Have you sent emails to journalists over and over again, trying to get print coverage about your product or book, or offering to submit a great article they can run for free?
If you’ve gotten no response, it may be that you lost them even before they scrolled to the bottom of your email.
In another PR Insider article, I shared five of the common mistakes people make when soliciting journalists:
• Their emails go on and on before getting to the point.
• They’re not aware of the publication’s deadline (so they’ve missed it).
• They don’t have vital information, such as a contact phone number, clearly visible.
• Their pitch is inappropriate for the publication (because they’ve never read it).
• Their suggestion has no relevance to anything timely and topical.
(Before I go on, I want to make sure to tell you that on August 23rd’s Blog Talk Radio show at 3:00PM EST (click here) my co-host was former newspaper editor Penny Carnathan. She is a 30-year veteran of two major daily papers – and currently a weekly columnist at one. But, even more important (to me anyway) is that Penny’s also EMSI’s Creative Director/Writer. We talked about the pitches that she acted on as an editor, and the ones that fell flat.)
Once you have all you need to whip your pitches into shape, you may just find an email in your inbox that says, “Can I schedule an interview with you?”
What do you do when that happens? First, a happy dance.
Then, try some of these suggestions:
• Respond quickly. Print and online journalists typically have daily and weekly deadlines. Even if they don’t need to speak with you immediately (which they may!), they’ll often want to know ASAP whether you’re willing and able to talk. In many cases, journalists reach out to several experts at the same time, then choose the one or two who respond most quickly – or who provide the best interview. The more accessible you are, the more likely you’ll get called on again.
• Read up on the writer. If you’re not familiar with the reporter or editor, read up on their work online. See what sort of stories he or she oversees or covers: Are they news, features or a mix of both? Is the person a columnist writing about issues of the day (in which case, they may be free to inject their opinion)? It helps to be familiar with who you’ll be talking to so you can provide appropriately framed responses. And, as with anyone, it’s always nice for a journalist to hear that you’re familiar with their work.
• Take your own notes before the interview. You likely have a good idea of what the reporter plans to write about. If you don’t, it’s perfectly okay to ask what the gist of the story is so that you can prepare relevant comments. If they’re looking for tips, list a few on paper in case you draw a blank. That will also help you plan concise answers that quickly get to the point. Personal anecdotes and strong analogies add color and interest to a story. Think about whether you’ve got a good brief one (short is appreciated!) that will illustrate what you’re saying.
• Provide direct answers. Reporters are looking to you for information and opinions that will help them tell their story. Answer their questions as directly as you can. If you don’t have an answer, don’t try to make one up! It never hurts to say, “I don’t have hard numbers on that, but I can give you an opinion based on my experience.” Or, “That’s not my expertise,” and perhaps recommend another source. You’ll be more likely to be called upon again if journalists feel they can trust you. Don’t use the opportunity to try to pitch, sell or promote your book, product or business; the reason they’re talking to you is likely because you’re an expert based on your book, product or business – so they’ll use that information to establish your credentials in their story.
• Try to speak clearly and at a moderate pace: Whether the reporter is taking notes with a pen or a computer, it will be hard to keep up if you talk quickly or interrupt yourself frequently. Not only might he miss some of the brilliant things you have to say, he may (gulp!) make an error that becomes a misquote in the story. Speak at a conversational speed, and if you really want to be a big help, offer to spell anyone’s name you mention and what that person is known for, unless it’s Barack Obama or Paula Deen. A good reporter will double-check the spelling, but you’ll save her time by giving her a starting point.
Sound like a piece of cake? Actually, it’s even better. That reporter may hang onto your name and contact information, and even share it with other reporters. The article he or she writes will get its initial audience, and then it will likely live online for future readers to find when they search the topic. And you can post it on your website, where it will give you added credibility when visitors stop by.
So relax and enjoy your interview. And then do your happy dance.