You haven't earned your stripes in consumer PR until you've been told to piss off by a journalist. It's happened to the best of us. Irrespective of how the media landscape has evolved, the ‘sell-in’ remains a huge part of the job, and with that comes the ever-growing cynicism of time-pressured journalists.
A lot of senior agency bods still partake in sell-ins, including me. After all, many of the media contacts we made as over-zealous executives 10-plus years ago are now incredibly influential.
Back then, I’d get to know a journalist over cheap wine and deep-fried sharing platters (and I’d be buzzing because I could expense the entire £38 bill). I’d cement the bond in the R&B club at 2am, safe in the knowledge that they wouldn’t tell me to where to go when I phoned them two weeks later with a story about skiing micro pigs.
Over the years, the sell-ins I’ve partaken in have ranged from incredibly rewarding to deeply challenging and/or somewhat comical. Last week I reflected on some of the more comical ones on social media and received a brilliant response from other PR folk sharing their experiences.
I’ve compiled 10 of the most snigger-inducing for your viewing pleasure.
Roxy Khala, MD of The Romans, recounts one of her sell-ins as an eager account executive. "We were launching a new type of ‘warming’ lube and sent media to hotels with their partners to test it out. I had to ring the next day to ask what they thought of it."
Russell Williams, a professor at The American University in Paris (who left PR in 2009 hopefully not because of these sell-ins),says: “I remember trying to get Newsround interested in ‘monkey-shaving day’ at Berkshire Wildlife Park. Also, the survey into what animal you are based on your email filing habits was another career high.”
"I managed to secure a single piece of coverage in a small regional title after the journalist said he felt incredibly sorry for me."
Gemma Moroney, comms consultant, offers this: “Mine is so bad it’s not even good. A survey about whether people considered themselves flexible, adaptable or versatile. To promote a seven-seater car with flexible seating. Because it was 1999, there was palpable enthusiasm, nobody even told me to fuck off.”
Scarlet Such, PR and comms at Disney, recounts a sell-in from her agency years. She was tasked with informing media about the pressing issue of the nation’s favourite sandwich filling (ham and cheese FYI).: “The journo at the Independent asked if I was joking before hanging up on me.”
Comms consultant Joe Dyble recalls the time he had to sell in a story for a hearing aid company, “with the headline ‘two ears are better than one’.”
W’s ECD Mark Perkins adds: “A famous online retailer once made us, despite being pointed out the obvious correlation, sell in a story that umbrella sales had risen during a heavy period of rain.”
Lizzie Earl, founder of Munch, joins in, putting forward James Wong: “He deserves a PR medal for convincing a national newspaper to do a Q&A with a dog.”
Lorna O'Neill, founder of Surge Communications, says; “I once had to sell in a brand of cheese to the Telegraph as a ‘poor man’s meat’ and when I said it on the phone to the journo, everyone in the office starting pissing themselves.”
David Wade, associate director, now down under at Sydney’s History Will be Kind, led the charge on the sell-in for this incredibly surprising story: “Saturday night is the most social night of the week according to Brits.” He wants me to point out that he still managed to wrangle coverage in the Telegraph.
Antonia Adair, senior consultant at Teneo, says, “My first ever sell-in was the launch of some 'new', new potatoes. I managed to secure a single piece of coverage in a small regional title after the journalist said he felt incredibly sorry for me.”
Written by Sophie Raine, managing director, consumer brands at PR firm Ketchum London
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