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FAQs: Frequently Annoying Questions

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What ‘s the difference between a journalist and a mother of a four-year-old? The annoying questions a journalist is asked don’t contribute to anyone’s intellectual development.

It has become clear to me that many questions asked by media relations people to journalists are so inane and completely inappropriate that they would be shocked if such a striking question was put to them. I’m talking about the type of question that cuts write down to the core of what a journalist’s business is. That’s right, some are so deep that they go beyond what I consider the realm of media relations and into the field of marketing and business development.

Who knows whether this will change, but here are my words of advice for all to digest. Questions in no particular order. My heart goes well with a large bag of salt.

Are you going to write anything about this?

Translation: I’m so desperate to get coverage for my client I have to resort to begging.
Converse: Are you going to advertise in our publication?

This question is really the last resort of a scoundrel. It’s intrusive, inappropriate, and down-right bad mannered. How would you feel if someone put you on the spot by asking what your next move will be? Does the reciprocal question ever get asked? It’s probably indicative of the shift in PR from a reactive corporate communications strategy to a proactive marketing imperative. *sigh*

When will the article be published?

Translation: Although it’s part of my job, I’m too lazy to read your magazine so I’ll ask you to tell me when the article I pitched to you will be published.
Converse: When will the next ad be published?

It’s particularly disappointing to be asked this. It’s as if the PR really thinks you’re there to be used AND insults you by basically saying your magazine is not read from cover to cover.

Who else are you interviewing?

Translation: I’ve always had trouble minding my own business so I may as well use that trait to try and harvest some competitive analysis and find out whether I should bother to read the article at the same time.
Converse: Who will you pitch to next?

Generally, a journalist has a sovereign right to interview the best possible spokespeople for a certain topic. And unless a journalist is seeking a right-of-reply to an extreme viewpoint, I hardly see how it’s worth asking who a journalist will interview for any one article. For example, if a spokesperson for a vendor is pitched, don’t be surprised if the journalist has sought a second opinion from an industry analyst to balance the report. The journalist doesn’t owe the vendor an explanation as to why a second opinion was sought, let alone where that second, or third opinion, etc, might come from.

Why are you not interested in this topic now when you’re written about it in the past?

Translation: It so happens that my client is in the same business as what you have written about previously so I’ll try my luck at association without bothering to determine if it is something you might actually be interested in.
Converse: Why are you pitching rubbish now when you’re pitched something worthwhile in the past?

I doubt this question needs much explanation. If you want to burn the journalist then by all means go ahead and ask it. A few years ago some oxygen thief sent me an e-mail along the lines of “but you’ve written about XXXX in the past” (a client’s competitor) in response to me politely declining to fall for a straight vendor pitch.

How did you get the article?

Translation: I used to gut chickens for a living so to me a trade secret is scraped off the floor every day.
Converse: How do you engage with your customers to form a case study?

Again, the media should be sovereign enough to report on what it considers to be credible sources. If the sources aren’t revealed in the article, get over it. Analyse the article in the context of the theme it raises.

Would this be of interest?

Translation: I’m yet to read any of you work and instead of researching your interests I’ll waste your time by taking a stab in the dark.
Converse: Do you know what our publication is all about?

It’s almost unbelievable that an industry PR consultant can get away with asking that but, yes, it does happen. I mean if the consultant’s core market isn’t technology then I understand that it’s not their job to follow what a tech journo is interested in. A quick scan goes a long way here.

Are you going to use any more of that interview?

Translation: When I was 18 my parents bought me a BMW but I didn’t like the wheels so asked them for a new set.
Converse: When will you wake up to the fact that readers appreciate quality, not quantity?

This is an interesting one. It’s happened to me at least once but it’s not that frequent at all (I wonder why). After quite a lengthy interview I wrote up a story that included the most appropriate quote from the vendor. Of course, that wasn’t enough for some moron who is clearly charging by every letter of coverage. The next day I get an e-mail asking if I was going to use any more of the interview. Good to know some vendor’s marketing dollars are being put to good use, hey?

Is this the article we pitched to you?

Translation: Since I’m only interested in keeping my client’s account and can’t see the forest for the trees, I’ll whinge if an article I pitched to you doesn’t include any ink for my client (or organization).
Converse: Have you seen a doctor to help overcome your drinking problem?

It never ceases to amaze how little visibility people in media relations have of the media. If a PR consultant pitches a story lead to a journalist and, for whatever reason (could be editing cuts), the vendor doesn’t get a mention. My advice here is to look at PR as an ongoing activity and not some ‘everything rests on one article’ shotgun approach. More about that later.

Would you like any more information?

Translation: I know you know I’m the person to ask if you need any further information but I’ll ask anyway for good measure.
Converse: Is it such as shock if journalists don’t answer your irrelevant questions?

I’ve always found it difficult to answer this complete time waster. If you want to extend a warm welcome, what’s wrong with “If you need anything else…”? Making a question out of everything isn’t always the best way. The fruit of pay-by-the-minute consulting?

Rodney

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