Tuesday, July 27, 2010...2:24 pm

Tales from the trade press: Clinique’s press office hell

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Regular readers will know something of the trials of the freelance trade press journalist. Here’s another instalment, which gives an interesting insight into how some brands see the idea of “communication”.

The past couple of weeks of my scintillating media life have been taken up with writing a business-to-business (b2b) feature on male grooming for The Grocer – that fine trade press newspaper for the retail trade from William Reed Business Media.

As briefs go, it followed the usual path. Retail buyers (among the magazine’s core constituency) were not interested at all in talking to me. Male grooming brands (which all wanted to reach and inform the retail buyers) were falling over themselves to send me information and more-or-less relevant commentary.

Except one. When I tried to reach Clinique – arguably the brand that made skin care-type products acceptable to men in the first place back in the 1980s – I drew a blank.

Go to the media relations page on the Clinique web site and it asks you to register as a member of the press to get access to media contact information. Yes, that’s right, you must register as a member of the press before you can actually bother the super-busy and important media relations team with your media enquiry.

Well – it’s a big brand. Maybe they get inundated with time-wasters. No problem – I’ll fill out the form and wait for the, hopefully, quick and automated notification of my login details. There we go – an automated message saying:

Thank you for applying for a Press Pass. Your application is now being processed and you will be contacted shortly by a member of the team.

“Shortly”. That’s good, because my deadline is a week on Thursday and I don’t have as much time as I’d like to get all the information together. Let’s hope a member of Clinique’s “team” gets back to me in a day or two. I hope they’re not too busy.

That was two weeks ago. Yesterday morning – several days too late – I finally got an email from “Camilla”. Did she have confirmation of my registration with the press office? Was she full of apologies for taking bloody weeks to bother to reply to my enquiry? No. She wanted to know a bit more about me:

Thank you for your recent (sic) application to Clinique’s online press office.  It would be great to find out some more information about the publications that you work for.  We would just like to get a bit more information as I don’t believe we’ve worked together before.

No, Camilla, we haven’t. Gosh – that’s because this is my first time trying to write about your brand. Which you are making quite difficult. Especially as my deadline has already been and gone. So, you know, thanks for nothing.

And why is it that Clinique is so reluctant to embrace my press enquiry with open arms?

Our corporate policy is that we request a media pack or hard copy of any new publications that we haven’t worked with before, in order to gain brand approval. As you’re freelance, we require information on the publications that you work for.  We are more than happy to help out with your queries if you are happy to respond with this information.

Oh, gee – thanks. I’m so happy you need to vet me to even let me ask you a sodding question.

And “brand approval” to let a journalist talk to a press office? Get over yourselves. A press office exists to talk to journalists. If you are putting obstacles in their way, you’re just a waste of space.

And remember – journalists are consumers too. I think I won’t be putting any business Clinique’s way from now on…

[UPDATE: I’ve just had a lovely email from Amy in the Clinique press office, who is terribly apologetic and, more importantly, has updated the Clinique press office web site with a general contact number for journalists (and, presumably, time-wasters). Hurrah]

13 Comments

  • Ohh… Focus On Male Grooming – you lucky thing! I’m afraid I laughed all the way through this. My favourite Focus On that I did for The Grocer was on diet pills. GSK practically had the mafia come and put a horse’s head in my bed – and still wouldn’t answer my questions.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 3:30 pm

    I’d kill for a hard-hitting scientific expose on diet pills. Seriously…

  • Virginia O'PossumNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 5:42 pm

    This was a pure joy to read. The best part will be that sometime soon, Clinique will call The Grocer to complain bitterly that you did not include them in your story.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 5:43 pm

    Welcome Virginia. Yes – that really would be the icing on the cake…

  • You have only yourself to blame. The following took me less than one minute: (1) Google “spokesman for Clinique,” and results include info that the brand is owned by Estee Lauder Cos.; (2) Google “spokesman for Estee Lauder Cos.” and first result is the company site, with sub-link to “corporate news”; click on that, and it gets you to page of current news releases, with a tab to “media contacts” including a button for “our brands”; and there, in alphabetical order, is this: Clinique — CeCe Coffin 212-xxx-xxxx 212-xxx-xxxx and her email address.
    Man, was that hard…

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 6:01 pm

    Ha! Yes – you have me there. I didn’t pursue it as hard as I could.

    Two key points though – [1] your contacts are in the US, and this was a UK story, so that might not have got me as far as one would hope (though I certainly should have tried emailing the US in case they could forward me to the right contact). [2] the main point of the story is how poor the brand’s communication strategy is – which I think holds true, even if I had done my job better.

    Thanks for the comment…

  • Ryan DerousseauNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 6:20 pm

    Hey, sounds like a tough situation. I mentioned your situation on a blog I write for, and if you ever need to contact Clinique again, here’s a suggestion. http://www.mediabistro.com/mediajobsdaily/freelance/cliniques_strange_pr_department_168888.asp#more

  • Ryan DerousseauNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 6:22 pm

    Oops, nevermind. Dave beat me to it. Estee Lauder was the key, though.

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 6:34 pm

    Blimey – I’m deluged with comments and suggestions.

    Thanks to all, especially the suggestions for how to contact Clinique. Truth is I didn’t really pay attention to whether or not Clinique was responding to my pro forma registration, as it was just one brand of many I was asking for information.

    It didn’t matter so much for the story one way or another. The key question for the brand is how approachable they are and whether they want to gain media exposure or not. I’d suggest that Clinique’s PR strategy is a bit poor in this regard…

  • Glenn FleishmanNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 7:57 pm

    Is there an acronym for “pick up the damn phone and call”?

  • Freelance UnboundNo Gravatar
    July 27th, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    Ah, if only. Clinique requires you to register with them so they can approve you before actually giving you a phone number to call.

    I know, I know – I could have unearthed a phone number if I had really tried. My shortcomings are glaring. It’s the brand communications snafu I think is interesting here…

  • While I see the side of you could have dug a little more to get the contact, I agree..you shouldn’t have had to. The job of the PR dept. is to make it easy for you to find them, reach them. Period. I just don’t see how a big brand like Clinique couldn’t have improved this system better. There are smaller brands dying and grateful for these media opportunities. I agree. It’s a flaw in their media relations strategy that could certainly use improvement. Thanks for sharing!

  • Wow. You’ve been out-PR’d here by Clinique. They put a moat around their PR department to keep journalists out and you get blamed for being a lazy git because you didn’t try harder to swim across. Such is the glam life of a freelance business journalist.

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