I’d like to emphasize that the following post is merely a personal rant. It is not meant to be an articulate assessment or commentary of anything particular other than the fleeting thoughts that enter my mind on a semi-daily basis. As usual, they reflect the opinion of me and me alone.
That being said:
Public relations in Jordan is in a terrible, terrible state. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth.
As a writer, PR is an industry I am in constant contact with. Sometimes, the phone doesn’t even stop ringing. Everyone wants something. They all have clients and they all want to please those clients, and that’s fine; that’s their job. But oftentimes, their job is to make mine very, very difficult. Everyone has a conference they’d like you to attend. Everyone has a client that is “dying” for an interview. Eventually one develops a thick skin and learns to say “no”, but one thing about PR in this country is that they have a clever way of adapting and can pull a few underhanded tricks when you’re not looking.
There are the rare occasions where they’ll pitch me a story and I’ll think it may be worth an interview just to see if it’ll turn out as interesting as I think it could be, and on those occasions I enter a whole new realm of pain. This is where the biggest industry peeves arise. A hundred little details can emerge over some thing so simple and there is the expectation from their side that you are suddenly catering to their client, that you are in their hire, and they don’t understand that it doesn’t work that way.
My biggest peeve is when they decide to tag along to an interview. It’s like being out on a parole.
I have since developed a strict policy that no PR is allowed to tag along but there are times when they know this already and do it anyway, putting me in a position and on the spot, where it would be rude to ask them to leave the room – and they know it. I wouldn’t mind them, but the problem is they sit adjacent to you and actually interfere with the interview, asking their own questions or inserting their own comments. No matter how much they promise, you’ll always get an interruption. A few times I’ve had them advising their client to go off the record. It feels like one of those cop shows, like Law and Order, where they’re trying to interrogate a suspect and his lawyer is in the room.
They do not understand that every time I enter a room to meet someone, it takes me an average of 3 minutes to size them up and decide if the next hour will be a waste of my time.
And I’ve experienced a few insane scenarios based on that.
Very recently, for instance, I was stunned to enter an interview with four people from the same PR agency in attendance. Now the record is five (all females) but this time it was an incredibly small room so it felt like an army. There’s just no way you can have an honest discussion with anyone with that many useless people in the same room taking up air. So I kindly asked them to leave. And what’s strange is that they do get a little offended. As if what you’re asking of them is so abnormal, so out of left field. And you’re forced to wonder, are they not aware that of their own annoyance?
They promised to sit quietly but upon my insistence, two left. It was a negotiation and I was too tired to keep haggling over the presence of bodies. Of course the two remaining did not sit quietly and interrupted a total of five times, inserting their own questions and comments. I have been in a scenario where one PR agent even made suggestions of how I should write the piece. When such a situation comes about, well, suffice to say they regret it and I usually don’t hear back from them.
I have been to one interview where two PR agents, upon seeing my digital recorder, put their mobile phones on record and placed them right next to mine. The outcome was a recording that was full of cell phone signals, the kind you get on a speaker when a call is coming in. I had to scratch the piece because I couldn’t hear a thing, but that was of course earlier on when I didn’t know better.
The problem is, they force you to be rude. I understand they have a job to do, but I can’t do mine if they feel that theirs is to act as a client’s lawyer. I have refused to write certain things because of PR involvement. There is also the general insistence that they want to see anything before it gets printed, which is a joke and is something I nor any of my colleagues have ever, ever allowed. On several occasions this lead to a standoff where they (after begging for an interview) would not accept anything to run unless they saw it first. On all of those occasions a delete button was used.
In some cases, they’ll pull unexpected crap like the “boss” card. If I refuse to do something they’ll say that there was an agreement between them and my Chief, which I immediately assume is a lie because there is little that my boss knows that I am not already in the loop on. There are three people in the office so word travels pretty fast.
Moreover, the problem seems to be worsening as more and more agencies are seeking us out. When I started out, there were perhaps five phone calls a month. Now there are around five a day, if not more. And they’ll keep calling and insisting, even after 98% of everything they pitch gets thrown out on the spot.
In the whole PR industry, at any given moment, there are around two people (maximum three) who I actually think are pretty good and pretty understanding. They let you do your job and in the process, they get theirs done. But the majority, are simply brats.
That’s the only way to describe them: brats.
They are the little children of Jordanian industry.
PR is still a relatively new industry in the country and it’s quickly growing. It feels like a new agency emerges every single day. Nearly every company has a PR agency working for them, and pretty much all of them are incredibly annoying. These days, they’re importing more Lebanese and even Egyptian (female) employees, which makes things a bit easier because they have a way of doing their job well. Sometimes. It is the difference between a Syrian and a Jordanian when it comes to selling things – the Syrian tends to be a better salesperson who won’t let you leave till he’s made a sale, while the Jordanian will tell you to bugger off if you think his neighbor has a better price.
So I wonder sometimes if this is an industry that can survive in a Jordanian context – in a Jordanian environment. Let’s face it, we’re not a people who are well known for their PR skills. Even in government, some of the biggest gaffes have come from bad PR skills, otherwise known as the diplomatic front. In some cases, ties have been broken between Jordan and a friendly nation simply because someone said something they shouldn’t have. On the domestic front, the government continues to suffer from gaffes that have given local press a great deal of ammunition. This past summer’s handling of the Jordan Festival was an example of that.
The reason I draw this allusion is because there are incredible similarities between the way both government and private sector agencies handle public relations. Both have the tendency to get too involved in any public debate. Both have the tendency to be around when they’re not needed (and absent when they are). Both have no clear vision or understanding of their actual role. And both have a tendency to make some serious and costly mistakes.
So dear PR agencies, please back up. Your job is a delicate one and there is a delicate manner in which to do it. Rubbing people the wrong way will get the exact opposite result you were aiming for. And as a whole, I think Jordan has a long way to go when it comes to developing a solid public relations industry, be it in the government context or in the private sector. The art of delivering a message and acting as an invisible go-between is still far from being a refined role.
And I apologize if this sounds like whining, but like I said at the beginning, it’s merely a rant out of frustration.