Freelance Journalist Focus: Neil Cumins

In today’s freelance focus interview, Neil Cumins tells us about the unusual, the useful, and potentially exotic things working freelance can bring, and the all-importance of HR in PR…

About your journalism

What do you write about?

My main area of expertise is residential property, and I do a great deal of writing in this sector. The rest of my workload involves producing advertorial-style company profiles or newsletters, with a bit of tweeting thrown in.

Where are we likely to see your work?

I’ve written the GSPC Property Guide (the biggest property publication in Scotland) for seven years, mostly as an employee but latterly as a freelancer, and I also produce newsletters for opticians all around the UK. Most of my advertorial work is published in chunky coffee-table books, on behalf of organisations like Oxford and Cambridge universities.

What’s the most memorable work you’ve done?

I’ve visited some absolutely exquisite houses in the west of Scotland in my time, and one barn conversion in the South Lanarkshire countryside absolutely stole my heart – it had its own eight-seater cinema. I won a national award earlier this year for writing and researching opticians’ newsletters, so that project will always be memorable.

What interview or feature would you love the chance to do?

After three years working in the motor trade, I adore all things automotive. Heaven for me would be an in-depth review of some new piece of exotica – I used to write road tests many years ago, but they were always about fairly mainstream vehicles. I keep hoping I’ll be offered freelance work as a car reviewer, but the email never arrives…

About you and PRs

Where do you source ideas for articles?

Almost all my work is commissioned before I start writing it, but I browse through the newspaper websites every day seeking inspiration (apart from the Times, which I refuse to pay for on principle.)

How can PRs be useful to you?

A lot of copywriting involves working for companies who already employ PR agencies. Swift responses to an introductory email (and the provision of plentiful information by return) will make me love a PR forever. Too often, I have to chase them up for ages before they supply what I need.

How and when do you like them to get in touch?

I always enjoy hearing about unusual products and services, and December is a particularly good month for unsolicited information, especially for the Property Guide.

Do you find press conferences, trips, parties and other events useful or an interruption?

I’ve never once attended an event and come away thinking it was worthwhile. Conferences and events are great for schmoozing but I’m (a) very busy and (b) infused with a natural aversion to networking, so I rarely attend them any more.

If you could make one change to the way PRs deal with you, what would it be?

A guaranteed reply to my emails within 48 hours would be a blessing. It’s amazing how often PRs ignore journalists and copywriters, even when we’re trying to publicise their clients…

About you:

How would you pay the bills if you weren’t a journalist?

With my (depressingly comprehensive) knowledge of residential property, I’d probably become an estate agent. I actually rang some local agents as a teenager, asking whether I needed any qualifications to work in their industry. They all sounded surprised to hear from me.

If we gave you £1000, how would you spend it?

I’ve always promised that I’ll give ten per cent of any money I win to charity. I’d probably spend the rest on solid oak furniture for my bedroom, to replace the flimsy flat-pack stuff that’s currently disintegrating in there. I’ve sworn never to buy self-assembly furniture again, and I’ve even written articles about how horrible it is.

What books are on your bedside table, magazines in your bag, or blogs on your screen?

I’ve been reading Andrew Marr’s History of Modern Britain for ages, and I have a 25-year back catalogue of What Car? magazines, which I rarely read but can’t bear to throw out. I really am that obsessed.

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