If you can't say something useful...

If you can’t say something useful…

Close to 80 percent of PR folks want reporters to interrupt their clients if the client isn’t doing a good job on an interview.

Those are the most recent results of my quick on-line survey about what reporter and PR pros should do to prep clients for interviews that will result in a quote..

“Be a reporter. Be tough. Ask tough questions,” said one respondent. “I like the idea of course correction, ” said another. Even one of the 13% who leaned instead towards the reporter “doggedly chugging along in hopes the source said they’d be comfortable with attempts at redirection.

For the record, I try – really try – to steer interviews onto more fruitful ground when they’re not going well.  After all, I need good quotes and insights to build my story. But I haven’t yet figured out a polite way to say:

  • “I keep asking specific questions and you keep replying with marketing blather.”
  • “I keep asking what your technology does and you keep describing the problem it solves.”
  • “I keep asking for industry trends and you keep giving me pap like `We’ll continue to respond to our customers’ needs.’”

The Morning After

After the interview-gone-bad is over, just over one quarter of respondents felt it was the reporter’s responsibility to tell the PR person the bad news. Another said it was up to the PR person to take further action, that it “was just one of those things and you try again on a future story.”

Who, if anyone, should force a do-over on a bad interview?

Who, if anyone, should force a do-over on a bad interview?

Of course, most respondents – fairly – said the onus is on reporters to tell them what they need. “I can’t know the interview was a bust unless the reporter gives me what he is looking for in advance,” said another. “If I know it’s about cloud computing in the healthcare industry, fine – my client will be prepared. But (if afterwards) a reporter says to me `I was looking for specific case studies of how real healthcare facilities are using this technology’ then…the reporter…just wasted my clients’ time.”

Many respondents were surprisingly reluctant to ask for sample questions, a standard part of my email newsletter (subscribe here) inviting PR folks to pitch their clients for stories I’m writing.

“I don’t think it’s fair to ask (a reporter) for questions beforehand,” said another respondent. “We need to understand the angle, and why the reporter thinks our source is going to be valuable. But to ask for questions in advance is an indication of a lazy or clueless PR person.”

“As a PR person I rarely feel comfortable asking for that detail,” said another. “I’d only do that for someone I have a relationship with and who I know would do so. The key is to understand the type of angle(s) the reporters covering, rather than specific (questions.)”

Finally, several noted messy real-world realities that can doom interviews. “There are absolutely cases where you can prep to the gills, but the CEO will talk about whatever he/she wants and point the finger at the PR person regardless when things don’t pan out. There isn’t a ton of room for ‘I told you so’ in client services, and most of the time, they don’t take lessons learned. Maybe cynical, but true a good portion of the time,” said one.

And rather than care at all, “Most PR (people) are low level (account executives) who think their job is done when they coordinate the interview,” said another.

Earning a Second Chance

Many respondents somewhat wistfully said it would be nice if reporters would ask for another interview if the first went bad. To be honest, that’s probably not something I’ll take the time for.

Here’s an alternative suggestion: If your sense is an interview didn’t cut it, don’t send the usual “Let me know if there’s anything else I can provide” email. Instead, you tell me “I didn’t feel we got our message across as strongly as I could. Would you be willing for me to put together some tight quotes from an executive and, if those pique your interest, we can schedule another interview?”

If I felt your spokesperson did OK, that lets me quickly tell you. If they didn’t, it takes the onus off me to tell you what went wrong while giving your client a second chance.

Sound reasonable? Let me know in the comment field below and, if you haven’t taken the survey, here’s your chance to weigh in.

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 Trends

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