We pitch a story idea to a reporter. He says he might be interested and requests to further discuss the idea about a week later on the phone.
On the phone, we discuss the story idea in detail. The reporter indicates he will call our client the following week to learn more.
The reporter does not call the client. We follow up. The reporter explains he is buried in work but is still interested.
A month passes and we don’t hear from the reporter. We follow up and receive an automatic reply. The email states the reporter left the media outlet and took a job as an editor out-of-state.
We contact a different reporter at the same media outlet. He forwards our idea to another reporter, who tells us to call him. During the phone call, the reporter requests we email him a summary of the several angles we discussed for the story idea.
The reporter doesn’t contact us back. We follow up about a week later. The reporter says he didn’t read the summaries we emailed. He tells us he’ll review our information and discuss it with other reporters to decide who might be best to cover the story.
We don’t hear back from any of the reporters. We prepare to follow up again. However, during a Google search, we read a story the media outlet posts from a college journalist. The story is on the same story idea we first pitched 92 days earlier.
Many journalists, despite their ability to ask tough questions, don’t like to utter the words “no” or “I’m not interested” to a PR pro pitching a story. Reporters often prefer to ignore emails and rationalize they are too busy to answer them anyway. (This rationalization is frequently made prior to ducking into a back room to spend time to complain about management.) However, if you press a journalist to provide you with a straight up yes or no (One reporter took 58 days to give me such an answer.), don’t be surprised to hear one of the following responses that isn’t entirely true. The real story is in italics.
- I’m too focused on another project to cover your story but circle back with me later. (But if you actually remember to follow up, don’t expect a response.)
- I’ve been swamped, which is why I haven’t covered the story you pitched (even though I work in a small, slow news market which covers stories about stolen bicycles).
- The shoot went great. (I’m uncomfortable telling you this face to face, but I’ll tell the producer this sucked.)
- Email me a summary of your pitch (and when you call back in a week, I still won’t have read it).
- I’m definitely interested in the story but I can’t cover it for a while (and by that time, I will have accepted a new job elsewhere).
- I will pass your idea on to the producer of a more suitable newscast (which means I will fulfill my responsibility by shooting off a quick, bland email without walking a few feet to the other producer’s desk or providing a passionate argument on why to cover the idea).
- I will pass this idea on to the assignment desk for consideration (which means hell no!).
- Your idea sounds like too much of a commercial (although you could likely find 10 recent examples on our newscasts that resemble commercials).
- I like the idea but the producers didn’t (which means I didn’t love the idea enough myself and didn’t fight for it during the editorial meeting, but pitching it fulfilled my quota of bringing daily ideas to the table).
- If you find a local example, we’ll cover the story (and if you actually shock me by finding someone local for me to interview, I’ll dodge your emails).
We’re not talking about butts you want to see. We’re talking about investing significant time in setting up a shot and then sacrificing soundbites because someone’s grandma strolled so slowly through the background, her butt became the star attraction. Butts are just one of several things to consider when choosing a good interview location. Here are six tips on choosing interview locations:
- Pick a visual background. Offices with bookcases or conference rooms with plants are not visual backgrounds.
- Select a visual background related to the topic. A ferris wheel is visual, but it doesn’t relate to an interview about a company creating cool corn dogs.
- Choose a big area to shoot the interview. You need to fit in the space camera equipment, the interviewee, the interviewer, micromanaging executives, their support staff and nosey co-workers who want to make distracting faces behind the camera. And people providing interviews while pressed up against walls is often unattractive.
- Pick a quiet place with little to no background traffic. Too often, a person’s awesome answer to an interview question doesn’t work because an oblivious co-worker slowly strolled into the background, making their butt the star attraction.
- When shooting indoors, avoid locations with lots of outside light streaming indoors. Mixing indoor and outdoor lights can create havoc and harsh shadows.
- Select an indoor location where you can turn off overhead lights. In some office complexes, you can’t easily shut off overhead lighting without also shutting down half the city’s power grid. Overhead lights can create unflattering shadows or hinder attempts at artistic lighting. Several times, we asked people to unscrew light bulbs with no obvious, corresponding light switches. Yes, someone may need to climb a ladder. We’ve also covered unwanted light with heat-absorbent material.
As people who try to help businesses appear in the news, we’d like to portray ourselves as experts whose clients come away glowing from every media experience. Well, let’s destroy that image right now.
A multimedia journalist showed up at a client’s business, appeared to enjoy a great experience and indicated when the story would air. But the story didn’t air as far as we knew.
I texted the journalist to learn if we missed the story or if it would air at a later date. I received no response. The business owner also texted him and received no response. I tried to call. No answer. I texted again the following day. I still received no response. I later emailed the producer who initially received the story idea. I received no response. Five days passed since when we assumed the story would air and I tried emailing the producer again.
Give the producer credit. This time she responded and the news was negative. Give her credit because many journalists, like many humans on this planet, would rather ignore you and pretend you don’t exist than tell you the truth.
The producer explained the story did not meet the station’s expectations. The story wasn’t as impressive as assumed. The story didn’t even convey one of the key messages.
Oh crap! What the heck happened? Had I transformed into one of those horrible PR people who trick the media into coverage and then don’t deliver? I called the business owner and shared the feedback. I heard the disappointment in her voice. She blamed herself. First, she asked one of her employees to instead provide the interview. Second, she focused on something else while the multimedia journalist shot the story.
However, I had only myself to truly blame. As a reporter, I wasn’t a fan of PR people breathing heavily down my neck while I interviewed their clients. Unless there are extenuating circumstances or someone makes a specific request, I often don’t attend the media interviews themselves. And it certainly didn’t seem necessary in this case. I had spoken previously with the journalist and we discussed his approach to the story. The business owner, a bubbly woman full of personality, had appeared on TV news before and had skillfully handled her key messages on live television. This latest story was simple. The key messages were simple. However, I didn’t anticipate the store owner would pass the interview to an employee. And I assumed she would play an active role in the shoot itself. I never imagined the scenarios that actually played out.
Now I needed to fix things. I apologized to the producer. I shared the information I gathered, explained the mistakes, called myself an idiot and relayed I was pissed. I texted the multimedia journalist twice, explaining I would look into what happened and then provided an apology. The business owner told me she apologized, too.
Next, I called the client. Some PR people spend much of the time kissing clients’ asses. Those PR folks aren’t consultants. They are yes-men and yes-women. Their top priority is ensuring the checks keep arriving. I’m not that person. I picked up the phone, knowing the words I was about to share could get us fired. I shared the latest details and explained I needed to follow-up with the producer even though the store owner didn’t want me to make a big deal of it. I explained I couldn’t burn a bridge for her benefit only. I have other clients to pitch. I went on. She and only she needed to provide interviews. And I would be present for any future media opportunities. Then after mulling over our mistakes, I asked her a yes or no question that provided little wiggle room. Does she want to continue to move forward?
There’s another factor here I can’t quite figure out. The store owner told me the multimedia journalist didn’t appear interested in the same approach to the story as he shared with me on the phone. And if the story wasn’t delivering as anticipated, why didn’t he ask questions? During the interview, why didn’t he ask about the key messages the store had promised to deliver? Why didn’t he probe? That’s what I would have done. I would have said, “Where’s that part we discussed on the phone?” The store owner told me the journalist appeared very young. Did he not ask the right questions? Did he give up too soon? Should he have spoken up and said, “This is not what you promised.” I don’t know the answers to those questions. As a reporter, I saw plenty of instances when a producer saw possibilities and a videographer arrived on scene and saw garbage. In this case, the producer candidly told me the journalist probably wasn’t comfortable raising his concerns on site.
However, in this case, I never once considered implying to the producer that the videographer’s feedback was inaccurate. I have little faith a producer, unless the producer is one I know extremely well, would take my word over a co-worker’s word on the worthiness of a story. That’s not a discussion worth starting.
In the end, the client stayed with us. We agreed to learn from our mistakes. The producer … well, I won’t know her genuine opinion until I try to pitch her a story again. And the multimedia journalist … I’m still waiting for a response.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution interviews client Steven Adelman, a sports and entertainment attorney, about keeping fans safe at ballparks after a man falls from the upper deck at Atlanta’s Turner Field. Click here to read the story.
Atlanta’s WSBTV interviews client Steven Adelman, a sports and entertainment attorney, about safety after a man falls from the upper deck at Atlanta’s Turner Field. Click here to watch the story.
Fox10 News in Phoenix interviews Furniture Affair owner Nancy Rhodes about Let’s Flea, an all-day indoor flea market which helped raised money and collect diapers for parents who can’t afford them. Furniture Affair consists of fine furnishings and accessories from previous relationships. This includes model home furniture; designer showrooms and unique items resurrected from their shady past … modern to vintage, choosy to cheap, cutting edge to over the edge.