Why are PR people in Asia such control freaks?

The thing that irritates me the most about PR in this region – mostly in my experience in Singapore but elsewhere too – is the common practice of asking journalists for the questions they are going to ask in an interview.

For whatever reason, this rarely happened to me in Australia or the UK, if at all.

Just being asked feels like I’m not to be trusted. That I will inevitably try to curve-ball the interviewee or ask something there isn’t a pre-written response to.

It also makes me suspect that the interviewee is being mothered by a control freak who thinks their client is incapable of thinking on their feet. (I was once asked for a set of questions when all I wanted to do was catch up and have a natter.)

One question a journalist asks always leads to another that could not be planned for. The best interviews are fairly natural conversations (for the record, I loathe email interviews) that could lead anywhere.

So what is the point of asking a journalist to write them all down?

Of course a PR will want to know something about the topics of the discussion. I get that. How else is the interviewee supposed to prepare. But every single question? Come on.

I must confess that in one interview in Singapore a few years back (I think it was with a Microsoft exec, who tend to make terrible interviewees), I asked none of the questions I said I would – because the PR had been so infuriating in his attempt to manage the interview.

It strikes me that to insist on seeing the questions is to favour process over trust and the chance for an open relationship. It can make things awkward before the interview has even begun.

I have always obliged with my list of questions (and sometimes used the ones on the list), but often wondered what would have happened if I’d said no. No more interview?

Now I should point out that I have often found being asked for questions useful. It forces me to prepare properly and stop procrastinating.

But really, why do PR agencies do it?

A Singapore PR agency boss tells me: “18 years of training for briefing notes and we always include anticipated questions, though we always ask journalists if they already have a list they would like to share.”

“If you don’t send them to us, we would still schedule the meeting – I just hope the spokesperson is happy with the prep.”

Sometimes the interviewee may not be very confident, or new to the region, and a set of questions helps ease the nerves, she explains.

Fair enough. If that’s the case, I completely understand.

But the cynic in me suspects that it is less about being helpful or useful than about control – and a PR agency trying to justify its retainer fee. Frankly, it gives them something else to be paid for.

The thing is, I just write about media and marketing. I’m not Jeremy Paxman.

Robin Hicks


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