For example, say you are referred to a journalist or blogger working on a story and you think they want to tap into your industry expertise, but they are instead trying to pigeonhole you into discussing something you don’t want to talk about or comment on a topic you don’t even want to be associated with. Or what if someone doesn’t even understand the basics of your industry, or is hell-bent on misquoting and misrepresenting you?
Since I’m coming at this from the journalist perspective, I think I offer a unique perspective and wanted to shed some lights on some solutions that are more likely to help both sides get what they want…so let’s get to it.
1st Deadly Sin: The Startlingly Unprepared Journalist
I hear about this a lot from female fighters who are really excited about being interviewed, only to learn that some scrub is asking them questions about things he could’ve known had he spent 30 seconds or less on their website or the Googles. It’s embarrassing.
Here’s what you need to ask yourself (and do).
- Are you as public as you think you are? In the case of female fighters, they usually are–for example, women asked about their records by people who could spend 30 seconds looking it up on the Underground or Sherdog really are that lazy. However, they’re often underpaid or unpaid volunteers, so consider cutting them a little slack…or even making things easier for everyone by pointing them to a site where all pertinent/relevant information is listed.
- If you’re not incredibly public, but expect people to know information…and don’t want to point them to it each time…consider beefing up your website bio or even Twitter/LinkedIn bio…wherever people are likely to go first.
- Don’t take it personally. Even Jerry King got it wrong about Seinfeld. And let’s not even talk about Reza Aslan.
2nd Deadly Sin: This Isn’t Even About Me!
This past week, I was asked to find female developers to comment about a specific news story and gender dynamics in their workplace. Several of the women I reached out to were understandingly perturbed that I wasn’t reaching out for their industry expertise, but rather for what they consider a fluffy side issue or a topic unworthy of their time. It happens. If you’re not completely anathema to the idea but want to do more research, here’s some steps to take–or ways to say no without burning a bridge.
- Research the writer and the publication. You can usually tell pretty quickly whether a site is legit or amateur, and writers will often have clips up which will help you determine whether or not they’re worth their salt. If you’re slammed, feel free to ask them a bit about themselves and the story before agreeing to be interviews. (Sending accusatory emails about agendas or skill levels is unlikely to earn you any favors).
- Recommend someone else! If you decide it’s not the story for you, passing on a name of someone you know (and ideally checked with) would be interested can be win/win.
- Whether you decide the piece isn’t for you, or are willing to be interviewed but are secretly dying to be asked for your opinion for something more relevant…you can always let the writer quickly know your areas of expertise, or even ask them if they’d like to be contacted about a future event (or whatnot) when information is available. Being polite goes a long way, here–the writer you sent an epithet-laced email to is not likely to keep you on the tip of their Rolodex when a relevant issue comes up, so it can be helpful to strategically reply only to writers whose work you think is otherwise decent.
3rd Deadly Sin: The Entire Premise Is Completely False
Your media connection is some twit who wants to cover increased funding in medical devices, but as an expert in your industry you know that healthcare IT is where it’s at and that the entire idea behind the article is, frankly, bullshit. Then what?
- It’s okay to tell a writer their premise is flawed and direct them to sources with relevant information. Start by asking them where they got their information, because you might be wrong (we’ll talk about that next.) Of course, human beings are wrong all the time. I can’t speak for all writers, but sometimes I work 15 hour days, am juggling five or six stories at a time, have an editor who has some false premises (who I’m debating with behind the scenes, but would never admit to a source), or am asked to cover a topic I don’t know all that much about. This could be your contact–an otherwise intelligent human being who just doesn’t know your industry. That’s why they’re contacting you–for your knowledge. Feel free to share it with them.
- Consider that you might be wrong, too. I interviewed an industry executive about Generation Y, and he had no idea that his company was known as being one of the best hires for millenials. The entire time we were talking (yes, I have audio), he told me that I must have read the information wrong. (I later sent him the actual research). He ended up speculating as to why an opinion columnist might see his company that way, and I got some useful quotes that way, but it wasn’t until later that he realized multiple industry leaders had viewed his company that way. Sometimes having a bird’s eye view makes you lose perspective.
- This goes back to vetting the writer and the publication. If you think they have an agenda or don’t respect their reporting chops after doing some research, walking away is completely acceptable. Not everyone can be ‘set straight.’
4th Deadly Sin: You Think There Is A Conflict Of Interest
I’ve come across this when writing for media or marketing blogs that later decide the site I’m working for is a competitor.
- Don’t just fall off the face of the planet. Canceling conference calls without notice or failing to show up for meetings is not only rude and unprofessional, it’s also likely to come back to you. Not all writers know other writers…but we definitely do talk to each other, and since newspapers and websites are constantly shifting ownership and most freelancers work for whomever they choose, the chance of them working for a non-competitor is pretty high.
- Discuss the situation with the writer who’s reaching out to you. This can actually be quite telling, and help you determine whether you want to skip talking to them at all, simply want to avoid certain topics, or were mistaken about the nature of the conflict.
- This is another situation where being polite and professional can work out to your advantage in the future, and perhaps making a referral (if appropriate) can be a win/win.
5th Deadly Sin: You Totally Say The Wrong Things
It’s not even really your fault. You were totally put on the spot and wanted to sound knowledgeable, so you quoted some statistics which ended up being inaccurate. Since you’re working with a blogger on a team that probably doesn’t have the budget for fact-checkers, you need to immediately start back-pedaling. But how do you explain that you messed up without looking like a complete idiot and blowing the opportunity you worked hard for?
- Most media will understand if you do some research and realize you were mistaken, so just ‘fess up and send them any information you have. It’s not like writers have never made a mistake before. Besides, it’s better to admit a mistake before it’s widely publicized than after.
- If you’re just worried about a quote you made being slightly misleading, sending an email to clarify can be a good idea. Some writers will even let you review your own quotes for errors (either over the phone or via email). But please do me a favor and don’t change the quotes that are accurate. Many good articles have been destroyed by overly zealous sources who want to sound perfect, but take some of the vitality and energy out of their quotes.
- Sometimes you just have to deal. Depending on deadlines and other circumstances outside of your control, you may need to do damage control after the fact. See #6.
6th Deadly Sin: You Were Misrepresented
It’s never fun to see your name in print when you really disagree the way you were portrayed. This situation is highly nuanced, but let’s look at some possibilities.
- You don’t like the angle in which you were covered because you think it makes you look bad. In this case, writing a response on your own blog and leaving it in the site comments is the most appropriate reaction.
- There are factual errors. Contacting the writer or even the editor is called for here, to make sure that the writing is truthful and accurate. Make sure to add links to any relevant information that’ll quickly show that there are mistakes. Any journalist or publication worth their salt will admit their mistakes and correct them promptly. If they don’t, feel free to follow the step above.
- You weren’t even contacted at all, and yet people wrote about you. This is another situation where an explanatory post is appropriate, as well as making a phone call or sending an email to let people know you are available for comment.
7th Deadly Sin: You Probably Think This Song Is About You (Don’t You? Don’t You?)
This isn’t really a deadly sin, in my eyes, but rather a misunderstanding of how the media works. Media isn’t a PR firm; they’re not there solely to publicize you or your event or your brand. They may not even link back to your site, for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious. And they may not use that great headshot you sent, or even use any of the quotes you gave them at all.
- Capitalize on ANY coverage. Even if it was just a one-sentence soundbite, consider sending it to your email list with a link. A simple mention can help you establish (or showcase) expertise, and media mentions are becoming more valuable–the backlink isn’t everything.
- If you weren’t even quoted at all, you can still mention the piece and share what you think was missing with your list or in your social media marketing efforts. Obviously, you’re under no obligation to promote the work of others, but if you feel like you still have a lot to say, you can certainly use this as a time to say it.
- Remember that there will be other opportunities. Whether you choose to make yourself available to the original writer who contacted you, or to use this as a catalyst to contact others, it’s worth keeping a sense of perspective. One article isn’t the be all and end all–there will be others.
What do journalists do that sends you into convulsions? Feel free to share and I’ll help brainstorm solutions!