Tag Archives: Theatre PR

The Interview That Wasn’t

1 Mar

Image by Bill Couch, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Some time ago, a PR I hadn’t worked with before pitched me an interview with their client, and I agreed. The client fitted in to a piece I was planning, and the show looked like it would be good fun.

The interview never happened.

Here is why.

The interview was scheduled for a Friday afternoon. The client was based in the US, the PR in London, and I’m in Edinburgh. This is not unusual, this sometimes makes it more interesting, and for these types of interviews, I’ve found that Skype works best.

A week before the interview, I when I was on my way to meet a potential writer for a coffee and an informal interview, the PR emailed me.

The client mistakenly thought they had offered to speak to you today not next Friday.

They are free NOW but not next Friday.

Any chance you can speak to them now?

They’re on: [US Number]

Unfortunately, when I got this email, I was on a bus, on my way to meet a writer, with no recording equipment to hand. Besides, I did not have the budget to phone a US number, it would cost more than the fee I’d be paid for the interview.

I emailed back a sympathetic no, explained I was busy, and asked if we could arrange an alternative date. The PR agreed. And the following week we agreed to do the interview on the Thursday afternoon.

A few days before the interview, I email the PR to ask if we’re still ok for that date and to ask if the interview can be done by Skype. This is what is usually offered when the client is in another city and country, and more importantly, it’s free.

The PR doesn’t email back until the day of the interview, three days later.

Hi Amy, I hope the interview goes well today. The Client doesn’t have Skype, but here is their number. [US Number]

It’s the same number as before.

I emailed back and explained that my fee for the interview would not cover the cost of calling the US. Would an email interview be a suitable compromise?

No. I’ll set up a conference call. 

They send over the dial-in information. I thank them, and say I’ll email once the interview, which is scheduled for 14:30, finishes.

I prepare, and dial in just before 14:30, and I wait. The waiting is not unusual, I don’t think I’ve ever done an interview like this that’s started on time, even when the client has my number and calls me themselves.

I wait, and watch the clock on my laptop whenever I look up from my notes,

14:30.

14:33.

14:38

When I worked in online marketing, I can remember the guys in my office advising me to never wait too long for a client to dial in on a conference call. I think they’d wait for around ten minutes and then hang up. I once waited 20 and they said to just hang up and get on with my work. The client would reschedule.

But, this is a little bit different. I’ve heard of journalists being made to wait hours for their interviewee. Not that I have hours to wait, but I’m feeling anxious now.

Finally, I email the PR:

14:47

Hi, is the client still ok to chat? I’m on the line, and they haven’t dialled in yet.

14:48

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

I hang up.

I read the email a few times.

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

Can you just call their number and I’ll pay for the call by BACS transfer?

Can you just

call

their number

I’ll pay you

by BACS transfer?

The offer is a solution to a problem, but it’s problematic. First of all, the admin; doing the call, getting the bill, sending an invoice.

Secondly, and most importantly, they have offered to pay for the cost of an international phone call because I said my interview fee wouldn’t cover it. But accepting the money makes me feel uncomfortable. Questions run through my head as I weigh up my options:

If people found out I’d taken money from a PR company for the cost of an international phone call, all they’ll hear is:

JOURNALIST ACCEPTED MONEY FROM A PR COMPANY

(for the cost of an international phone call. )

What if I accept the money and totally destroy my reputation in the process?

What if I accept the money and they then use against me?

What if they emailed me again with another client and said something like:

Oh, hey. Remember that time I helped you out with the phone call? Well, I’ve got someone else I want you to interview.

Yes, it’s dramatic but, it could happen, and I don’t really know what to do and if I take th-

It’s funny, interrupts a little voice in my head. That’s the second time they’ve tried to get you to phone the client with no warning.

I get in touch with my editor.

She listens to the whole story, from the payment offer, to the US phone number, to the changing of the interview time and asks me a very important question that I hadn’t considered.

“Do you still want to do the interview?”

“No.”

“Then don’t do it. The onus is on them to make the client available for interview.”

I email the PR, and tell them that this arrangement won’t work for me or the magazine.

They email back almost instantly.

Please call me.

I don’t.

My editor messages me.

“The PR has just phoned the office.”

Minutes later, another email arrives.

I’m waiting for the editor to phone me to sort out. 

I message her.

No, I won’t be, she says.

I look at his email again. There’s a kind of smugness to it.

I’m waiting for the editor to phone me to sort out. 

The calm little voice pipes up again.

It’s almost as if he phoned the editor to try and force you to do the interview. Just like he tried to get you to phone the client’s US number on short notice.

I log out of my email and get on with other things. He emails again later that evening.

Hi Amy,

Sorry about today

How about you send a Q&A and I’ll get it back to you ASAP

Suddenly, that email interview I’d suggested a few hours ago was a suitable compromise after all? I forward it to my editor.

“How about no?”

The next morning, another email is waiting for me.

Hi Amy

I am speaking to the client tomorrow before they go away for a 2-week holiday so can get your answers done if you send me a Q&A today

Oh look, says the familiar small voice, it’s another time dependent demand, because all the other demands and the attempt to get you in trouble with your editor didn’t work.

And this is the first time that this holiday has been mentioned, too.

I don’t reply.

That evening, I go to an event and when I get there, I bump into my editor.

“Oh,” said my editor, “That PR phoned the office today and said you’d agreed to do an email interview.”

I tell her I hadn’t.

“We knew it was bullshit.”

I try to laugh it off, but I’m angry.

I’m still angry.

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Life After Libel

1 Oct
Image by Tofutti break, used under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by tofutti break, used under a Creative Commons Licence

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll probably be very familiar with my Edinburgh Fringe Festival tale of terror from last year, where I was threatened with libel by an entertainment company for writing a negative review of their show. The full story is here, if you don’t know it, or need to read it again. It’s a long story, so grab a cup of tea or something and get comfortable.

I didn’t have a great time at the Fringe last year; the run up to August was long and disappointing. I’d been unsuccessful in getting work with a publication that I’d worked for in 2010 and 2011, and my emails and applications to other publications mostly went unanswered. However, last year, instead of just being a critic, I was an editor too, and I had to deal with a couple of other issues as well. I wasn’t just managing writers, I was booking tickets, reviewing, editing and uploading reviews. I was actively solving problems. if there was an issue with a review, I had to deal with it. Fringe 2012 was my first Fringe as an editor, and it was the proverbial baptism by fire.

On the day of the libel threats it was really sunny and warm; one of those lovely Edinburgh Fringe Festival summer days. I was at home uploading reviews when the barrage of emails that culminated – quite quickly – in threats of legal action began dropping into my inbox with frightening regularity. From that day, until a few weeks after the Fringe, I found myself preoccupied with fear. “What if they take me to court?” “What if the site has to close down?” “What if I lose my house?”  “What if I never work again?” “What if the actors never work again?” “What if this is the beginning of the new McLibel?” “What if this case goes on to break the record for being the longest running libel case, ever?”

Obviously, these emails were designed to get me thinking these depressing thoughts, and despite them revealing their ignorance early on, as libel is called defamation under Scottish Law, and despite being told to ignore them, and not take any notice of their increasingly bizarre statements and accusations, I couldn’t clear my head.

I would go out to review a show, and wonder if someone from that company was sitting in the audience with me. I would go home to my computer and find their emails safely nestled in with much nicer emails from my writers and PRs. Their threats continued. They took screenshots of my Twitter account and sent them to my editor in a piss-poor attempt to discredit me. If my phone rang and I didn’t recognise the number displayed, I wouldn’t answer. What if it was them? At least once, it was. It seemed like they were everywhere, just waiting for me to slip up.

When the Fringe ended, I was so glad. The end of August meant the end of their nonsense, and I thought that I could get back to something resembling normality pretty quickly. But their emails continued sporadically, falling into my editor’s inbox whenever we thought they’d vanished for good. I was frazzled and I felt cheated; I’d missed out on my usual Fringe experience, and I was so angry. How dare they think legal threats are an appropriate reaction to a bad review? But most of all, I was exhausted. I’d gone back to my day job mid-festival, and the demands of that, coupled with the Fringe and the added issue of the libel threat hanging over my head, it was all just too much. I’d had enough.

I felt like my mind was full of cotton wool; I couldn’t feel much about anything. Announcement of a new production? Nothing. A new project at work? Nada. Try to read a book? Not a sausage. I’d go to press nights  and then stagger home and fail to get my opinion of a play in a word document. I fell behind on work and struggled to get it finished. What had been my passion began to feel like a chore.

I stopped enjoying writing. I’d been writing for three years, slowly building up contacts and creating opportunities for myself. I felt no shame emailing people I’d never met before and offering to write for their publication. I’d been so hungry to move on, to improve my work and create my dream career.

Now I wasn’t as hungry; it was like I didn’t want to write ever again. Every time I sat down at my computer, I’d find myself making excuses, procrastinating more than ever before and looking for other things to do. After all, why should I write when there is this thing called Grumpy Cat?

I lost all my confidence in my work, and writing became more and more difficult. When I went to the theatre I would sit in the stalls and feel so disconnected from what was happening on stage, even though I saw some very good pieces after the Fringe. I could see and hear everything that was going on, but it just wasn’t speaking to me, it was like I was behind a sheet of glass; I was there, but I wasn’t. And all the time there was this voice inside my head saying: “You’re not supposed to be here. This place is not for you.”

When I got home, I would sit at and stare my laptop and will the words to come; I could hear them in my head, I could see them in my mind, but as soon as I switched on my computer, they vanished, and all that was left was that voice: “What do you think you’re doing? No one reads this stuff anyway, and when they do, they’ll threaten to sue. Who do you think you are, a theatre critic?”

In an attempt to put the situation behind me, I published the blog post about the libel threats and harassment, but I never thought it would be as popular as it became. My blog was very, very new, and aside from one post about the lack of money in journalism and a few film reviews, there was nothing on it. I had no loyal readership; hardly anyone visited my blog because it was really boring.

And yet, when the post went live on that Sunday evening in September just over a year ago, it got noticed. The story quickly grew legs and scuttled across the globe, it got into all the nooks and crannies of the internet, successfully spreading my experience to like-minded people far and wide. The post was mine, the words were my own, but the story quickly became something that I had no control over, and suddenly, it was no longer mine. Which was scary, but it led to lovely messages from people from all over the world, who wanted to express their outrage, horror and similar stories. I was contacted by people offering much-needed advice, and crucially, by someone who could help put an end to the situation.

After the post went viral, I half-expected to get a pleading email from the company, begging me to take the blog post down, or maybe even an even angrier email, slamming my lack of professionalism, or something to that effect. I never did. To this day, the company have never responded to my blog post and they have never apologised for their threats, their accusations, or their own libellous statements concerning the non-existent ‘conspiracy’ that they concocted between me and the woman I called ‘Julie’ in my original post.

I’d love to say that this situation forced them to change their attitude, but from what I’ve heard about them since, and from what I’ve seen that they’ve published online, it hasn’t.

I was, and I still am, overwhelmed by the amount of support that came my way from my family, friends and even people I’d never met last year. They say that you know who your friends are in a crisis, I know who they are now, and I am still very grateful for all the support I received from them during this time.

I can’t lie; I did come very, very close to packing it all in – reviewing, editing, the lot. But one day, I got up, I fired up my laptop and I started writing. I’m still building up my confidence in my writing again, and blogging has been a great help throughout all of this. After all, the best way to become a good and confident writer is to get your head down and write, and that’s what I’m going to do.

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