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I had kept a number of articles and so on I had written for various magazines, which reminded me that I had written a column in Communicate under the pseudonym of Mike Gruff. Mike was another frustrated writer project, which involved me assuming the persona of a misanthropic old journalist ranting against the world around him and playing it for laughs.
The following piece remains one of my favourite Gruff moments but one, sadly that Communicate's editor, Chris Wright, got cold feet on. He seemed to think admitting to murder in an article might lead to some sort of consequences. So it never ran. Now, five years on, it can see the light of day!!!
I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed writing it!
I hate PR bunnies. In Europe, you can spot them because of the backpack. All PR bunnies wear those little backpacks. This is a sound piece of information, as it allows the discerning journo to avoid them like the plague before they come leaping up to you, filled with the certitude of youth and overflowing with corporate messaging that they feel the urgent need to deliver to the nearest sap with a pair of ears.
In the Middle East, they’re not so easy to spot, although the sight of studded leather handbags and big hairdos is beginning to make me nervous. The trouble isn’t really the women, though. The male PR bunny is much harder to pinpoint here. They tend to wear suits. This is cheating. In Europe they’re more likely to wear polo shirts with a company logo or ‘I’m Keith and I want to be your best friend’ badges. Suits can creep up on you more easily.
PR bunnies are like mad tape loops, a sort of messaging Teletubbie. Believe me, the last thing an ageing, bitter and hung-over hack needs in the morning is that megawatt Prozac smile and a dose of relentless positivity delivered in American corporatespeak. “Hey! Mike! Great! Cool! So, what do you think of this new paradigm in self-eclipsing product development? We think it’s a really profound move!”
I’ve killed one, you know. Somebody will get the smell from the liftshaft one day and they’ll find the body. It was all too much and a red mist descended. Nobody was looking and the press pack was heavy with useless verbiage and CDs full of dumb pictures. I swung and it was over in a second, hardly an ‘eek’ before I found myself dragging a body into the darkness. I was late into the press conference, but I just got the usual raised eyebrows from the suits and heard someone mutter, “Typical. They’re never on time.”
Like they own you.
Nobody ever missed the bunny. I doubt they ever will. Until, like I say, someone gets the smell.
You’d have thought someone would actually train them to have some kind of empathy with the people they’re supposed to be working with. Journalism’s not a difficult thing to understand. We want news and hard facts. So that means it has to be new or different and it has to be based on some kind of fact. No amount of rabid corporate messaging can disguise the complete absence of news and fact in a story and any half-decent journalist can see through the blurt instantly. That doesn’t stop bunnies evangelising the empty, which is why I suppose they can be so annoying. The other thing that’s irritating is that their need always seems to come before ours. We’re looking for a story, they’re looking for an interview or a bum on a seat at an event. So we get approached with “You must interview my client. He’s really interesting!”
There’s rarely any quality of thought to the approach. It’s programmatic…
10 Journalist response: “Why?”
20 Big Smile™ “Because he’s interesting!”
30 GOTO 10
The fact that a journalist wants news, information and insight is totally secondary to bunny culture PR. The bunny’s job is to impress the client and deliver willing, sheep-like press to do the client’s bidding. The fact that most journalists are not comfortable to play this role appears to escape bunnies, I truly believe this is because they use a special skin-thickening cream that they apply at night. I have also, incidentally, sometimes wondered if PR bunnies get their vitamin B12 in the same scatologically nocturnal way as real rabbits. I fervently hope that they do.
The other essence of bunny culture is the need to pretend to the client that they really, really get on with journalists. I once had the extreme pleasure of a bunny introducing me to a client like I was an old family friend and turning to the client with a “Sorry, but who on earth IS this person?” Yes, I know it was naughty. But let’s face it, not as bad as the lift shaft.
Don’t get me wrong. There are good and even great PRs out there. People that know a news story when they see one, sell good information that’s well packaged and thought through and that have taken the trouble to actually understand the proposition they’re pushing, the media they’re dealing with and that work hard to be professional, pleasant and helpful rather than pushy, insistent and relentlessly mindless. They’re a pleasure to deal with, at least in part because they’re so hard to spot in that sea of twitching, whiskery noses and floppy ears.