Thursday, 24 December 2009

PR Past Taints Harry Potter Story For Torontoist


I recently attended a press conference at the Ontario Science Centre. The occasion? A glitzy expensive pre-launch for the upcomingHarry Potter Exhibition.
I like attending public sector press conferences - it keeps me in touch with what is going on in the city and I stay up-to-date on current PR practices. Like everything else, the business of press conferences is rapidly evolving. In years gone by (try 2008) an art gallery or museum opening consisted of press kits, speakers, a couple of examples of art/artifacts and a cuppa coffee (evening events usually includes boxed wine and carrot sticks). In late 2009 it is: cue the smoke machines, fly in the international speakers and hand out bags of swag worthy of a minor league film festival. No one likes to spend money on a press conference but, as the story I eventually wrote about the Harry Potter exhibition reports, Toronto pressers have gone Hollywood because PR departments believe it is the only way to guarantee results.
While at the Harry Potter presser I took attendance (and pictures).
Noting that the Toronto Sun was the only newspaper not there, I went back to my office and wrote a story on the launch. I decided to write a news piece about how the bar has been raised for public sector pressers, and offer it to the Sun (since they weren't there).
I was a bit delayed by other (paying) jobs, so it was late that day that I finally got the piece over to their city editor Antonella Artuso -- it was very close to their deadline. Didn't hear back (the Sun's way of saying no). The next day when my Sun arrived, I saw a very small Harry Potter Science Centre story that had been cobbled together from the Science Centre's press kit.
I then sent the story and pictures over to the popular news website, the Torontoist. They had looked at another one of my stories, liked it, but said I had sent it in to late. So, this time, less than 24 hours after the press conference I delivered my piece along with three pictures and cutlines.
The initial response I got was good, they wanted to run it. However, a few hours after they showed strong interest I received a second email from their freelance review editor, Ashley Carter,questioning the story. Here is what she wrote: "The piece is good, but I have to ask (considering your PR background & our need to be obnoxiously careful with these things), do you work with the Science Centre?"
It has been a couple of years since I last did any work for the Science Centre, so, I was a little surprised that I wasn't passing their PR smell test. This wasn't a fawning fluff piece -- in the museum world my story isn't all together positive. CEOs of government owned museums and galleries don't usually like to be quoted trolling for ticket sales. As well there is the whole issue of home-grown Canadian shows versus big box / big dollar American travelling exhibitions raging through the museum/gallery community right now. The article might be seen as being quietly critical of Ontario's Ministry of Culture buying into an exhibition heavy on US/UK movie sets and light on Canadian content.
I have had stories rejected because they didn't "fit" or were too long, or didn't read well, or there wasn't the budget, but, this is the first time in decades of freelance writing that I have not had a story printed because I do PR work to pay the bills.
As they say these days, "No Worries". I have my own soapbox to post things on (but gets a dozen readers daily compared to Torontoist's thousands of daily readers). So, below is Mugging for the Media Muggles, the unedited story that the Sun passed on and the (non-paying) Torontoist rejected.
Cutline: Top: An Ontario Science Centre official fields questions from two different TV crews at the pre-launch press conference for next year's Harry Potter exhibition.Below: Freelance writer (and PR guy) Stephen Weir. Photo taken at the Toronto Market following the Harry Potter press conference (David Tollington).

No comments: