Travel & accommodation provided by the BBC

Re: BBC Radio 3 - Exclusive Content‏
From: Nadia Ruggiero
Sent: 29 April 2009 13:28:23
To: Bob Shingleton

Dear Bob,

BBC Radio 3 would like to invite you to become an exclusive partner of their Mendelssohn season. We would like to offer you access to a range of events and content in return for support on On An Over Grown Path

For example, the opportunity to attend the rehearsal for A Midsummer Night's Dream complete with Mendelssohn's incidental music at Middle Temple Hall this Saturday 2 May (timings tbc today).

Or a live broadcast of the drive-time show "In Tune" presented by Sean Rafferty, taking place at the Birmingham Town Hall on Friday 8th May (travel & accommodation provided).

We are happy to approach artists and contributors for interview if you'd be interested in talking to any of them.

I would be grateful if you could indicate asap whether you would like to attend either of the above events at your earliest opportunity. I'm also happy to discuss alternative opportunities should these not fit with your diary/interests.

We look forward to hearing back,

Nadia Ruggiero

On Behalf of the Radio 3 Team
Nadia Ruggiero
Internal Operations Manager Interaction London

This email arrived yesterday. Interaction London is an agency specialising in "social media intelligence and online communications". They are retained by major organisations such as Microsoft, Audi and the BBC to influence how 'social media', which is another name for Facebook, MySpace, and blogs, portrays their clients. Anybody who has read On An Overgrown Path at least once might have guessed that Interaction London's email wasn't exactly going to get me jumping for joy, and they might also have noted the clear warning below my email address on the right-hand sidebar. But let's move on to some other important points.

BBC Radio 3 is the 800 pound gorilla in UK classical music. Virtually everyone of any note in classical music works for Radio 3 in some way. And if you work for them you have to be nice to them, whether you like it or not. That doesn't just apply to musicians, it also applies to journalists. The BBC has been very clever at getting the mainstream media on side by using journalists such as Tom Service of the Guardian, Norman Lebrecht of the Evening Standard and James Jolly of the Gramophone as presenters. Which leaves that bolshie bunch, the independent bloggers.

The bloggers have proved more difficult to bring on side. So BBC Radio 3 came up with the inspired idea of appointing 'official' (i.e. paid) bloggers. This has proved to be disastrous, as the following statistics show. The standard measure of a blog's importance is the number of links to it; these are measured by independent monitoring company Technorai as 'blog impressions'. The official Radio 3 Mendelssohn blog scores 18 blog impressions, On An Overgrown Path scores 1,183.

After that debacle it seems that Plan B was developed by Interaction London - let's offer blogs like On An Overgrown Path a jolly to Birmingham at the license payers expense. Now at this point I will deal with the standard defence of jollies for journalists, namely that enjoying travel and accomodation arranged by a PR agency still means I can write what I want. Sorry it doesn't, as this story shows.

Two weeks ago I received a totally unsolicited email and press release from Valerie Barber PR, another agency with some heavyweight music clients. Instead of doing what the mainstream media does, which is publishing the press release unedited, I had the temerity both to ask questions and to publish the answers. There wasn't even a night in the Birmingham Travelodge involved, and I wasn't rude about Valerie Barber's client, Archive Classics.

But bloggers aren't meant to ask questions and publish the answers, or, even worse, mention the bit of the classical music iceberg that is hidden under the water, the PR agency. Bloggers are simply meant to regurgitate press releases, as James Jolly obligingly did with the Archive Classics story in the Gramophone. But then, James Jolly's daily Radio 3 Classical Collection programme is outsourced by the BBC to an independent production company called Classic Arts, which is another name for Archive Classics.

But back to the blog. To say the folks at Valerie Barber PR were not happy about my Archive Classics post would be a considerable understatement - they demanded in writing that I withdraw it; which I declined to do. So much for being free to write what I want. Those words in Interaction London's email - 'in return for support On An Overgrown Path' - say it all.

I do not enjoy writing posts like this, and I am not expecting a crate of champagne from Interaction London. But I also believe it is important to show what goes on under the PR polished surface of classical music. The BBC, Interaction London, and Valerie Barber PR have all failed to grasp that blogs like mine don't behave like mainstream media. People read On An Overgrown Path because I write what I think, not what PR agencies want me to think. Which is why I am writing this article. And it is why trading becoming 'an exclusive partner of the Radio 3 Mendelssohn season' for 'support On An Overgrown Path' doesn't do it for me. Instead, it simply confirms what I have been saying for a long time, that the BBC has got it badly wrong with Radio 3.

Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk


Chris Foley said…
Great article, Bob. I have also been receiving a large number of press releases lately, many of which I either ignore or are reluctant to write about.

Last week, a Toronto opera company offered my readers free tickets in return for the publicity generated by the contest that determined who will get them. This is a classic win/win situation, where both opera company and blog (w/ readership) gain from the relationship.

So instead of asking bloggers to parrot press releases or work in corporate blog farms, why don't classical music org's simply offer free product samples (CDs, tickets, a free subscription or two) that reward the readership of these independent blogs? This would generate good feelings for everyone involved at the same time as they promote their products.

Just yesterday, I was contacted by another opera company that wishes to offer free tickets to my readers for an upcoming production.
Philip Amos said…
Your posts always inform me, but what you have to tell us about developments, relationships and shenanigans among these various denizens of the music world, in this post and in posts past, is, I am sure, a veritable education for many of us. Saves me a lot of head-scratching and I thank you.
Drew80 said…
Great post, Pliable.
Garth Trinkl said…
Great post, Pliable.

-- Drew80



Although I never did understand whether my recent invitation to be an official guest blogger for the Ojai (Los Angeles) Music Festival this June included jet service, driver, and a blanket in the corner of a barn (as well as a welcome drink and canapé) …
Pliable said…
Email received:Read your post from today concerning Radio 3 and their "Mendelssohn season". I live in the states, am an avid reader of your blog, and have had experiences myself with these PR companies. In my experience, there is a lot of bullying from their end, but they don't have a leg to stand on (legally or otherwise). I appreciate how you've stuck to your guns.

Know that there are readers who rely on sober, intelligent blogs like yours that aren't at the service of the mega-corps or their cronies!

All the best--

Jay Clarke
glebowski said…
A fine, pithy defence of your beliefs and modus operandi Pliable. The continuing depth and range of your coverage on this blog is exemplary. PR = parasitic
regurgitation (of the spin)
Civic Center said…
Go get em. I received a note from someone wondering if I wanted to write about a group that was doing a "Habitat for Humanity" kind of building project in Oakland, California, telling me how much they liked my "Civic Center" blog and that it might be something I'd be interested in writing about, and as I followed all the links, I realized it was a PR firm working for various corporations that I've already been paid by over the years trying to do "team building" with good works.

The problem is that we've already been inside of the machine and can see the gears pretty clearly. That's part of the soul-cleansing we're both trying to do, and the fact they can't see it is sort of fascinating.
Pliable said…
Mike, your comment should be a compulsory text for every advertising agency and media studies course -

'... the fact they can't see it is sort of fascinating' absolutely hits the nail on the head. I still cannot believe how naive Interaction London were in acting as though blogs were just a sub-set of mainstream media, and would respond to the same 'stick and carrot' approach.

The reason they can't see it is probably because they don't want to see it. The historic relationship between client, agency and media has a lot of attractions for the agency. Not least the fee structure.
Pliable said…
There is an excellent follow up piece to my article on the Finnish music blog

The first link is a very crude but nevertheless useful machine translation, the second is the original article:

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