How short-sighted PRs are screwing their clients and themselvesPosted under journalism, movies
After months of hype and a very cool viral campaign, Prometheus is upon us.
You may have noticed that, unlike most new releases, the number of reviews out there before the release was quite small. Usually when this happens it’s because the studio knows that their film sucks, and they don’t hold preview screenings for critics so that the public have no clue that what they are paying £15 per ticket for is a steaming dog egg.
However, Prometheus is not a bad film, far from it – it’s an excellent piece of sci-fi, and if taken as a standalone film and not part of the Alien canon, is well worth your money.
In the case of Ridley Scott’s new film, the issue lies with shortsighted and downright rude PR people barring access to press screenings.
Let me explain – journalists are currently in the middle of a war where legitimate film, theatre and art reviewers with real audiences are being pushed aside in favour of people who have the right email address.
Reviewers for movie sites, entertainment magazines and regional papers with readerships in the millions are being left out in the cold so that PRs hand out tickets to a fashion writer at The Independent and her friends simply because she works at The Independent. They know she is never EVER going to write about the film – and neither are the myriad other idiots they bend over backwards for – but they work for a national so they come first.
Press officers and PRs play the same silly games with West End shows as well. Theatre sites with larger readerships than most national newspapers get blown out because some back office people at Radio 4 want to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s new show. These people aren’t actually going to be on the radio talking about the show so they aren’t going to either inform the public about it or help shift tickets. What they do have, however, is a BBC email address – and that’s all the PR sees. They might have iPads glued to their forearms, but they’re stuck in the past and don’t understand that giving a pair of tickets to a site like Den of Geek is ten times more powerful than giving out six tickets to The Mirror’s new health and beauty intern.
And these decisions are damaging them. While I would never do something so underhand (journalistic integrity still means something to some of us) I know of at least one person who – despite being film writer for a HUGE website – was not given access to see the film. To make sure she was able to do her job though, she had to go and watch the film at a local cinema on the morning of release and then marked the film down one star from what she actually thought of it. It’s petty and devious and if more people behave like this good films are going to suffer, but this writer told me: “How else will the PRs learn?”
It’s easy to look at reviewers and say “They should just be grateful to be seeing these things for free,” but that’s not the point. It’s their job, and readers expect to see reviews. When a publication can’t deliver on a review, the reader goes elsewhere for it. If that continues, then sales/traffic goes down, advertising rates drop, newspapers, magazines and websites go under and people lose their jobs. And all because Tilly at The Guardian wanted to watch the film and blagged extra tickets for Bunty, Marmaduke and Other Tilly too.
I’m fortunate that I’ve never fallen foul to this practice, but I wholly understand the frustration felt by those who have. A number of colleagues have been refused access to big releases of late (including Prometheus) with the excuse “we haven’t got space for you”, but when there are smaller films coming out, the same people are all too eager – pushy almost – to get these “less important” outlets in the screening room. Even using thinly-veiled threats about refusing access to bigger films if the outlet says, actually, it’s not really interested in the exciting new docu-drama about cross-dressing Argentinian cartographers.
Of course, at this point PRs will argue that it’s not their fault, that film studios and show producers want to see big names on the press list (and by big names, they mean titles that they recognise, even if those titles have dwindling numbers and no decent writers). But ultimately, the PR is there to win coverage for their client and a website with a daft name but which has 1m+ devoted readers is going to do far more than a London moron who doesn’t even cover that subject and who turns up late, already drunk and then disappears halfway through the performance.
The relationship between press and public relations has never been entirely harmonious, but this latest trend has the potential to cause huge problems if the balance between the two sides isn’t redressed.
If you liked this post, try this piece on journalists being charged to interview actors.