Let’s change the rules on interviews, Microsoft-style

One of the things I hate about modern PR and press relations is the “one on one” interview. I can believe that not every company has Dramatic News which requires the hiring of a hall to have a Press Conference; that’s fine. But I think that one-on-one interviews are dreary, unless I’ve set them up (which I’ll do because I want some info from a contact). If the company sets it up, they usually have A Message they want to Tell Me. It’s face time with suits, and the PR people love it because it’s the sort of thing they can put in their billing to the client (“achieved 60 minutes exclusive with technology editor of national newspaper”). I hate it because there’s barely ever a story. Just a Corporate Message.

Guess what? I don’t want to hear that Message. I’d rather you bought an ad in the paper and we met for a coffee and talked sense. More than that, I don’t see why people are put through one-on-ones, which take huge amounts of time, are boring for the client answering the same questions, don’t generate interesting stories, and always leave me thinking that I could have spent the time better surfing and emailing folk and generally interacting rather than being Told A Message.

Yet companies and PRs that adore one-on-ones run a mile if you suggest a round table of hacks. Why? It’s more efficient: you get six people around a table and that’s six hours’ worth of interviews done in one hour. It’s more interesting: journalists know more as a group than individually, so can follow stories up. And if one writer has to drop out (say because their newsdesk wants them to do a story) it doesn’t mess up your schedule. Quicker, better, cheaper. Choose all three.

So I was slightly heartened when Microsoft got in touch the other day offering an interview: There’s a (rare) opportunity for you to meet with three of Microsoft’s leading Platform Strategy players: [no, I wasn’t sure what Platform Strategy was either]

Martin Taylor, Microsoft’s global General Manager of Platform Strategy; Ashim Pal, newly appointed Senior Director, EMEA Microsoft Platform Strategy, who previously was Vice-President, Technology Research Services, Meta Group; Nick McGrath, Head of Platform Strategy in the UK.

The interview is an excellent opportunity to discuss Microsoft’s continued involvement and activity in the Linux and open source competitive landscape, as well as its evolving strategy in areas such as platform value, security, integrated innovation, cost and future plans. It will also be the first chance to meet Ashim Pal in his new role… [Indeed – from independent analyst to booster for Microsoft! Hmm, Meta Group. Maybe not such a big job change then.]

And the rider: Martin Taylor is only making the briefest of visits to the UK.
Fine, I said: you having a round table? Oh yes, they said, naming various people. Well, I’ve been trying to get John Lettice (of The Register, who pointed out how more expensive becomes cheaper with Microsoft) to be included, while Edelman PR has been gently resisting.

Then, after I’ve moved various pieces of heaven and earth around to accommodate Edelman on the basis it would be a round table, Edelman calls just now, a week ahead of the event, and says it’s going to be one-on-ones after all. Well, I’m furious; and I’ve told them that I’m not going and that I think it’s disgraceful to change things like this. If Martin Taylor’s time is so limited, how come they found a way to give him all this one-on-one time? It’s crap, and I’m calling it. Fellow hacks: hold out for round tables. You know it makes sense.*

* When I make these points about one-on-ones to PRs, they often simper and say “journalists prefer it”. Bull. Nobody gets a different story in the individual setting compared to the multiple one. But people ask better questions at round tbales: it’s closed- vs open-source. And if you’re going to get an exclusive, it’ll come out of the extra things you learn, and the contacts you use *outside* the interview. After 20 years in this game, I can tell you: corporate one-on-ones stink in terms of creating the exciting situations that journalism thrives on.

4 Comments

  1. The Register – the miracle cure for press event tedium. Just mention us, and they vanish. We’re working on drain blockages, next…

  2. Since when did Microsoft *ask* journalists what they’d prefer? (“Red or white?” doesn’t count).

    It would be good to see hacks hit back in solidarity. A couple of empty press events would be a start. But pigs flying in close formation above Fleet Street will happen first, I fear.

    R

  3. My database when asked about Martin Taylor

    “Martin Taylor, Microsoft’s global General Manager of Platform Strategy”

    comes back naming him as Microsoft’s chief of their anti-Linux effort.

    And my _question_ is this: should I update my database or are the two phrases essentially equivalent in MS-Speak?

  4. Ah – PRs do the one-to-one thing for exactly the reasons you outline.

    “It’s more interesting: journalists know more as a group than individually, so can follow stories up.”

    This is exactly why they split us up. Think about it:

    If you have 5 relatively ‘well behaved’ hacks and one ‘difficult’ one, it makes sense to keep them separate, no? That way at least only one journo is witness to a proper grilling of the exec, and most of the coverage is ‘on message’.

    Sad, but true.

    Luce

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