More journalists have moved to email interviews, including this one. You’d be surprised how different the responses are, and IMHO, it’s the little things that can make or break coverage.
This post assumes your client has been selected for an email interview.
#1: Include Your Client’s Information
Wait, what? I already gave you that stuff in my original pitch over email…
Maybe, but is it correct? A lot of times in a pitch, PR pros will say something like, “Anil is with…” or “Anil is lead at XYZ Company.” That may be true. On the other hand, his LinkedIn title, or the title on the company site (assuming he’s listed) may say something more specific like VP of Technology and Co-founder. Perhaps he was just promoted to CEO and it hasn’t been announced yet, but will be by the time the story hits. Stuff happens.
Include your client’s information so you can be sure that it’s correct and free of typos. Sometimes email pitches include typos that include misspelled client names or misspelled client company names (which happened this week). Also, in the unlikely event that your client’s name or company name is misspelled when the story hits, you can show the mistake wasn’t yours (which makes a difference).
And another thing: Sometimes an email thread related to a pitch for ONE story is unbelievably long. Some of them exceed 20 messages to and from Ms. PR Maven. She may have included the client’s title in Message #1, in Message #19, somewhere in between or not at all. It’s cheap insurance (and a best practice) to include your client’s information at the top, in boldface type, with a link to your client’s website.
#2: Advise Your Client to Provide Thoughtful, Well-Reasoned Responses
Most interviewees do this, which is great. A few don’t. Those that don’t run the risk of not being included in a story because what they said just doesn’t fit in. FWIW, at the top of my email interview questions I say, “Thank you for your thoughtful, well-reasoned responses.” The implication is provide short answers at your own risk.
From where I sit, stories have a life of their own. I pitch ideas, get approval, fish for sources on HARO, interview people, and then weave that into something coherent. It’s kind of like putting together a puzzle: I know the subject matter of the puzzle, but I don’t know what the pieces are (depends on the interviews) and how they’ll fit together. Here’s why brief commentary is dangerous, if you’re working with me.
As background, brief commentary takes a couple of forms – the pithy response and the general short answer, both of which can be difficult or impossible to include in a story.
Knowing journalists use quotables, sometimes (albeit rarely), an interviewee will try to provide short, pithy, supposedly quotable quips that are “cute” and most likely unusable. The quips are based on false assumptions about how the story will flow.
Comparatively, thoughtful, well-reasoned answers provide perspectives and the reasons for those perspectives. This is great because intelligent minds, and even experts, disagree. It’s always helpful to understand why. Also, the richer commentary also provides more to work with, and therefore more opportunities (and a better likelihood) for coverage.
The general short answer typically shows a lack of effort. The interviewee provides one or two sentences, which tend to be obvious points that others have also made and so there’s nothing original. Because there’s nothing original (and someone probably said the same thing more eloquently), guess what?
Obviously, when I don’t use commentary I get questions about it. I answer those questions honestly, and essentially say one of the two things above.
#3: Make Sure The Answers Align With the Questions
This sounds obvious, but people can go off on tangents. Sometimes, I’ve hit a hot-button issue to the point of opening Pandora’s Box. The interviewee spews out all kinds of information, perhaps little or none of which address the question directly.
Sometimes people want to promote their products. This is fine to some degree, assuming that’s the point of the piece, but I don’t tend to write about products or how great they are unless it’s sponsored content. My Help a Reporter Out (HARO) posts always state “non-promotional” content, but not everyone pays attention. If I ask for commentary on issues and trends, and receive answers about all the bells and whistles of a product, I find myself explaining why the commentary wasn’t used.
Related to this are transparently obvious self-serving answers. I don’t blame vendors for this. They’re doing it because PR is a promotional vehicle, but it ain’t advertorial. Sometimes, transparently promotional stuff is kind of amusing, but perhaps unusable. I’m really not going to quote someone saying, “what they really need is the industry’s most robust, scalable, global, award-winning, industry-leading API platform.”
There are a few simple things that can make the difference between getting coverage and not getting coverage. I’ve included three things that could help probably 40% of the people I work with over time.
If you’re already doing these things, thank you very much. Hopefully this commentary will be valuable for you nevertheless, because even if you know the ropes, you’ll probably need to teach someone else, soon.