Writers in Rollers? It's a new breed of journalist

Jeremy Hart's company is tapping into a seam of journalism that is careful to distinguish between PR and reportage.
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Jeremy Hart has just taken the Roller out for a spin, across the Atacama desert in northern Chile. As you do. Not only that, but he will be paid a decent rate for his troubles in writing up the experience.

This South American adventure was not a press junket, he makes clear. "Rolls-Royce doesn't do press trips. Rolls-Royce does no PR and even less marketing, if you are going to buy a Rolls-Royce, you are going to buy a Rolls-Royce."

Even so, Hart, who runs a ground-breaking journalistic enterprise called Inc, persuaded the most famous name in motor cars to part with one of its £250,000 vehicles for an expedition aimed at garnering coverage in print and video. Inc organised all the logistics, knowing that the trip was going to create unique copy, and then identified a series of stories which it sold to various publications. Which makes the expedition sound a lot simpler than it was – getting the car through customs in South America was "like turning up at Heathrow with a bar of gold stuffed into your smalls," Hart recalls.

Inspired by the exploits of the pioneering Argentine motor racing driver, Juan-Manuel Fangio, he mapped out the journey, calling up various journalistic partners from his Inc collective to cover diverse angles for various publications as the Rolls traversed South America. "We did a piece with a couple of Argentine footballers and their passion for cars. One of our journos did a story on South America's most renowned vineyard. And we are making a TV show out of the trip and have interest from three or four big channels," he says. "Rolls are happy because they see their car doing things that it wouldn't normally do."

Inc is a team of 120 writers, 25 photographers, 15 television cameramen, 3 television editors, six logistics people and four designers, every one of them freelance. As well as being one of the founders, Hart, 43, is one of the four permanent staff working from an office in Surrey, dreaming up projects like the odyssey across the Atacama.

Another recent project, this time a joint one for Land Rover and Tourism Australia, involved a drive across the Australian outback, compiling features on, among other things, aboriginal art and the young indigenous sportsmen who find a way out of poverty in the bush by becoming stars of rugby and Australian Rules football. The various articles, which appeared in several newspapers, were compiled into a book for Tourism Australia, which was also distributed to Land Rover owners.

And when George Clooney appeared in an advertising campaign in Los Angeles last month, Inc had the only journalist on set, interviewing the actor for print media while filming the exchange for television and online.

Hart is broadening Inc's outlook beyond the territory of motoring adventures. "Because my background was cars and travel that was the easy sell; Ford, BMW, Rolls-Royce, Land Rover," he says. "But we've picked up six new clients in the past five months, including TAG Heuer, Samsonite and Martini."

The copy that Inc produces is not, he emphasises, advertorial. "What Inc does is real stories. There's no polished bullshit, it's all real stories, real people, real ideas. We charge clients for our time, work and logistics. We put the whole thing together."

He started Inc in 2005, convinced there was a gap in the market for high-quality writing, tailored to particular brands but editorially independent. "One of the things we stipulate is our independence. The whole point of Inc is credibility, if we looked like a mouthpiece for a brand our credibility would go out the window."

So the journalists are deployed to assignments according to their particular specialisms and are paid at a rate comparable to that for a top Sunday magazine supplement. "In the whole artistic sphere, journalists are very much bottom of the food chain," says Hart. "Journalists' skills have been under-regarded."

At first, Inc was "calling 20 mates and saying if we put ourselves together as a coalition we can offer ourselves as a team rather than an individual". The operation now boasts a roster of journalists that includes such well-known by-lines as Jonathan Margolis, sports writer Ian Stafford, familiar to readers of the Mail on Sunday, former Times staffer John Goodbody and the arts writer Amy Raphael.

"What we do is come up with an idea for a project which is editorial driven. We average between 25-100 stories per project," says Hart, who asks the journalists to find angles that best suit the publications with which they have strong relations.

Another recent adventure, for Ford, involved interviews with 15 rugby players in 15 countries around the world. "They were all grass-roots players who did a job typical of their country, an Argentine gaucho, a Namibian diamond miner. We sold that idea to Ford, who used that for an advertising campaign on Sky and all sorts of marketing."

The Inc approach has advantages, he says, for company PRs and the agents of celebrities. For the Clooney shoot, Inc is looking to produce written pieces for at least three different newspaper markets and a video from a single interview. "The A-list celebrity doesn't have to go through the PR junket but gets a massive amount of exposure. I don't want to blow the gaff on this, but press trips are a complete waste of time. The idea of going on a junket to get 10 minutes with Uma

Thurman in a hotel room in New York – whilst most men would kill for that – it doesn't really cut the mustard professionally. No one wins."

Hart admits there is no guarantee to clients that a piece will run in a particular place and that some editors are "not comfortable" with the concept of taking in copy they have not commissioned themselves because they "didn't think it was appropriate". But Inc, he says, will stand or fall by the credibility of the writing.

"Inc is not about advertorials, they achieve nothing, they're not an advert and they're not editorial," he says. "All we do is find a good story and do it. We don't do dull either, we only do fun stuff."