It’s not like I know a lot about Maverick’s Geoffrey Morgan, the hardworking and highly competent PR person who is chaperoning me around Sun Microsystem’s JavaOne conference this week. But I know a few things. He likes Heineken. He’s vegetarian. He supports the Ottawa Senators, but not the Maple
Leafs. If I had a file on him, it wouldn’t be that hard to fill it. I can only imagine what he, and the rest of the PR industry, has on me.
Personal files have become something of an urban legend in media/PR circles. Some agencies claim they don’t keep them (and maybe they don’t) but a few of the more high-profile ones most certainly do. We found out for ourselves several years ago when Kevin Restivo (now at the National Post but once a budding reporter at Computer Dealer News) sat in on a vendor meeting, only to find portions of his file sitting on the boardroom table after it was over. It seemed to consist generally of biographical information to assist the PR firm’s clients, giving them a sense of what to expect. “”Kevin is a thorough reporter who is not afraid to call back and ask follow-up questions,”” it said. I’m not sure if they actually put a gold star next to his name.
Some firms see the files as such a valuable asset they waste no time deploying their youngest recruits to do as much intelligence gathering as they can, usually during a printer launch when the reporters are happily stuffing food in their mouths. It’s occasionally exasperating. “”She was like, ‘and what did you do before working here? And what about before that? And before that?'”” I remember a coworker saying after one such ambush. National PR, at one point, had someone calling us each time we requested an interview with a client to get a personal bio. We didn’t publish them, and I ended up telling one of them I didn’t feel we needed to submit our resumes to get access. We actually do publish bios on ITBusiness.ca now, but some of what goes in the PR file seems more personal than our marketing materials.
There are some firms, for example, that know my birthday but seem unaware that we do not publish an IT magazine for consumer audiences. Others know that I prefer an aisle seat instead of a window seat when I travel, but forget that I won’t publish a story about their client’s product unless I can find a Canadian customer using it. And for the last time, I’ve been with Transcontinental for seven years now — will you please stop asking me?
Given the range of journalists they deal with and the different needs we all have, keeping files makes good business sense. But like the corporate enterprises we write about in EDGE, Computing Canada and other magazines, PR firms might want to approach these things like a customer relationship management project, where the only data included is that which helps serve the client better. Media are not the client, of course, but ultimately if we get what we want we’ll probably do a better job of covering the companies that pay their bills.
I’ve never seen my file at any of the firms, and I doubt I’d want to. It’d kind of like looking at your credit rating — you don’t want to see it unless it’s really good. There’s probably lots to be added before my career ends, but I’ll bet this editorial is going in there for sure.
Shane Schick is the editor of IT Business Pipeline.