Being a reporter is one of the most exciting but nerve-wracking jobs in the world. With constant deadlines to meet and ever-heavier workloads and demands, reporter routinely makes Top 10 lists of the most stressful professions. (So does PR practitioner, but I digress.)
In our daily work with the media, we know that one of the best ways to make reporters happy is to avoid things that make them unhappy. Being aware of those pet peeves can go a long way toward earning reporters’ respect… and high-quality coverage.
So here, from a former business reporter who went to “the dark side,” are 10 “Dont’s” we advise our clients to steer clear of when working with reporters. In no particular order:
1. Don’t try to cram 20 points into an interview. Condense your messages to a fewer number of focused, well-honed messages, supported by facts. Otherwise, you risk overwhelming, confusing and/or frustrating the reporter and getting an unsatisfying story or no story at all.
2. Don’t speak too quickly. When you do, the reporter almost certainly will have trouble keeping up. Go slow – remember, he or she likely is typing or hand-writing notes.
3. Don’t forget to take pauses during interviews to ask if everything makes sense and if the reporter has any questions. It’s an interview, not a speech. Use a timer if it helps you remember to take a breath.
4. Don’t use clichés in interviews and press releases – e.g. “revolutionary,” “solution,” “time-to-value.” You may think these and certain other marketing buzzwords are swell, but they’re a turnoff to most reporters.
5. Don’t claim that your product has no competition. Since the world can count on one hand (with perhaps a finger or two chopped off in a Halloween pumpkin-carving accident) the number of times in the last 30 years where this is true, you just look silly and non-credible. Plus, the way reporters think, describing the competition (and your differentiators) actually can paint a market trend picture and increase your chances for good coverage.
6. Don’t put too many spokespeople on a call with a reporter. Because confusion. It almost always should be one executive.
7. Don’t go into an announcement or feature story without customer references, and the right kind of customer references (for example, a Fortune 500 company if that is what the reporter’s beat or publication demands).
8. Don’t use long-winded presentations. Those are for analysts, not reporters.
9. Don’t constantly tell a reporter “that’s a great question,” or at least do so sparingly. It can come across as obsequious and, anyway, asking great questions is the reporter’s job.
10. Don’t misjudge your audience. For example, if you’re talking to the New York Times, you shouldn’t be overly technical. Remember that a reporter at that level is thinking at all times, “How is this information interesting and relevant to my mainstream readers?”
Simply avoiding the things that drive reporters crazy can have a surprisingly direct impact on your coverage.