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A Journalist’s View: Three Questions From A PR Pro

Here’s another dispatch from our ongoing conversations with top journalists on best media relations practices.  Today we interviewed Mandi Woodruff, who covers personal finance for Yahoo! Finance, having recently moved from a similar position at Business Insider. Mandi shared her insights on PR professionals and the interview process.

When a PR person asks for interview questions in advance, I…. politely say no. I am fine with telling them broadly what I want to speak about, but sending questions ahead of time is a little bit overkill. If this were a live segment on CNN, then, sure, it’d only be polite to prepare the guest so they have time to think their answers through. I like to keep interviews relaxed. If a question surprises them and they need more time to think on it, I’m always happy to give them a few minutes or even call back later. It all depends on the subject matter, I suppose. I cover personal finance, which isn’t the most scandalous of beats, so, really, anyone who asks for questions ahead of time gets a little bit of an eye roll from me. It’s not that serious.

When I’m interviewing a spokesperson by phone and a PR person is also on the line, I’m…. OK with that. Whatever makes them feel comfortable. I sometimes wonder if the PR rep is even paying attention or just has the phone on mute while they go about their business. But more often than not, the PR rep is really helpful and can take note of things that I ask for (certain stats, documents, etc) and get them to me even while we’re still on the phone. I don’t like it when they butt in too much and try to speak for the person I’m interviewing though. But I will say this — two people, max! One PR rep + one interviewee. I’m rarely OK speaking with two people at once. It gets too confusing trying to figure out who said what.

When a PR person asks to see a story before it goes to print, I…. politely say no. I honestly can’t believe people still ask this (and they do!). The most I can do is offer to paraphrase some of their talking points, but even that is a very, very, (very!) special case.  Some people will go back and forth, obsessing over things like: “Did I really say ‘wanna’? Could we change that to ‘would like to’?” and you can spend all day arguing over what they think they did and didn’t say. It’s a game of telephone I’d rather not start.

On the other hand, if they’re an expert presenting a bunch of stats, I want to be sure I’ve got them right, so I’ll send them a summary for confirmation. Also, if I’m trying to explain a difficult concept, I might send that section to a source or expert who can tell me if I’m heading in the wrong direction (I do this all the time with complicated tax and investing stories.)

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