NBC foreign correspondent Keir Simmons talks poor pitches and avoiding biscuits

Keir Simmons, NBC's London-based foreign correspondent, talks to PRWeek about his job and how he relates to PRs.

Keir Simmons: "A great story makes me cry and laugh and takes 60 seconds to tell"
Keir Simmons: "A great story makes me cry and laugh and takes 60 seconds to tell"

What are your feelings as you come into work?

Excited and depressed. Excited because it’s a fantastic job but at the same time it’s depressing because what you can achieve is limited. 

Why do you do this job?

Because I wanted to be a politician and that didn’t really work out. So it’s the closest thing to being a politician with a slightly longer career lifespan. 

As a child I wanted to be...

A politician! I really did. It sounds like tripe but I wanted to make a difference. I guess that’s why I’m a journalist even though actually there are some things about journalism that are far better than politics.

What is the worst time to pitch to you?

There is no bad time but there are a thousand bad ways to pitch to me. In most cases PRs manage to pitch really badly. 

What is the best time to pitch to you?

When you’re ready to give me a bloody good pitch and not something that bears no relationship to who I am and what I’m doing. 

What is your view of PR professionals?

PRs are everything from terrible to brilliant depending on who they are. They are paid to do an important job and sometimes they help me do an amazing story and sometimes they don’t seem to know what a story is. 

Do you have a favourite PR person? Why?

Neil Reading because he is a friend of mine. It’s all about building personal relationships. If you are making a cold call you’re already on the back foot but that’s the same for me as well.

What makes a great story for you?

A great story makes me cry and laugh in the one story and takes about 60 seconds to tell. 

What one thing gets in the way of you doing your job?

Time. I don’t have enough time to do what I need to and I always have a deadline coming up faster than I can do the things I need. The hardest thing is to do great work in a limited amount of time.

Is there any subject that you find so boring or offensive you just won’t give it oxygen?

Yeah, racism, sexism... There’s a bunch of things I wouldn’t give oxygen to, no question. 

What gives you the biggest job satisfaction?

Having done a piece you’re proud of, exposed something people didn’t know about, having made a difference in someone’s life: all those things will fill you with pride and make you feel lucky.

The greatest pressure on me is…

Time – and now being away from my family. 

What is your management style: shouter, weeper or supportive friend? 

Supportive friend! Who’s a weeper? What kind of manager is a weeper? 

Which outlet do you most admire for its news coverage and why? 

That’s a difficult question to answer; it’s like asking a cook what his favourite food is. You’re so immersed in the business of news and storytelling that you see the joins and know the weaknesses. 

What’s in your lunch box?

I work for an American company now and they feed us very well, but it’s a constant battle to avoid the biscuits. 

My greatest career fear is…

I’m not frightened of anything. I wanted to be a senior British television reporter. I became a senior British television reporter. I never imagined being an American correspondent. Everything that happens after the point at which I went from a senior British reporter to an American foreign correspondent is icing on the cake. 

In five years’ time I will be...

I have no idea; I don’t know where I’m going to be next month or tomorrow. 

What is the best piece of journalistic advice you have received?

Be utterly ruthlessly determined; that kind of trumps everything. Be determined to get the story, determined to get better, determined to overcome when you make a mistake, determined to master as far as you can all of the multitude of skills now needed to be a journalist. 

From whom have you learned the most?

A whole rotary of names spin through my head. Probably my mum and then my dad and then after that someone who’s been my boss for a long time.

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