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Database mine I


Whose database are you on? Paul Routledge wonders how his private details became public and were sold by a PR firm


love a good ruin, and there are days when I look like one but I’m not an archaeology correspondent. So I didn’t expect to see in my private email a long press release about controversial proposals for a road tunnel


under Stonehenge. I was equally baffled by a quote offered about the residence “nil-rate band for inheritance tax. Thewhat?”


These are just two of an increasing number of messages


that appear unbidden on my screen from lobbyists, think- tanks and public relations outfits that have something to sell on behalf of their corporate clients. Fair enough, I suppose. It’s a big, bad business world and they have to make a living. But how did they get hold of my private email address? It’s not published anywhere – that I know of anyway. Virtually all my work is with the Daily Mirror and has been for more than 20 years, but I’ve never had a company email. I can’t imagine it came from the Aslef Journal, the magazine of the train drivers’ union, or The Tablet, the Catholic weekly for which I occasionally review books. So where did it come from? I taxed the think-tank man who


wanted to bend my ear about Stonehenge (he was cross about government procrastination). Do they all sit round in the pub and swap this info, as the industrial correspondents of old did with union bosses’ home phone numbers? Oh, no. It came from a database. A what? The Roxhill database, which supplied my private details. Who is this? Its very smart website, with flashing pics of City skyscrapers, a war photographer, a baby and suchlike, proclaims it is ‘the next-generation media database’ providing ‘real-time media intelligence for professionals’. Clients are grouped into Lifestyle, Financial, TMT (Telecoms, Media,Technology), Arts & Education, Healthcare, Industrial and Property. With Alex Northcott’s team of seasoned PR and industry professionals, Roxhill is ‘the leading real-time media intelligence platform’. That’s good to know. What does it mean? With ‘customisable alerts’ and ‘streams’,


Roxhill boasts it can inform well-heeled clients about ‘headlines, forward features, media requests and keyword matches in real time’ (those words again). It can ‘discover - and act (my italics)– on those journalists who are leading the debate and driving the commentary on issues you care about’. Stripped of the marketing nonsense, this says they can


identify individual journalists and influence what we write about their clients using personal information. Not so much


14 | theJournalist


investigative journalism as investigated journalists. Roxhill’s customers include HSBC, Goldman Sachs,


accountants PwC, oil firm BP, Rolls-Royce, construction firm Balfour Beatty, G4S, BT, drinks giant Diageo, outsourcing conglomerate Serco, investment bank Citi and global investors BlackRock, which hired Evening Standard editor George Osborne on £650,000 a year for working one day a week. A roll call of blue-chip City companies, which must


generate very lucrative income. Just the kind of people we really want breathing down our necks. One of the more gushing endorsements comes from Edwin Morgan, head of media relations at the Institute of Directors, who says: “Roxhill really impressed us with the quality of data it holds on journalists compared to its rivals.” The data it holds? Like my private email address, I suppose – and data on 100,000 other journalists like me. Rivals? They might have twice that, admits Northcott. Interestingly, not everything is known about the CEO of


Roxhill. A former army officer, he made £13 million five years ago from the sale of Gorkana, a start-up media company he named after a Gurkha soldier who saved his life in a Borneo swamp. He read history at university and, before that, “I was at school,” he says tersely, offering nothing more. Gorkana was bought by Cision, which promises to ‘leverage


the world’s largest media database to build targeted lists and reach the right audiences’. It will ‘optimise results by discovering new influencers, uncovering preferred contact methods and gaining valuable pitching tips’. It does so using biographical details, direct outlet/contact information (address, URL, email and phone/fax). This sounds more like GCHQ than PR. For a successful media campaign, says Northcott, “you need to target the relevant journalists and be effective in your approach”. Like pointing the Stonehenge lobby at me? This can be a hit and miss game, he admits – in his words ‘spray and pray’ – but there must be an awful lot of hits for rich clients to cough up big bucks for access to these databases. Such a strategy, if so it may be termed, is frowned upon by


the industry’s professional body, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, which has more than 10,000 members, ranging from big corporates to one-man bands. Phil Morgan, PR for the CIPR, says: “Spray and pray is not good, professional practice. Selling in stories to journalists where there is a strong interest and where the information is useful and well researched and well put together is more likely to get good results for clients and employers. Spamming a long list of journalists is wasteful and poor practice.” But it happens all the same, presumably because rival


database companies have to claim ‘my base is bigger than theirs, and more comprehensive – so use it’, simply to win the business. This is money-making commerce, not social


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