Today’s People in Publishing interview is with Graeme Roberts, journalist, writer, and PR professional. Graeme and I worked together when I worked on the Hull Wasps Basketball programme as Game Night Editor. I would send my match reports and previews and other type articles to Basketball Magazine, a magazine on which Graeme was working at the time (and discusses in this interview!) Here he talks social media, newspapers and print, and his love of writing…
Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of info about your career and career path.
My name is Graeme Roberts, 29, from Manchester, UK. I would describe myself first and foremost as a writer. It’s a fairly broad term but I think it’s the most apt. I currently work in public relations for a research and consulting company called GlobalData, which means I write, edit and interact with the media on a daily basis. Before that I was a journalist for Basketball Magazine and I still do some writing for my local club, Manchester Magic. I recently undertook some freelance work for Basketball England, the national governing body, reporting on a number of their finals events. Writing is what I most enjoy doing. I love words and I’m thankful that I’m able to do something creative every day.
When did you know you wanted to work in the writing and media industry?
I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do until my late teens, if not my early twenties. I got into writing at secondary school, when my English teacher encouraged me to write poetry. I compiled a large collection of poetry in my young adulthood and it helped me through a long period of illness. Deciding that I wanted to write for a living was part of the recovery process. It gave me a purpose and it still does.
Which of your achievements so far are you particularly proud of?
In writing terms, my proudest achievement is probably having my work published in the Manchester Evening News, which is my home city’s main daily newspaper. There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink? Outside writing, I worked on the statistics team at the basketball tournaments at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience, made all the richer for being able to share it with my brother, Matt.
There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink?
What attributes do you feel are essential in a successful journalist?
It’s hard to say because I don’t really feel like I’ve been successful in journalism. I’ve only really been doing it for a couple of years and l was full-time for less than a year. I think it’s a very competitive industry and you need to be prepared to work hard to progress, but you also need some luck and to know the right people. I like to think being a skilful writer, both in terms of your content and your ability to craft language, is important, but I sometimes read a newspaper and just despair at the stuff they print. These things are driven by demand, but I often wish there was more demand for greater substance.
What was the most rewarding part of working for Basketball Magazine?
I think it was just getting to write about something I enjoy. I’ve been a huge basketball fan since I was 11 and I’m very passionate about the game. The beauty of it is that it’s as simple or as complex as you make it, so there’s always something to write about. I’m incredibly grateful to Iain Roberts (no relation), who set up the magazine, for giving me my first break, but ultimately it didn’t work out because the market is very tough. To say British basketball is a niche market would be an understatement. We were only the second print magazine in the country for basketball at the time and now there are none. Digital is killing print, but that’s not necessarily all bad. It’s probably good for the environment. I think the real problem facing the industry is that people are no longer as willing prepared to pay for news because they can get it for free. It saddens me that the media has to rely more and more on advertising revenue rather than quality content to sustain itself.
I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.
You are very successful on social media both as an individual and for the companies you’ve worked for. How important is social media in the industry now and how can we make the most of it?
I have a lot of followers on Twitter but I wouldn’t say that’s a fair indicator of aptitude. I follow a lot of people and it’s a reciprocal thing. In reality, my level of interaction isn’t brilliant. I suspect that’s partly because I use Twitter to moan about my first-world problems like the weather or public transport delays. On the flipside, I would agree that I’ve used Twitter in a professional capacity to achieve some success. We were able to drive a lot of traffic to Basketball Magazine’s website through Twitter, but a lot of that is down to it being a medium that the typical basketball fan likes to use. Twitter is not as relevant for GlobalData, as its clients are a very different demographic. We tend to find LinkedIn is our strongest suit, as it’s a more business-oriented social network.
Equally, what should we not do with social media? Any pitfalls to avoid?
I believe the biggest mistake you can make is to constantly spam people. I follow a lot of authors on Twitter and many of them use the platform almost exclusively to promote their own books. It’s a huge temptation when you self-publish, which I’ve experimented with myself, but it can be a big turn-off. Self-publishing is tough, so I can sympathise with people using any possible means to get their work noticed. However, I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.
What is the most enjoyable part of working in PR?
It certainly helps that I work with such a passionate and talented PR Manager in Emily Packer. She deserves a lot of credit for our success as a team. For me personally, seeing something I’ve worked on being used by a major international outlet is the biggest buzz you can get in PR. We’ve been featured in some of the world’s leading publications, such as the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, plus we’ve featured on the BBC News website a few times. I’m at an advantage with GlobalData, because the company produces some genuinely unique research into the healthcare and energy industries, but we still have to package it to grab the attention of the top outlets.
You were swiftly promoted in your most current workplace due to your speedy success. What would you say are some of the fundamentals in effective PR and media exposure?
Some of the reports we receive from our analysts are highly technical, but we’ve found that it’s the sound-bites and the key findings that journalists and editors really crave. There was an instance not long ago with our GBI Research brand where we were struggling to find the best approach for a press release on a report into Alzheimer’s disease. We decided on an angle based on one of the more eye-catching findings and the press release led to an enquiry – and consequently some press coverage – from The Sunday Times. That doesn’t happen on every occasion, but I do think you have to understand how the media works and what appeals to your target audience.
What are your goals for the future?
I am planning to dedicate more of my free time to work on my own writing and I would love to have a novel published in the next couple of years. I’m a huge fan of literature and film and my dream is to write fiction for a living. My favourite writers are George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Quentin Tarantino, so that should make for an interesting mix. I’d also like to travel more, experience other cultures, climb a mountain, fall in love, get married, have kids, do some humanitarian work – a whole list of things. But as long as I’ve got words to work with, I’ll be happy.
You can follow Graeme on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/GraemeRoberts14
Do you have any questions for Graeme? Put them in the comments below and I will get them answered!