Natalie Stevenson, technology editor, Retail Week. Winner of PTC’s new business features journalist of the year 2004
For most people on Retail Week, excitement and/or panic peaks about two or three in the afternoon on press day. I, however, build to a gentler crescendo because my features deadline is on Thursday morning. I start the day putting a few last calls in to retailers and technology bods, asking them about Chip and PIN.
Once that’s in the bag, I do an analysis of French retailers who are au fait with Chip and PIN and can’t see what the fuss is about. I have a couple of painfully loud calls asking for people in my pidgin French and then being asked to speak very slowly in English.
There’s nothing like a foreign language to expose you if you don’t know what you’re talking about in your own.
As the rest of the office repair to the pub for press-day revels, I reluctantly make my way to the launch of digital music download vending.
The reason for my trepidation is that yesterday the deputy features editor and I went to a supposedly swanky but informal press do in Sala Meza, which was apparently voted the best bar in London. We had taken spotting comedian Bill Bailey as a good omen.
However, we were wrong.
The techie people were there but the retailers had cancelled. No one was there to say hello or (shock!) buy us a drink. We were haughtily told by a pack of businessmen that we could “hang out in their conversation” if we really wanted. We spent the rest of the evening in Ed’s diner eating burgers.
Trying to put this behind me, I set off for the launch alone. No Bill Bailey sightings this time but even though there are 200 or so people squeezed into the bar, there are troops of organisers to introduce me to retailers and digital music people.
I head for the line of themed cocktails standing on the bar when I overhear a man telling someone that he has far more important people to chat to than her. I turn out to be important enough for him to converse with a little later, but make sure I leave him to speak to the “unimportant” woman he had previously shunned.
What a moral triumph.
Attempt to walk to work in the rain from Dalston having stayed with a mate, but feebly give up and hop on a bus.
Fight the urge to sneak into the office the back way so I’m not spotted in my “office worker power walker” black tights and trainers by any fascist fashionistas. File copy and then hit the phones to prepare for next week’s feature.
I overhear the production editor asking whether “Natalie has been told she has an extra feature to file this week”.
Not my greatest moment, but after a brief panic where I realise there had in fact been a meeting about this before I joined the magazine, a backup feature is pulled from the recesses of a colleague’s computer and I spend the rest of the morning sprucing it up.
I have lunch with a gent from a technology company and a journalist turned PR who tells me about how she went to the dark-side, or got away from the dark-side depending on how you look at it.
Forging allegiances over lunch is all part of the job but I vow to go to the gym tonight to prevent the inevitable journalist-jowls developing.
First thing I meet three people involved with next week’s RFID tagging conference. Intrigued? Having explained radio frequency tagging to my flat-mate for half an hour she promised me she understood it enough to never have to speak of it again. Ever.
My geeky side, however, prevails and I find it fascinating that these tags have been used by the MoD and are now being used by retailers to track and trace goods, to the point where they have to make sure they’re not infringing consumers’ privacy.
Rather less exciting though, and more nerve wracking, is the prospect of chairing the conference next week.
Trying to chase some news leads for Monday, I am preoccupied by what I’ll say at the conference and try to remember the rules of public speaking: don’t try to be funny, don’t speak too quickly and don’t imagine a room full of technology and retail experts naked.
I get in early on Monday, primed to speak to Argos for a story. I am, however, interrupted by the Chinese water torture that is incoming emails.
File all my emails so they will probably never surface again and realise the morning is already dead.
Spend the afternoon having angry conversations with a PR who laments being “stuck in the middle” of me and an unhappy retail client, which is unfortunately her job. The retailer didn’t like what I wrote about them. Sample: “Drastic retractions need to be made.”
“We don’t do advertorial, it’s tough shit.”
“I know, but what can I tell them?” I spend the next hour untangling the misunderstanding, finish writing the news page and start working on the conference.
Who would have thought there were so many things to say about RFID tagging? University did nothing to prepare me for concentrating on lectures for every second of a day at a conference. I spend most of the time thinking of intelligent questions for the Q&As.
Enjoy the power of the “speaker countdown” machine far too much.
From the dark depths of the conference centre I set off for the Grosvenor.
Change my outfit in Selfridges’ toilets on the way and set off the alarms somehow.
I turn up at the Drapers Record awards.As our sister magazine, the staff are working the room and draining the fashion retailers of stories for all they’re worth.
I watch Jack Dee kick off the ceremony, sniping at retailers which Drapers have had squabbles with.
Later, I am amazed that at the swankiest of dos at the Grosvenor, even the poshest frocks always end up twirling round to Earth, Wind and Fire.
The same people looking down their noses at my Top Shop dress in the ladies toilet are now twirling their stilettos round their heads and prizing their popsocks off the sticky dancefloor.
I try to spot famous people to no avail. Through the wine blur everyone starts to look like Jimmy Savile, so it’s time to go home.