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Monday, June 11, 2012

Two's an interview. Three's a PR disaster


Interesting Guardian interview with Gordon Ramsay. He takes umbrage at the line of questioning and terminates the interview.

We've all had an experience a bit like that. Most journalists are secretly delighted when it happens because suddenly they've got a drama to write about.

All interviews are pieces of theatre. The first instinct of a magazine journalist is to describe that theatre: where it's taking place, whether the subject is early or late, how they're dressed, what their body language says, what's been taking place backstage, whether the PR has attempted to put any ground rules on the interview. It's what a colour piece is made of and actually magazine journalists prefer colour to anything. Tom Hibbert, who made the Who The Hell series his own all those years ago, got his best material when no actual conversation was taking place.

Reading this piece it's striking how different newspaper journalism is from magazine journalism. The Ramsay interview is certainly interesting and entertaining but a magazine editor would have been asking for more of a feeling of what it was like in the room. This is particularly the case when it comes to the occasional mentions of "the woman" who's in the room. I can only assume this is the PR who has set up the interview.

Most of my celebrity interviewing was done in the days when no self-respecting client would dream of allowing their PR to be in the room during the interview. Nowadays they often insist on it. I've forced the odd PR out of the room with the threat that if they're in the room they're part of the feature. The line "I'm sure she doesn't need her hand holding, does she?" sometime embarrasses the client into saying they can go.

Whenever a PR has told me "he really doesn't want to talk about" something I've always made a point of asking them about it. They always talk about the subject that is allegedly off-limits. If you ask either party why these restrictions have been set they always point the finger at the other.

Once the PR is there the slightest friction turns into a conflagration in which somebody has to be seen to DO SOMETHING. There can be no flexibility because they both have to be seen to be holding the line. In these cases it's always the client who looks like somebody who can't take care of themselves and the PR looks like somebody who can't take care of their client. If there's just the two of you in the room it's difficult to fall out. Once there's three it's almost inevitable.