No More Crap, Please 

Public relations professionals' tricks and gimmicks are getting out of control

Public relations professionals' tricks and gimmicks are getting out of control

Earlier this week, I arrived at my office to find a box of folded, dry-cleaned men's shirts on my desk. Taped to the top of the box were a bill and a handwritten note asking me to call Elaine to discuss this formerly "dirty laundry."

Meanwhile, 10 phone messages, a pile of mail, a boss with questions and a stack of page proofs were awaiting my attention. To put it mildly, it was something of a distraction to have a stranger's clothes on my desk with a note from someone I'd never heard of (no last name included, no less).

So I threw the box on the couch and didn't look at it again for two days, when deadlines, grumpy writers and such were less critical. Inside, I found a press release about the opening of a new dry cleaner, a picture of the proprietor and, of course, the shirts. The handwritten note on the outside of the box, I realized by this time, was from the PR person representing the new operation. What this has to do with an arts and entertainment weekly that also covers issues and politics, I can't fathom. Never—not once in the history of this publication—have we stopped the presses for the opening of a dry cleaner. Nor do we publish lists of Nashvillians at out-of-state colleges who make the honor roll. Nor do we run announcements about promotions, board and commission appointments and countless other press releases and promotional missives that Western Kentucky graduates working communications jobs all over the city get paid $22,000 a year to produce.

Attention, PR clients: This is a friggin' sham! If a PR person ever sends you an itemized bill that includes a pitch to anyone at the Scene by phone, mail or mimer (yes, several PR firms have hired mimes to walk in here to pitch us ideas), then do the following: First, refuse to pay the bill. Second, call the Better Business Bureau and report them. Finally, fire them.

The Scene is hopelessly unflackable. For better or for worse, no one successfully tells our music writers who they should review, our film writers what they should see, our news writers what to cover and how, and our editors what to opine about. We certainly like to keep up with this city's dealmakers, music makers, filmmakers, newsmakers, etc., and we welcome your well-conceived phone calls, but we've got no dry cleaners in our Rolodexes. Trust us. Most of us at the Scene can't even afford to have our clothes dry-cleaned.

I don't mean to pick on this shirt maven—Elaine what's-her-face—because she's not the only one who has bombarded us with unwelcome PR stunts that are expensive and a waste of everyone's time. Were I cruel at heart or unreasonable, I'd mention her full name and that of her client. But, hey, I'm just trying to create a better world.

It's not that we don't want to hear from you, dear flacks, but please do your homework first. Please have opened the pages of our newspaper in the last six months to figure out who it is you're pitching. Don't call us and make an ass out of yourself just so that you can bill your client. Don't send us shirts that we don't ask for. As it so happens, the shirts went to two of my underpaid colleagues. But you could have donated the shirts to Goodwill or Dress For Success. Perhaps you could have gotten a little TV attention by doing free cleaning for welfare moms going on job interviews. Something worthwhile.

I think I can speak for the whole of the Scene editorial staff when I say that we're not just being grumpy about all this. Truth is, we are sticklers for efficiency, and we don't like to see resources and time wasted. And while we're in a chastising mood, we should also say, a good seven months in advance, that the Christmas onslaught of sugary treats, T-shirts and tins of popcorn (how did popcorn ever become a holiday tradition, by the way?) are equally unproductive ways to advance the interests of your clients. This stuff will not endear you to us, we will not remember that you sent them, and, in fact, we can say with certainty that they will be consumed by Scene staffers who aren't in a position to make editorial decisions and who won't have a clue who their junk food benefactors are. In fact, when we come back to the office the first week in January, we will find that half of this stuff had been left to the ants and must be transported to the Dumpster posthaste.

Thinking back on it, I can't think of a single "gift" sent along with a press release that I didn't either give away immediately or trash in a matter of seconds. A simple phone call will do. My direct line is 844-9406. Dial at your own risk.

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