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PR tips for placing executive quotes in stories

That WAS thought leadership! What are you, blind?

Today being the Red Sox home opener, my thoughts turn to those infield dramas where the coach and players go toe to toe with the umpire arguing a call.

By the way, has anyone ever won such an argument with an umpire? Probably about as often as a PR person gets a reporter to admit they were wrong to interview their client for a story, and then not quote them.

I know it’s hard for PR pros to get time with busy executives. I know those executives call PR on the carpet when they give up their time and don’t get placement. And, yes, it’s hard to know exactly what a reporter will ask, what the source will say or how well they will say it.

I’d also ask PR folks to understand (and most of them do) that trade press reporters may do as many as 20 interviews for a story, each covering multiple complex and often ill-defined concepts. (Software-defined networks, anyone?) We ourselves often don’t know until very late in the writing process which angles, much less supporting quotes, will make it into our stories.

And no, we’re not under orders to only quote advertisers, at least not in the 20+ years I’ve been doing this.

Prep Your Spokesperson

But I can suggest ways to better prep B2B sources for interviews, and tell them what they need to deliver to get placement in the final story cut.

Be Specific: I recently interviewed an industry association which couldn’t cite some “speeds and feeds” specifications that were central to my story. They instead referred me to their members. That part of the interview, of course, didn’t make my story. Recommendation: Ensure your sources can discuss, for each trend, “When will this reach the market, at what price, and what type of customers will it be best suited for?”

Get Past the Background: Reporters are usually asking about how vendors will solve a problem their readers are facing. Sources often waste the first ten minutes repeating the problem to me. Recommendation: Unless the reporter asked for more details about the scope of the issue at hand, provide new information about how to solve it. Don’t waste time rehashing the story setup.

Make It Actionable: Sometimes, a source makes a good point but I’m left wondering: “What does this mean for the reader?” In one recent interview, several sources mentioned that application vendors are reluctant to share the “metadata” that storage vendors could use to tier information among more or less expensive storage devices. Recommendation: Always include a recommendation or “takeaway” such as “Until app vendors release this metadata, customers must adopt a third party metadata standard to get the best results from tiering.”

Put Old Wine in New Jars: Sometimes, even often, part of the legitimate “takeaway” for the reader is to do what they already know they should do. For weight watchers, it might be to eat in moderation and exercise more. For security managers, it might be focus on user behavior as well as hardening systems. Recommendation: Put the old insight into a new, or at least, current context. “Today’s data requirements make it more important than ever to understand your storage needs, and applying that understanding to new technology such as solid state drives and clustered file systems.”

Mea Culpa, Mea Culpa  

Now, what should we reporters and editors clean up our act? I’d say we need to be more explicit about what we are looking for in interviews, such as in my “Edit Opportunity” newsletter. We might also do PR pros a favor by pushing back harder before granting an interview. That would give PR contact more  ammunition to go back to their sources and ensure they can deliver the goods.

And do we owe a PR professional a call if an interview won’t make the cut? Part of me thinks that would be nice. Another part thinks it’s up to the PR pro and the spokesperson to give it their best shot and that I’m too busy. What do you think? Tell me how you’d like reporters and editors to improve the reporting process  and I’ll pass on your thoughts in a future post.

Author: Bob Scheier
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I'm a veteran IT trade press reporter and editor with a passion for clear writing that explains how technology can help businesses. To learn more about my content marketing services, email bob@scheierassociates.com or call me at 508 725-7258.

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Filed under: PR/Marketing Writing Tips

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