enquiring minds and passionate creators. That includes the youngest people in our society and also the overstretched toddlers that act like them.

PR Post Mortem: Brew What Your Mama Gave Ya!

21 Mar
Image by The Smithsonian Institute, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by the Smithsonian Institution, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Nothing brings the Bad PRs out of the woodwork like a national celebration, and in the UK, the next big day of celebration is Mother’s Day, which takes place on Sunday, the 30th of March, unlike Mother’s Day in the US, which is in May.

The following PR appeared in my inbox late last week, and it was so bad that I felt I had no other option but to share it. As usual, I have stripped out any identifying information about the client, because it’s not their fault that their PR/media person has written and submitted such a poor PR. [UPDATE: After publishing this piece on Friday, a few people quite rightly argued that this PR could have been influenced by pressure from the client, which is true. I was more than a bit unfair in my original throw away comment about the PR/media person, and I perpetuated a misconception about PR companies. Sorry folks, I'll be more open-minded next time.]

However, in some ways, I really hope somebody from this company can eventually appreciate that this PR is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to everyone involved.

Anyway, terrible, terrible puns aside, here is the worst PR I’ve received so far this year.

Are you going to give her an “old bag” on Mother’s Day? Or are you going to make her a nice cup of [REDACTED'S] tea? [What? Old bag? Her? Are you calling my mother an old bag?]

At last, an alternative to the messy tea bag ~ [REDACTED]~ [Hold up, did you use two tildes (~) there? That makes no sense, as a tilde means 'similar to' or approximately. You need to use a hyphen (-).] the new way to drink a richly flavoured and fragrant cup of Organic [Why the capital O?], Fair Trade [Fair trade, unless you're talking about The Fairtrade Foundation, in which case it's two words] tea. [Also, I've never had a problem with tea bags, they suit me just fine.]

You remove the [REDACTED] from its water and it does not drip ~ NO MESS. [NO NEED FOR CAPS LOCK, OR A TILDE]

It’s made from triple laminate food grade foil that goes in your recycling bin after use ~ NO WASTE. [I'll be honest,  you've lost me, I don't care.]

Unlike a tea bag it does not require squeezing nor wringing to extract the flavour ~ NO BURNT FINGERS. [Has anyone ever burnt their fingers on a teabag? You can use a spoon to remove the tea bag, you know. Have you been making tea with your hands all this time?]

Also, the [REDACTED] innovative design lets you use it to stir the tea ~ NO NEED FOR A TEASPOON. [But if you had a teaspoon in the first place, then you'd wouldn't need REDACTED.  JUST BUY MORE TEASPOONS, PEOPLE.]

To make a cup of [REDACTED], you simply remove the [REDACTED] from its paper envelope, put it in a cup, add boiling water and gently stir the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] for a few minutes. Let it stand for a minute to further infuse, then use the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] to stir in your sugar and milk (if required when making english breakfast tea) [You mean English breakfast tea]. It will now be fully infused, so remove the [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] and tap it once on the edge of the cup to discharge any excess water, then pop it in your waste recycling bin.

Each [REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] is packed at point of origin using premium grade, organic tea leaves, harvested, selected and processed in Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) [Sri Lanka hasn't been known as Ceylon since 1972. It's called the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka. What next, will you refer to Iran as Persia?] Fair Trade estates.

Eleven different blends are available, so there is a blend of tea to suit all tea lovers! [Praise be to tea.]

black teas: ~ english breakfast, earl grey and apple cinnamon [English breakfast tea. It has a capital E. While we're at it, there should be a capital B at the start of this sentence.]

red teas: ~ jasmine lotus, strawberry and vanilla peach [Capital letter at the start of a sentence, please.]

green teas: ~ ginger, lemon grass and peppermint [Capital letter.]

herbal infusions: ~ fruit “goji” berry (caffeine free) and herbs n’ honey (caffeine free) [Oh, I give up.]

To obtain a 15% discount, use discount code MOTHER at [REDACTED]. [Nope]

Or click on this link: [Link removed, sucker]

[REDACTED PRODUCT NAME] can be found at several tea and coffee shops and are also being served at hotels, spas, restaurants, hair salons and beauticians. 32 piece packs of [REDACTED] and 3 sizes of Mahogany boxes (an office/ bar box, a restaurant/hotel box and a boardroom/hospitality box) full of assorted flavours, can be purchased from selected retail outlets or on-line, [Online is one word. ONE WORD.] from [REDACTED].

Thank you for taking the time to read this and please do not hesitate to contact me for more info or samples. [Nope. Oh, you've subscribed me to your email subscription service! I have just unsubscribed.]

Infuse your Passion! [I'll infuse your head, mate.]

PR Numpty. [Yes, they did put a full stop after their own name, bless.]

What They Did Right:

  • Nothing, absolutely nothing

What They Did Wrong:

  • This is not a press release, as it doesn’t contain any news, the tone is highly promotional
  • If you just want to promote something, and have your words published verbatim, then don’t write a press release, BUY AN ADD.
  • Poor angle – “Mother’s Day? Oh, mums like tea, let’s push our client’s tea product. Hooray!”
  • No introduction or hello
  • Fairtrade/Fair Trade
  • English breakfast tea
  • On-line is not a word
  • SUDDENLY, TILDES, EVERYWHERE
  • Let’s be honest, this is a really boring email
  • General errors – no capital letter at the start of a sentence, etc
  • Referring to Sri Lanka as Ceylon – I think this was to use up words and try to look clever
  • Adding me to their mailing list
  • Emailing me in the first place

We Need to Celebrate Bossy, Not Ban It

17 Mar Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence
Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Patrick Denker, used under a Creative Commons Licence

I’ve never been called ‘bossy'; I’ve been referred to as ‘ambitious’, ‘opinionated’ and, my least favourite word of all, ‘feisty’, but never ‘bossy’. This is probably because when I was a child, my sister, who is six years older than me, decided that she would do what all good big sisters do; boss her younger sibling around.

In my childhood mind, the word ‘bossy’, was the only weapon I could use against her, and I called her it often, because by pointing out her only flaw, I knew I could defend myself. I used the word as an insult, because I was tired of being told what to do.

However, in my adult mind, the new Ban Bossy campaign, AKA #BanBossy, created by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, Condoleezza Rice, the former Secretary of State, and the woman who needs no introduction, but I’ve given her one anyway, Beyoncé, which seeks to ban the word ‘bossy’, makes the word, and its connotations that little bit more insulting.

Of course, Victoria Coren Mitchell has summed up the main problem with the campaign in her latest column, and I agree, that by attempting to ban the word bossy, they are doing one of the bossiest things that a group of powerful women can do; controlling language in order to control people, thus playing up to stereotype of the bossy ambitious woman.

However, the spirit of the Ban Bossy campaign is excellent; it recognises that a lot of young girls feel that they cannot be seen to be assertive, or show ambition for fear of being labelled bossy, which is something that we need to challenge and ultimately, change. Yet, no matter how well-intentioned the campaign is, the thought of banning words makes me feel uneasy. There are words that have different connotations for men and women, such as ‘assertive’, ‘bossy’ and ‘bold’, but policing language is the first step on the slippery slope of censorship, which we must fight, or we will lose our right to speak freely.

Sure, we can ban some things, such as adverts for being misleading, or in the recent case of Paddy Power’s highly inappropriate Oscar Pistorious advert, because it was insensitive and attempted to profit from the murder of Reeva Steenkamp. But words? Should we ban words?

Words, like clothes, haircuts and celebrities fall in and out of fashion. In 2013, the Oxford English Dictionary added words like ‘twerk’ and ‘selfie’ to its respected pages, while this year, ‘cunting’, ‘cunted’ ‘cunty’ and ‘cuntish’ – also known as The Four Cunts – finally found their place in the pages of the dictionary, and there was much rejoicing. Well, I was pretty cunting happy about it.

In fact, cunt has a very special place in the Scottish vernacular; it has many uses, and can be used in a variety of situations. For example, if someone refers to someone else as “A good cunt”, this translates to “I believe this person to be a good person” or similar. However, if, during an argument, one party calls the other, “A FUCKING CUNT!”, then that means: “I don’t like you”. At the same time, cunted is used as another word for drunk or high, as in “I was absolutely cunted last night”, and if someone says you were acting “like a right cunt”, then they’re not best pleased with you, and you had better apologise quickly.

This is not a blog about cunts, or the many uses of the word, but my point is that language isn’t fixed; it constantly evolves to reflect changes in our society and views. For example, ‘slut’ was once used to describe a woman who kept a dirty house, whereas now, it means, as one of my former writers once so bizarrely put it, “a woman who engages in excessive female fornications”.

Meanwhile, the word ‘hack’, once a derogatory term for writers who produced poorly written and sensational stories, has been gleefully adopted by British journalists. Many now describe themselves as ‘hacks’ or ‘hackettes’, in that true British journalism spirit that we have perfected over years of stoic self-deprecation while our industry circles the drain. It’s not the word itself that holds the power, but how it is used that creates the meaning.

So, if journalists can proudly adopt ‘hack’ as a title, while Scots can use ‘cunt’ so eloquently, then why can’t women embrace ‘bossy’? I’m with bell hooks on this issue, who has created the #BossyAndProud campaign and believes that instead of banning and fearing being called bossy, women and girls need to celebrate it. The trick to defeating the negative power of bossy is to stop treating it as a dirty, shameful word. Therefore, by embracing, not banning, the word ‘bossy’, you take away its negative connotations, which will make it a much more positive and powerful label for young women.

Be your own boss. Be bossy and proud.

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