Just what are the stupid rules between Journos & Publicity?

This week there was a bit of attention given to the rules of Publicity when radio host Em Rusciano played a radio interview with Boy George well before The Voice launch (it’s expected in late April, following the Easter break).

The radio host insisted a TV network couldn’t rule on when an interview should and shouldn’t run on her 2DAY-FM breakfast show. GOLD FM’s Jo & Lehmo also ran a Boy George interview this week.

So what are the “rules” when conducting interviews with talent? Having conducted hundreds of them, allow me to elaborate…

Publicists usually have limited windows to access talent, liaised through agents, that are often associated with the production shoots and, if they are lucky, another window shortly before broadcast (but not always). Very few talent are on network contracts where they can be called upon at the whim of the network.

A publicist will frequently ask a journalist to hold off publication of the interview until nearer the TX (broadcast) date. They know that too much too soon may mean an audience is sick of a show before it even begins, and ideally you want an interview out there to be complemented by network promos, bus shelter ads and more. Similarly networks, including studios from the US, will ask you to hold off reviews until a specific date. Same goes for photos.

I’ve sat on some interviews for up to a year in some cases -in fact I’m doing that now with interviews I conducted for Top of the Lake and The Leftovers last July. It’s a bit frustrating but you learn to live with it…

A publication date is only one of the rules you need to abide.

Sometimes there are no-go areas, such as personal life. Recently I was even told one interviewee wouldn’t  discuss ratings. Similarly you’re expected to avoid publishing anything too Spoiler-y if an actor divulges something about a later episode.

Studio audiences are also asked to avoid spilling on things they see when attending filming. It’s become harder to control since the advent of social media, but ask nicely and people will usually co-operate.

There are also Network publicists and Unit publicists to navigate -the latter employed by the production company- often on a single production.

In some cases there will be a Confidentiality or Non-Disclosure Agreement that journalists are asked to sign. Lawyer clauses even give the network the right to seek damages if you write something that undermines the broadcast -like, say, give away who is eliminated from a reality show ahead of the TX. Two years ago TEN took out an injunction against one outlet for snapping pics of The Bachelor winner, although it wasn’t as part of any agreed interview.

Sometimes I’ve knocked back interviews or set visits after sighting over-inflated Confidentiality agreements, that are so broad they constrain your reportage to an entire series run, not just the day you attend. I almost always reject interviews that ask you to submit questions in advance or insist on written interviews via email. Most interviews are a conversation between the parties… it’s not a science.

But there are the occasions that go a little wayward, where an actor says something they probably shouldn’t have. Dissing their own network? Getting political? Revealing their next unannounced show? Bagging their last one? In those situations a good journo holds their ground despite the protests of a frantic, damage-control publicist. Sorry -it was on the record. Publish and be damned.

If there are no requests made of a journo then a network basically gets what it deserves. But the Australian industry is small. It’s a collaboration from top to bottom and we are all working on Trust. Live by your own rules and you probably won’t get access for very long.

A Nine source insists a Non-Disclosure was signed for their Boy George interviews.

3 Comments:

  1. Thank you David Knox…a very interesting piece….well written, as always…quite an eye opener…I, for one, did not realise so much was involved….

  2. Thanks for this interesting insight into your world! It must be very tricky to avoid dropping unintentional spoilers. Publicists may know that “…too much too soon may mean an audience is sick of a show before it even begins”, but the networks repeat promos ad nauseam anyway.

    • jezza the first original one

      agree with the excessive promos, they put me off a show…eg Biggest Loser and This Is Us ….and then the promos that are like …”you won’t believe what happens next” …..total turn off

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