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Want to get in a room with a journalist?

The list of clients and journalists I like is, by now, fairly long and includes good friends from both camps. But is it ever a good idea to put both in the same room with the offer that the client can ask the journalists ANY question they like?

Last night I invited a select group of clients and contacts to ‘meet the media’ at our offices. I then chaired a panel made up of some of my best mates in journalism including the Independent’s Sean O’Grady, Bloomberg’s Suzi Ring, the Daily Telegraph’s David Barrett, and Eduardo Reyes from the Gazette.

The nagging voice in my head that said, ‘What are you thinking?’ soon shut up – the panel were frank and when we ran over time the audience choose to ask further questions over drinking/mingling time…something I thought I’d never see.

As I’d have expected, the journalists stressed the pressure of deadlines they work to, noting that availability and the ability to get to the point vastly improved a subject’s chances of being mentioned.

They also stressed the importance of building a relationship with journalists you trust – being helpful, even when, as happens, there may not be credit on that occasion.

What may have surprised some in the audience was how front-of-mind the rocky finances of the media are for all journalists.

Sean kicked off talking about the struggle to put the Independent titles and the Evening Standard on a more even keel (two are now back in the black). Eduardo recalled the closure of a magazine he’d edited, and David warned of the enormity of what would be lost if we didn’t have a high-quality functioning media.

A question on the highs and lows of press life also gave a flavour of their working lives.

Suzi recalled the realisation that the ‘Flash Crash’ that so spooked the markets really had been achieved by a computer geek who lived round the corner from his parents in a Hounslow semi.

David had driven all night to Paris after the recent attacks and spent the week interviewing people and filing reports. Eduardo remembered interviews with Attorney General Baroness Scotland that straddled the revelation that her housekeeper was an immigrant who was working illegally using false paperwork.

Sean was among those who recalled threats of libel and libel actions, though as David noted, even absent these, journalists are generally highly committed to getting their reporting right.

Going back to mutual trust – off the record was discussed – and I summed up the panel’s advice by saying that if you wouldn’t trust that journalist with your children for the day you might not want to wade into full revelations and expect them to be forgotten.

Reflecting on your job is a step change from doing it, and it’s an experience the panel members said they enjoyed. Equally audience members told me they appreciated an insight into the standards, working methods and pressures of the media.

It’s an event I’ll definitely do again – probably in early Spring 2016. And next time I’ll walk into the room knowing it’s a good idea.

Now I’m just hoping no-one quotes me on my revelation that in my first job in the internet era back in 2000 I spent half an hour trawling the bookshelf….for Google.

Do drop me an line if you’d like to go on the list for the next event as spaces will be limited.

Melissa Davis is the managing director of MD Communications, the international legal PR agency. Follow Melissa on Twitter. Learn more at mdcomms.co.uk.

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