Nailing Quotes for Reporters

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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
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Why This Pitch Worked, In Six Steps

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best practices case studyHaving recently complained about four sins to avoid while pitching stories, it’s only fair to highlight this recent press release that got it right in six important areas.

Here’s the release, along with (in italics) my take on what they did right. (FWIW, neither Sabrina Sanchez of The Ventana Group (who sent this on) or their client, Condusiv Technologies, are or have been clients of mine.

  1. “Hi Bob. As organizations virtualize, they face performance bottlenecks—finding themselves in an expensive business model of reactively buying more flash or spindles to satisfy application performance challenges.” (The pitch quickly gets to the new pain point they’re describing, and makes clear they’re talking specifically about storage so I can tell if it fits in my beat.)
  2. “However, there is another way to address this problem. With software intelligence tailored for virtual environments, organizations can now drive more performance out of the infrastructure they already have—increasing the productivity of applications and people at a fraction of the cost of additional hardware.” (The pitch quickly and clearly describes what they are offering that is new, as well as its technical and business advantages. Makes it easier for me to decide whether to keep reading and follow up.)
  3. “Most organizations already have 3-4 GB of available DRAM per VM. That may not sound like a lot of capacity for caching purposes, but when you’re talking about the fastest storage media possible that is exponentially faster than SSDs and sits closer to the processor than anything else, it’s the perfect place and size to satisfy problematic I/O that dampens overall performance the most – small, random I/O.” (Having set up the problem, they keep me on the hook with a progressively deeper technical set-up for their solution. Seems like they have a story to tell – I’ll keep reading.)
  4. “Condusiv is tackling this problem today with a software only approach leveraging the infrastructure enterprises already have in place.” (Badda-bing, badda-boom – in eleven words, they describe what they offer and why it’s good. I got, and they didn’t force me to read too far to get it.)
  5. “More than 2000 customers are seeing dramatically improved performance in their Tier I applications such as SQL, Oracle, Exchange, VDI, backup, EHR/EMR (like MEDITECH), CRM (Salesforce), web servers, Business Intelligence (BI), backup applications, file servers, and more.” (Ah, my next question answered – “Do you have customers?” Not only is the answer “yes,” but they describe the use cases so I understand the broad impact of their offering, and pick up any fits with other areas (such as CRM or health care) I cover.)
  6. “Would you be available this week or early next week to get an update from Condusiv and their upcoming June 30th I/O Optimization software announcement along with customers that are able to validate the results?” (This isn’t an offer for a vague “company update” but a product announcement whose importance they have explained – along with, again, an offer of customer names.)

If I were covering the virtualization or storage space and needed a good, forward-looking story with a news hook, this would be a great candidate. Looking forward to seeing more great pitches from you all

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

No Contact Info? Then Don’t Do a Press Release

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how to write a press release There’s a one-sentence error that almost guarantees an editor, blogger or other influencer won’t call for more information, a chat with your CEO or enough details to write about your latest  announcement.

And I’m seeing more and more vendors making this mistake all the time.

The mistake is not in a sentence they include in the press release, but a sentence they leave out.

The missing info is, believe it or not, the name, phone number and email of a person to contact for more information.

Company to Press: Drop Dead?

PR and marketing folks are probably skipping this “For more information….” line because “press” is thought of as old-fashioned or downright obsolete, with bloggers and social media providing the faster path to awareness. Many companies are also cutting back on internal or external PR to save money and figure any calls aren’t worth their time.

Judging from the requests I keep getting for product and company briefings, I “press” exposure is still important. If you don’t agree, why go to the time and trouble of doing a press release at all? If the aim is to get people to notice you and write/blog/Tweet/podcast about you, why wouldn’t you want to make it as easy as possible for them to talk to you?

Even worse is, often, the lack of any easy to find press contact info on company Web sites. More and more, I need to drill deep into the general “Contact Us” page and even go through a drop-down list to find the “press contact” option. The harder you make it for a writer or editor to contact you, the more likely they’ll click through to a competitor who is easier to work with.

Your Real Readers

Remember also that the “press” has expanded far beyond full-time reporters working for name-brand trade or general interest pubs. For example, I’m doing a series for a vendor-sponsored Web site aimed at developers. It’s run by a former trade press editor, the methodology and sourcing are almost identical to common practice on trade pubs, and the stories are informational and objective, not vendor sales puffery.

For the sources I interview for such stories (such as recruiters and Web sites offering salary benchmarks) I’d bet the coverage on this site is just as valuable as if I were writing for a trade pub. It might even be more valuable, as it’s in the vendor’s interest to aggressively promote the content to the target audience. In any case, they seem happy with the links I’ve sent and are lining up to cooperate on future stories.

Given all that, I’m at a loss for why anyone would issue a press release without contact information. Any clues? And check out these other tips for beefing up your press releases.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Avoid These Four Pitching Sins

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tips for pitching editors Forbes recently reported that 68% of reporters are unhappy with the pitches they get from corporate communications and PR types.

Here are four pitching sins I see almost every day, with my suggested improvement in italics.

Sin #1: Vagueness

“Hi, Bob –

I wanted to touch base to see if you would be interested in a company update briefing with *****, the leading provider of next generation ****** solutions. ***** We have an upcoming announcement and would love to brief you…”

Instead tell me what you’re announcing, how it’s new and different and why it’s important to the customer. For example, “Next week, we are announcing a service that slashes and cost and complexity of securing mobile devices through a new, lightweight encryption protocol. We’re also announcing a distribution deal with AT&T to spur adoption…” 

Sin #2: Tech for Tech’s Sake

 “**** has announced the availability of its much anticipated new rugged handheld…with better overall performance with an astonishingly bright display, an extra-long battery life, enhanced GPS capabilities, and rugged IP68 construction.”

Better, cheaper, better…yadda yadda yadda. This sounds more like a bill of materials than an exciting story about what readers can do with the new device. How about “For years, roughnecks in North Dakota’s oil country have struggled to place rush orders for critical drilling equipment due to dim screens, inaccurate GPS readings and failing batteries on their handhelds. Soon, their orders will arrive more quickly and drilling will go easier due to the ease of use, brighter screen, extended battery life and enhanced GPS capabilities of our new…”

Sin #3: Good for us, we’re at a trade show.

“Joe Doakes, CEO of Transformative Solutions, has been selected to speak at The Global Transformation Forum on “The Role of Software-Defined Networks in Enabling Next Generation Solutions in the Internet of Things.” Transformative Solutions will also be displaying at booth #422 in the Hotel Mediocre…”

And I care…why? Wait until you’ve drafted his speech (and he approved it) so your pitch can summarize what he will say and why it matters to customers or the industry. Even better: How about a link that will send me his presentation after the speech, making it easier for me to write about it? Or even a link to a video of his speech so I can help it go viral if I find it compelling? 

Sin #4: Bearing false witness.

One virtualization vendor sent an email promising “Five tips for evaluating software-defined storage.” They included:

  1. Does Software-Defined Storage work?

“Yes. Convergence of compute and storage and software-defined storage has been field-proven in leading companies…”

  1. Does Software-Defined Storage make sense for me?

“…there are few IT environments where these benefits are not desirable.”

  1. Am I capable of implementing Software-Defined Storage?

“Software-defined storage is simple to implement and configure…in most cases, a single administrator can manage both compute and storage resources.”

  1. Can I use my existing storage and servers to deploy Software-Defined Storage?

“Yes. Software-defined storage solutions should seamlessly co-exist with the existing infrastructure…”

Sounds like a not-very thinly disguised product pitch, doesn’t it? If your subject line promises “honest” advice you have to provide it to get the interest you want. Answer real questions such as “Is software-defined storage a good idea for a company that lacks a dedicated storage admin?” “Is everyone really capable of implementing it equally well?” Are the standards mature enough to avoid vendor lock-in?”

 And if you’re really serious about reforming your pitches, check out these five phrases that drive most editors to the “delete” key.

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.

Why Won’t Vendors Come Out and Fight?

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bigstock-Cartoon-kid-suffering-from-bul-33837272What do your clients do when they’re accused of doing wrong? A) Present a detailed, convincing defense? B) Pretend they didn’t hear the question? C) Talk around the issue with marketing jargon?

The answers, according to my recent experience in a story on software pricing, are B) and C).  A number of  consultants who negotiate software contracts told me that major software vendors are sneaking price hikes by customers with ever more complex contracts, terms and conditions.

None of the four household-name software vendors to whom I sent detailed, specific questions about their pricing policies gave a convincing response.

Two never replied. A third declined comment. The fourth answered with bland marketing-speak and a link to a company blog post announcing a new, supposedly simplified licensing program. But the blog post, like the emailed responses, was mostly marketing jargon.

Even worse, the only comment on the post was a customer complaining that the vendors licensing agreements were hard to understand. In other words, the blog post the PR person referred me to hurt their client’s case.

If you’re actually trying to bamboozle major customers and can’t admit it, fair enough and  good luck. But I suspect there are other, more convincing answers vendors could give. For example:

  • “Yes, our licenses are becoming more complex, but that’s because our customers’ environments are becoming more complex. We’re trying to reach a balance between a fair return on our development and support costs and not gouging our customers. Let us explain the clauses you asked about…”
  •  “We recently changed our virtualization licenses because, with our software running on more physical platforms than we ever expected, our support costs were going through the roof. Virtualization is also putting more demands on our development staff to support features like dynamic migration. We need a price hike to meet these costs and maintain our margins.”
  •  “Yes, we are claiming the right to charge users of third-party apps who access our ERP application. And, yes, when we ask for those charges seems a little arbitrary right now. But we’re working with customers to figure out when it’s appropriate. Here are the questions we’re grappling with…”

Now, let’s look at the downside of refusing to respond or giving canned answers:

  • The reader hears only the charges against you, not your explanation.
  • You lose the opportunity to explain your position and make sure the reporter understands it.
  • You lead the reporter, and reader, to assume you have something to hide.
  • You leave more space in the story to talk about the accusations, not your responses.

I can hear you nodding now and saying “I agree, but I can’t get my boss/clients to listen!” If this is true, what would it take to convince your boss or client to fight back when things get ugly?”

Author: Bob Scheier
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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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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
Visit Bob's Website - Email Bob
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.