Geoff Williams, a personal finance and business writer who pens probing pieces for U.S. News & World Report and American Express OPEN Forum, understands the PR agency dynamic quite well. I have had the pleasure of working with him for years, and he agreed to take a few questions – the answers to which should help any PR person improve their media relationships.
What’s a big challenge you regularly face that a PR person can help with? Time. When someone saves me time in some way, it’s like a little gift. A great timesaver that PR people can provide is to offer up all the possible information I will need on their client ahead of an interview. Not just name and title, but where, geographically, they work and a few other details so I don’t have to go hunting it down on the website (websites are often incomplete, outdated or contain inaccuracies!) Be as specific as you can. You can’t overload on the details, even if some end up edited out. Mention specialties, use “branding” language. I will try to provide the most detailed description for your client. One more thing about time. I have mixed feelings about conference call interviews. I do them sometimes, but they seem to add a layer of lengthy time, as opposed to simply providing a phone number for your client.
How much do deadlines influence what stories you decide to write? There are two types of deadline in a writer’s world: deadlines from editors, and society’s deadlines. The holidays are coming, so that’s a deadline. I look at the calendar for inspiration when I’m trying to come up with article ideas. Those are the deadlines that influence me the most. The deadlines that I have with my editor just makes me crazed and harried. So, back to society’s deadlines; just because it’s back-to-school time, or it’s Black Friday, doesn’t automatically mean I’ll write an article about it. It helps to tweak the angle, so it’s a genuine twist on a known holiday or time period. Just know that I don’t always write about them since my editors may have many other writers pitching those same stories.
How much does it matter to you if competitors have written about topics you’re considering? It really doesn’t matter to me. I focus mostly on personal finance and business articles, and it’s virtually impossible not to cover topics that competitors have written about in some way. I will say that when I receive a mass emailed pitch, or any pitch that appears mass emailed, I do look at it skeptically because I know that if I go for it, 10 other writers or editors may be jumping on it, too.
And while it doesn’t bother me that a competitor has written about some topic before, you do feel kind of foolish if you see someone you’ve interviewed in another article from a competitor within the same week. I understand that PR people are presumably under pressure to get their clients media coverage, and I can understand why they blanket the world with a pitch. But when I see those email pitches that were obviously sent to dozens of media people, I don’t exactly get excited about what I’m reading. I don’t envy a PR person’s job. I’m sure we make it tough on all of you!