Andrzej Lukowski looks back to the start of his career to understand how his journalistic relationships with PRs, and the movements of the arts press industry as a whole, have changed.
I can’t actually remember my first contact with a PR person, but it would have happened when I was 20 and newly-appointed as music editor of my university’s newspaper, the cunningly-titled Leeds Student. I suppose in a sense I’d never directly thought about where the CDs we were sent to review came from, or who set up interviews, other than ‘the record label’, but I soon developed a fairly cordial – if long-distance – relationship with an array of PRs, all passionate music fans, many of whom – I was bemused to discover – were specifically employed to patiently and professionally work with student publications (it actually makes total sense: Leeds Student had a weekly circulation of 10,000, so the national circulation of student newspapers as a whole must have been pretty significant, especially in an era where students still actually paid for music).
Because they were all based in London and I was based in Yorkshire, I rarely met them, but it felt like a fairly involved series of working relationships, mostly due to the fact that our antediluvian office dial up meant that our only means of contacting any of them was by phone. Pretty retro, though in some ways it pales into insignificance next to the most madly antiquated but vitally important bit of a music PR’s job, which was to post us the official photos of their artists, which we would put away in an alphabetised filing cabinet, retrieving an image as and when needed in order to scan and crop it for use on the page.
They were simpler times. No amount of cumbersome scanning or gossipy phone calls really detracted from the fact that there were fewer things that either journalist or PR was realistically required to do in order to get their job done: hence, everyone drank a lot more. It was great fun, a sense that we were all happy protuberances of a vastly profitable global industry, junior as we all were.
Fifteen years on and I still keep my oar in with music journalism a little as a freelancer, but for me at least the landscape has entirely changed. Everything is conducted by email, and my music inbox is swamped by hundreds of press releases daily, sent from all across the planet, many by self-employed, semiprofessional PRs who will be being paid next to nothing. Advance copies of albums will either be sent out en masse via email, or not at all (because of fear of leaks). Other journalists will have a very different experience to me (I rarely review gigs, which is where music hacks and PRs traditionally hang out), but for me the intimacy is gone, though I don’t miss the scanning.
Fortunately my main job has long been writing about London theatre, which is both a much more localised industry than music, and also a more stable one. In the seven years I’ve been at Time Out my perception is that relatively little has changed in the PR landscape, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned.
I’m not really sure what I have to say on the relationship between theatre PRs and journalists that isn’t blindingly obvious, but it does often strike me that on the occasions I happen to stray into dealing with a non-arts PR I can suddenly find myself in a strange world of slick, jargon-spouting people with little obvious interest in the thing they’re PR-ing.
That’s not necessarily a criticism – boring things need PR too – but my world has much more of a family atmosphere, a bunch of people doing what we’re doing because first and foremost we all love theatre.
Andrzej Lukowski is the Theatre Editor of Time Out London.Back to Journal