Q&A with Mary Lennighan

Ana By Ana

We recently caught up with freelancer Mary Lennighan to find out how she got into journalism and her thoughts on the best ways that PRs can engage with journalists. Mary is the former editor of Total Telecom and is now a freelance telco writer.

How did you get into journalism? By accident! I took a job at a small telecoms publishing firm in Devon – just temporarily – while I figured out how best to use my languages degree. After three years there I moved to London and joined Total Telecom and now, many years later, I'm firmly entrenched in the telecoms industry. I doubt I'd survive in the wild!

Who are you writing for at the moment? I still write for Total Telecom occasionally, but left full-time employment there last year to set up Woodighan Ink, a telecoms-focused research/editorial service, with my husband. We write for various publications and companies in the UK and overseas.

What are your main areas of interest? I like to focus on telecoms operator strategy, looking at how telcos can best run their businesses to keep customers and shareholders happy – no mean feat! That includes things like the economics of network deployment, monetisation of assets, like real estate and passive infrastructure, spectrum allocation processes and regulatory developments. I'll turn my hand to pretty much anything telecoms though.

Any advice for PRs out there that want to pitch stories to you? Honestly, half the time it's about luck. A pitch could vanish into a black hole on a busy day, but then catch my attention on a different occasion. That's not really advice though, is it?! For me, short emails are key: if you can tell me what you are offering in a couple of clear sentences I'm much more likely to read and respond than if met by a wall of text. I'm also not great at answering the phone, because essentially I'm a misanthrope!

What is your biggest frustration with the PR community? The fact that there are way more of you than there are of us! I don't like ignoring people's attempts to get in touch or sell a story, but if I didn't I wouldn't have time to eat or sleep, never mind get any work done.

To be fair, my biggest frustrations usually stem from the client, rather than the PR. For example, if I ask a question and the client takes a long time to answer, or if I pick up on something that doesn't fully fit the client's message and the poor PR person gets caught in the crossfire.

What is your ideal pitch from a PR? As mentioned, a short email. There was a memorable occasion a few years ago when a PR person took a taxi round London and delivered bottles of vodka to journalists. That was quite effective, but probably not sustainable!

Do you find that PRs know enough about the tech they are pitching or the issues impacting your audience? There's a complete spectrum: I've met PRs who know way more about the tech than I do, and PRs who are totally winging it, and many more in between. Ditto re. the audience.

Do you find press events/trips useful? How could they be improved? Useful, yes, but it's often difficult to justify the time out of the office when you're juggling lots of other things. I think the key thing is having a group of journalists with similar focuses, so everything on the trip is relevant. Personally, I'm not a fan of tours of offices, factories, etc. because there's not a lot I can do with that... although admittedly I did once volunteer for a trip down an East London sewer to look at a fibre installation (no pun intended), but the less said about that the better.

Also, don't haul me half way round the world then tell me a lot of the event will be off-the-record, but useful for background; it rarely is!

What was your favourite story from the last 12 months and why? Without getting too political about it, the news on a global level has just been so depressing over the past year or so that I'm starting to hanker for the days when someone could make the local news on the strength of an amusing shaped carrot or something.

In telecoms, I'm loving the ongoing Sprint/T-Mobile stuff in the US. We have had years and years of 'will they, won't they?' speculation and now there are all the regulatory hurdles to clear; it's like a soap opera. I'm also enjoying all the pieces charting the progress of 5G spectrum allocation and so on. It reminds of all the fun we had with 3G licensing. That also makes me feel very old though!

In terms of stories I have worked on, I think I had the most fun with a post-Mobile World Congress piece in which I considered how telcos are not really telcos anymore. It was good to examine all the hype from Barcelona from a safe distance for once.