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Last updated: June 2, 2012 12:05 am
About once a week my colleague Emily (she looks after PR for our companies) receives an email from a Taiwanese style magazine, French newspaper or Chinese website requesting an interview on the topic of luxury. As a rule we decline most of these requests as I tend to cover the topic widely on this page and in Monocle, and also because there’s only so much to say about it.
On the odd occasion when there’s a tactical fit with a title, due to geography or timing, Emily will say yes and we’ll arrange a date for an interview. The Taiwanese will usually send a detailed email requesting written answers and will also ask countless questions that could easily be found in previous interviews. This will be followed by five other follow-up rounds of questions that all need to be answered within the hour and then there will be a long pause before publication.
French journalists start their interviews by saying they’d hoped to come to London to meet face to face but had to settle for a phone call because their editorial board had cut their travel budget and their newspaper can no longer even pay for a ticket on the Eurostar. We then end up having a conversation about the state of print journalism and never really get to the topic of luxury. We both hang up happy, though, having had a moan about creatively challenged creative directors, timid publishers and the good old days of magazine publishing in the early 1990s.
As for the Chinese website (that looks quite nice and which tells us it has 23,000,000,000,000,000 unique users a day), they send a comprehensive outline of discussion points like the Taiwanese but also inform us that they’ll be sending a delegation of around 15 people and would like to have time to talk about the future of print journalism, the global relevance of e-publishing, how to find talented people in the global marketplace, Chinese values in the global media marketplace and starting joint ventures with Chinese values in the global media and luxury marketplace. We’re also told that they will require at least three hours for this interview and will bring a film crew.
By this point Emily is hyperventilating and is reaching for her extra-large bucket of cold water to throw on the whole thing but eventually she cools down and suggests a more focused one-hour session on the original topic and perhaps just a journalist and interpreter and no filming.
Fast-forward two weeks and you can’t move in our lobby, as the Chinese website never received our email and the numbers have swelled to 20. At this point Emily does a quick head count and informs the group that they’re not allowed to take any pictures or shoot any video in our offices. She then organises an escort through the building and before they’ve cleared the first floor the scolding has already started: “Excuse me, but no photos please.” There’s usually a half-hearted apology. As we settle down to chat Emily goes over the ground rules and reminds everyone that there’s no video and she can supply all necessary photography and library shots.
The moment Emily leaves, a tripod is pulled from someone’s bag, another person pulls out a light and two people are locking video cameras into position. “Is it OK if we make video?” I smile and tell them it’s best if we just do the interview as agreed. As I go through the questions with the lead journalist, phone cameras are snapping everything in my office and two people have excused themselves to use the toilet. As we’re wise to the bathroom routine, we keep a close eye but even in our own building these “journalists” can give Emily and her team the slip. The flashing red light on my BlackBerry is usually accompanied by a message saying something to the effect of, “I think they have now documented every inch of the building.”
The interview comes to a close when Emily slides open my office door, clasps her hands, smiles and says, “I think we have time for one last question.” This is usually met with grimaces of protest and requests for extra time. “OK, OK, one last question – can you tell me how much it costs your building and where we can get drawings for these furniture?” Emily leans in again. “Right, well, I think we’re done here,” she says, motioning everyone to the open door. I can tell she’d like to have everyone walk under the world’s most powerful magnet to erase everything that’s been captured but she keeps smiling, ushering the delegation to the front door.
Weeks later, we join the other 23,000,000,000,000,000 users of the site to look for the interview but there’s nothing there – just loads of images of things to buy and most of them look vaguely, even eerily familiar.
Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine
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