In My Opinion: Chris Hammond: Pushy PR people put dampener on Freshers

THE lead up to the Freshers’ Edition of Scotcampus magazine is both exciting and exhausting. As the biggest of the year, it has a way of galvanising and inspiring writers in a way most other editions can’t. It is also the one time of year when every PR in the county seems to smell a good publicity opportunity.

This onrush of interest is in part due to the target market of the title (namely students and young people) and the time of year (the start of the academic term). It’s also in no small part down to the two Scotcampus Freshers’ Festivals.

These Festivals (one in Edinburgh on the Meadows and one in Glasgow on George Square) are big business and probably the largest of their kind anywhere in the UK.

Last year, about 16,000 fresh-faced students and young people rolled up to the Glasgow event looking for freebies from the likes of Pot Noodle, Domino’s Pizza, Yo! Sushi, HMV, Urban Outfitters and loads more. Organised chaos it might be, but it represents the sort of direct marketing opportunity both big brand businesses and local companies can’t get enough of.

And whilst I’d say that my editorial inbox has generally been pleasantly popular with the PR staff of the world; right now, in the lead up to freshers, it’s in meltdown.

Everyone seems to believe that their client, whether they are a High Street bank or clapped-out club should be in Scotcampus and specifically this particular edition. One major drinks brand even suggested (near demanded) that we lavish a three-page spread on . . . well, nothing of particular interest to anyone. Suffice it to say, I didn’t oblige in quite the way they’d hoped.

Not that my insistence – that I am not interested – always does the trick with certain PR practitioners.

Initially, I thought that these pushy PR people were pursuing our publication (in their none-too-subtle way) because they assumed the title was run entirely by students and would therefore be more easily pressured into providing them with the desired exposure.

However, the longer these often abrasive courtships lasted, it soon became clear that the most persistent and the least pleasant PR workers weren’t acting as such because we were any different from other media outlets – it was just the way they were used to operating. Which begs the question as to how successful they actually are in promoting their client, both responsibly and effectively?

As with all editors and journalists, I have a love-hate relationship with the world of the PR. Some grab my attention by writing something spectacular about nothing of interest. One or two check in every week without fail on what’s happening with them – only expecting a reply now and then. Others only contact me when they know I’ll be interested. A few disinterested souls bury the point of their email at the bottom of their copy, lost to all but the keenest of eyes.

A respectable number use flattery, booze and bribery to gain attention and trust. And then there are those who won’t leave you alone, who won’t take “no thanks” for an answer, who think you are making a ‘big mistake’ in not obliging their every request.

I know which PR types are more likely to get what they want from me and I’ll give you a hint, it isn’t the sort which won’t take no for an answer.

Chris Hammond, editor of Scotcampus, Scotland’s largest freesheet aimed at the student and youth market.