Media Analysis: The fight to get on the back pages

With The Independent and the Daily Mail poised for new sports editors, and major events such as Euro 2004 just around the corner, Ian Hall examines how the broadsheets' sports sections work with PR practitioners

The variety of sports publications available to PROs seeking to promote their clients is extensive, but the daily broadsheets' sports pages are some of the toughest nuts to crack.

With their agenda very much driven by news, they are a less obvious and more tricky medium through which to promote clients than the tabloids or weekly and monthly publications. Matt Tench, the Daily Mail sports editor who is moving to The Independent (PRWeek, 16 April), accepts, as do his peers, that PROs are now a fact of life in all aspects of sports journalism.

Tench, who has also worked as editor of both Observer Sport Monthly and Haymarket's football magazine FourFourTwo, adds that national sports editors most appreciate PR calls from those proffering news-driven stories and access to genuine stars. Andy Sutherden, director at Hill & Knowlton's sports marketing and sponsorship division, says one difference between the broadsheets' and tabloids' sports sections is that the quality papers are more 'stunt averse'.

He adds: 'The broadsheet sport sections prefer a certain style of photography and personality access that provides quality interviews rather than selective soundbites.'

The thorny issue of copy approval has editors shuffling uncomfortably - although some won't rule out quote approval if the client is genuinely world class and the interview is exclusive.

As Euro 2004 and the Olympics - plus the annual summer events such as Wimbledon - loom ever closer, sports PROs will be looking forward to convincing Tench and his rivals that their clients are worth the column inches.

The Daily Telegraph

Keith Perry: Deputy sports editor

Sports desk: 020 7538 6388/6785

Are PROs becoming more significant?

PROs have become much more significant at the higher levels of sport.

Access to the top stars is ever more tightly controlled.

What PR calls do you welcome?

We get an awful lot of calls from PR people - anything from books and golf equipment to events. There are limits as to how far the PRO should push it - it's always a challenge to find a middle way that will satisfy both the PRO and ourselves. We don't allow copy approval at all.

What PR calls drive you up the wall?

Generally, those from people who don't know their way round a newspaper, who don't even know the name of the sports editor. For instance, we are not likely to cover PR-type events within an industry or something like a company pro-am golf day - these are not national news stories.

The Times

David Chappell: Sports editor

Sports desk: 020 7782 5944

To what extent do you deal with PROs?

The days of dealing direct with stars are long gone - they have been since sport became so much more commercialised around a decade ago.

What PR approaches do you appreciate?

It's all about timing and the quid pro quo. Today we get such limited access to stars that we do take a look at all approaches we get. But if an approach from a PRO is blatantly a publicity stunt we will shy away.

And some clients are rather B-list.

Can you give an example of how a PRO can steer a story for your readership?

I remember the launch of England's new netball strip a while back. There was a range of pictures: some were more suitable for tabloids and some more suitable for the likes of us.

The sharpest PROs tailor their approaches to suit the different sports editors.

The Guardian

Ian Prior: Deputy sports editor

Sports desk: 020 7713 4080

Are PROs becoming more prevalent?

They have become more prevalent but this peaked maybe three years ago.

Anyone who needs a PRO has now got one.

What sort of PROs do you deal with?

The reporters have more contact with them than the editors do.

What makes a bad PR call?

A lot of calls are pointless pitches we won't use. The archetypal bad call will be from a company promoting toe-nail clippers. They will usually tell us one of our journalists can have five minutes of interview with a second-rate footballer they've got promoting the product.

The footballer will usually not say anything useful and will only promote the product.

What do you need from PROs?

Access. We don't give copy approval, although we are sometimes willing to give quote approval.

The Independent

Matt Tench: Incoming sports editor

Sports desk: 020 7005 2847

Do you find that you are spending more time dealing with PROs?

In general, the more cash there is in a sport, the more involvement from PROs there is in that sport. They are certainly becoming more prevalent.

From a football perspective, say, the old days when you could grab five minutes at the training ground are pretty much over.

Do you welcome the growing prevalence of PROs?

I'm not sure anyone welcomes complete news management, but if PROs can bring access, then it's a help.

How much news management will you live with - what about copy approval?

Copy approval is the big one. I have never given it and have lost pieces because of that. But given the news agenda, I would be very inclined to give David Beckham copy approval if it was for something this week.

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