Gorkana Insight & Analysis Team
Former Daily Mirror consumer affairs journalist Tracey Harrison recently joined Twelve Thirty Eight as head of news. She tells Gorkana why some PRs make her hackles rise, being a consumer champion at heart and why she's enjoying life on the other side of the fence.
Why did you decide to make the move into PR permanent?
The persuasive powers of Hamish Thompson, creative director of Twelve Thirty Eight; I had absolutely no idea I was interested in PR until he told me I was…Seriously, I was ready for a change after 20-odd years in journalism and I'm enjoying life on the other side of the fence. It's not really so very dark when you get there.
Prior to moving into PR, what was your perception of the industry?
I knew some brilliant practitioners who understood what makes a good news story or feature and never wasted my time. Sadly, I also came across plenty who really didn't help to give the industry a good name – and I'm certainly not just talking about inexperienced juniors.
What has been your biggest surprise about PR?
How enormously important social media is – to spread the word, collect facts, make and renew contacts and spot trends. It really works.
What annoyed you most about PRs when you were a journalist?
Far too many clearly didn't have a clue about newspaper deadlines and would therefore call, and attempt to engage me in conversation, just as my newsdesk was screaming for copy from me. I also lost count of the number who tried to sell in something for my "shopping column", even though I never had one. That was plain sloppy and always made my hackles rise.
**You were consumer correspondent on the Daily Mirror – are you a consumer champion at heart?
Definitely. I'm lucky that Twelve Thirty Eight has some fantastic clients who work very hard for their customers and as a team we approach every story or campaign by asking: "What does this mean for the consumer?"
You've worked for several nationals. Are they all vastly different or are there some similarities?
Well, my move from the Daily Mail to the Daily Mirror certainly meant I had to adopt a whole new mindset. All papers, whether tabloid or broadsheet, national or local, have their own interests (some might say obsessions), but ultimately they all want to tell a good story.
Will there be time for the occasional freelance story?
Funnily enough, I'm currently investigating whether a famous food brand has secretly shrunk in size because I'm sure some of my former colleagues would love to know.
What is your top tip for PRs when dealing with hacks?
Do your research, every single time. Is your press release or product really right for this publication? Does the journalist you're calling about a product placement actually have a shopping column? Be very sensitive to deadlines – find out when journalists are busiest so that you don’t disturb them and always deliver information/products by the time you said you would.
What do your journalist colleagues think about your move into PR???
I can't be sure, but they're still speaking to me!
What advice would you give to other journalists considering the change?
Shed some of your in-built cynicism. PRs are an optimistic breed on an eternal mission to spin straw into gold and you'll do well to learn from this. Having said that, don't be bludgeoned into assuring a client that a story will make a page lead in the Daily Mail when you know quite well that it won't.
And finally, what do you make of the Leveson Inquiry?
It's shone a light on some unsavoury practices within both journalism and politics and will undoubtedly lead to some new form of press regulation. However, it's vital to stress that the overwhelming majority of journalists have never hacked a phone, never harassed innocent members of the public and never tried to influence a politician unduly.