Since my first PR job with Ogilvy & Mather PR Taiwan, I’ve discovered this “hidden rule” the hard way. When you’re just starting out, you’re taught to do what you can to please the journalist – and now extending to bloggers. Most practitioners start by asking what the journalist wants but now asking questions that you want to ask on behalf of your client or company.
I understand not wanting to anger a reporter, but if you don’t ask the question, then how do you know? We assume that we’ll be bothering the reporter/blogger but you never know what the answer will be if you don’t ask.
So here are some questions that you should ask:
What’s the timing for the story?
People err on thinking that because you’ve just hung up the phone with a journalist that you have to immediately work on what the reporter is seeking. Agency folks – for your client’s sanity, determine what the time line is. This way, if the reporter needs it in a week, you can build cushion with your client. I used to say I needed something in 3 days because I KNEW it would take my client 5 days to turnaround.
This also sets expectations with the reporter. Otherwise, the reporter may want it tomorrow and you’ll never know.
What is the angle for the story?
I know, I know. This should be apparent from the conversation, editorial opportunity or email pitch. But you should reconfirm as the reporter may have a specific angle that she’s seeking to write about. It’s your job to pull this out if possible.
Do you have specific questions in mind that you would like to ask?
Most briefing sheets include a section where we, as practitioners write questions that we believe that the reporter will ask based on the conversation or previous articles. Why not just ask and see if the reporter is willing to give you a few questions. Better yet…
Provide some sample questions
I file this as being a “helpful” PR person. I include a couple of questions to better identify the focus of the interview. However, you have to be careful about this. While the previous question asks the reporter for her questions, this one inserts your positioning into the process.
I will pose some questions if you’re doing an email Q&A or if there is limited time for the phone interview. This way, the questions help to maximize everyone’s time.
Offer to provide screenshots
As they say, a photo says a 1000 words. Screenshots help to visually augment the story, while reinforcing your company’s visual brand. Regardless of the story, I always ask about providing screenshots. More often than not, the publication will use the screenshot. And if several competitors are interviewed, this helps to visually position your company as the “thought leader” in that space.
Conclusion: Being Polite Won’t Get You Anywhere
Let’s be clear, I’m not advocating rude or clueless practitioners. I’m just recommending that you don’t be afraid to ask questions. Each situation will dictate the type of questions you can and should ask.
What other questions did I miss?
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Cece Salomon-Lee is director of product marketing for Lanyon Solutions, Inc. and author of PR Meets Marketing, which explores the intersection of public relations, marketing, and social media.
This blog contains Cece's personal opinions and are not representative of her company's.
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