25 May 2009 00:00 [Source: ICB]
You've no doubt heard, but the chemical sector is in the midst of a downturn. Prices are fluctuating wildly, plants are closing - some permanently, and established market players with strong pedigrees are being wiped from existence.
For us journalists, there is no better indicator of the tough times we're facing than the dearth of invitations to exotic-sounding press junkets that we receive in our email inbox.
Not so many years ago, my colleagues and I would scrabble for the visit to that exclusive restaurant or the trip abroad to meet the executives of an up-and-coming player.
A nice perk didn't detract from our objectivity or guarantee the publication of an article, you understand, but it often helped to create a more relaxed environment for all concerned. No doubt, those being interrogated by the press felt a little more at ease too.
As well as the meals, there were the trips to China or the US - business or first class, naturally (all offers were welcome) - and days out at a rugby, soccer or cricket match. And what about the gifts left on your table at a conference: a pen drive containing a press release, a shiny new pen or a clock, perhaps?
I've heard many a tale of fantastic sounding trips in the past, but thanks to cost cutting and belt tightening those halcyon days of the 1980s and 1990s are now long gone.
It's all very well being emailed information - very helpful, in fact - but you can't beat a gaggle of journalists getting together to query the latest financial figures face to face with company execs, or asking when a plant is finally going to restart, if ever.
Clearly, the chemical sector is going through a period of change, but it's a real shame, not only because the press like a good day out - but because this remains a people industry.
Nurturing relationships is essential in our profession; it's all about meeting people and establishing contacts with key figures who we can call upon for an opinion or quotable soundbite now and again. It also helps companies understand what journalists look for in a story and how best to disseminate that information.
Let's hope that cutbacks, and the increased use of webinars and conference calls, don't signal the death knell for the last remaining press events and stop these all important relationships from forming.
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