How to write a PR pitchA few months ago I offered some tips for ensuring emailed comments will make it into reporters’ stories. They include making sure your client answered the reporter’s questions (!), explained buzzwords and didn’t cite third-party sources that need further checking.

But what does a “good” response to a reporter’s question look like? I just happen to have an example — a piece I did for Computerworld analyzing how “software-defined everything” (IT infrastructure created and controlled by software) will affect outsourcing.

In my request for pitches, I specifically asked for sources to discuss:

  • How the rise in “software-defined everything” is affecting customers, especially their outsourcing plans.
  • How SDE affects which applications, workloads or business processes customers outsource.
  • Specific, actionable recommendations about which applications or workloads are best or least suited to “software-defined” environments?
  • And other trends customers should be aware of.

Fail #1: The Purely Self-Serving Pitch

“Bob. The movement toward IT outsourcing has spawned the (SDE) market. Service providers need to be able to customize their networks and deliver policy-based networking in order to meet customer demand, and (SDE) provides that capability. **** can comment on the role of (SDE) in enabling IT outsourcing…”

Did the PR pro explain how his client could answer my questions? No. Did he promise his client would talk about anything except how great his product or service was? No. Did I interview his client? No.

Fail #2: The Kinda Self-Serving Pitch

“****, CTO and co-founder of ****, a provider of Network Security as a Service, can talk about why he feels SD-WAN, in particular, is a short-sighted approach to solve network connectivity issues. For example, (he) argues that the cost of deploying SD-WAN to manage MPLS/Internet traffic would be better spent cracking the “middle mile” challenge. Further, (he) believes that a software-based approach to networking and security will make it easier and more cost-effective to manage.”

Again, this response tells me much more about what the client wants to promote (Network Security as a Service) than answering my questions. In the very last sentence, the pitch begins to touch on what I’m writing about, but doesn’t make the direct link to outsourcing I need. Again, I passed.

Success #1!: Answers

Hi, Bob.

The below response is from ****, co-chair of the ****. Let me know if this is along the lines of what you were looking for and if you would like to connect…

1) How the rise of “software-defined everything” is affecting customers’ IT plans in general, and their outsourcing strategies in particular. Response: Enterprise IT leaders see (SDE) as a core part of their strategy to reduce cost and improve agility improvement strategy. Every CIO is now examining if a cloud-first, partner-first approach is the best for their organization.

2) How “software-defined everything” affects which applications, workloads or business processes customers are outsourcing? Response: When application infrastructure is software based it becomes much easier to have supply chain and outsourcing partners take over tasks.  SDE opens the door for nearly every enterprise function to be outsourced.

3) Specific, actionable recommendations about which applications or workloads are most or least suited to “software-defined” environments. Response: Most Fortune 500s have legacy apps whose cost to port to a new infrastructure would be very high.  In those specific cases it’s better to port the data to a new cloud app.

4) And, of course, what upcoming trends or market developments customers should be on the lookout for. Response: One of the most exciting areas…is Software Defined Perimeter (SDP).  SDP allows enterprise to distribute workloads globally yet maintain full access control to applications, data and infrastructure for employees and partners.  Subsequently SDP enables SDE to happen.

I wound up interviewing this client, who turned out to be a key source for my story. Not only did he show he could address the questions, the specificity of his answers told me a phone conversation would be time well spent. He even introduced a new topic (software defined perimeter) that I hadn’t paid enough attention to before.

Next time a reporter asks for sources for a story, ask them for three or four sample questions, and make sure your client can answer them. If not, push back with hard questions until they do have something to say. If they don’t, tell them to pass on the interview – or at least not be shocked if they don’t wind up being quoted.

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 or call me at 508 725-7258.
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 or call me at 508 725-7258.

Keeping Your Client In the Quote Game

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
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 or call me at 508 725-7258.