editorial calendarsCongratulations – a reporter has agreed to interview one of your clients for a story. The bad news: Your client suddenly got too busy for an interview, but will answer emailed questions.

You probably review your client’s answers before passing them on to the reporter. But based on my recent experience, some PR pros aren’t looking for the right things – or not looking closely enough.

Check this “to-do” list to maximize your client’s chances of being quoted.

Did they actually answer the question?

You’d be amazed (or maybe not) at how many answers aren’t really answers. They’re discussions, musings, self-evident problem statements or thinly disguised marketing claims. Real answers have a “yes,” “no” or clearly defined “It all depends” statement.

If I ask “Is cloud computing safe for medical records?” don’t tell me “The safety of patient information in the cloud is an issue any responsible enterprise will need to consider carefully.” Instead, give me examples of how to tell when it is or isn’t safe, or examples of safe/unsafe data.

Did you spell out all acronyms and explain all terms?

One recent response said “(IT) automation has the inherent risk of creating a `black box’.”  It never described what the client meant by “black box” or what the risk is. I have a pretty good idea what they meant, but in an email (unlike an interview) I can’t easily clarify it. If I need to start another email thread to ask, under deadline, it cuts your chances of being quoted.

The same goes for acronyms, as in: “CNCF and other communities provide reference architectures…” If you told me this was “the Cloud Native Computing Foundation” an open source standards effort” I’d be much more likely to include it.

Did you attribute the response to a specific person with a title, not an amorphous organization?

Editors insist their reporter’s quote people, especially for in-depth, advice-oriented features.

Did you spell check the reply?

I know auto correct makes stupid mistakes, and that your client is in a rush. But sloppy grammar errors make me doubt the rest of the response as well.

Did you provide a three to six word description of your client so the writer can position them in the story?

Make sure these are short and specify whether your client sells hardware, software or services. Think “cloud security services provider” or “Salesforce configuration services provider.” Avoid vague, marketing-driven statements like “Acme Solutions helps enterprises worldwide maximize the value of their sales teams.”

Did you avoid stories, quotes, or examples from third parties?

“A 2016 Gartner report (quoted in InfoWorld) showed demand for data scientists will rise 20.7 per cent per year between 2016 and 2020.” This forces me to check if your client got the number right and if I or they have the right to reuse that figure. I also can’t quote a report in a competing publication. Better approach: Provide a link to only publicly accessible reports so I can cite them accurately, easily and with confidence.

Did you edit for clarity and conciseness?

Not everything has to be a super sound bite, but help your client by crisping up their writing. Here’s one example from Eric Turnquist, senior director of information technology at network monitoring and it management vendor Ipswitch, (not a client of mine.) My question was whether system administrators are still needed in a world of DevOps (combining development and operations to speed applications to market.)

“Traditional systems administrator skills will still be needed. There’s usually tribal knowledge around legacy systems – people that know the old systems because they were here when they were built – that is tough to replace. Everything hasn’t been completely migrated from those old systems…now you’re stuck with it and need folks with traditional skills to use that technology, or to finish migrating from it. Knowledge of traditional systems and the skills to use them will always be in demand for this reason.”

Do you review your clients’ responses to emailed reporters’ questions? If you push back for better answers, do they listen?

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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