Thursday, July 12, 2007

How not to talk to a journalist

Because I have no shame, I am going to share my most embarrassing interviewing mistake. I was a new cub freelancer, still green behind the ears, to mix a metaphor. I had read an interesting article in a trade journal that made me realize I could expand on that topic by delving into it more deeply. I really thought one of the insurance executives who was quoted had an astute insight into the issue. This was a bit before Google, so I tracked him down through a couple phone calls.

He agreed to talk to me, making clear he had only a moment for me, and said abruptly, "So, what's your question." I froze. I absolutely could not get one word out of my mouth.

After a couple of seconds, I managed to stutter something like, "Well, I loved what you said in the article in National Underwriter and I wondering if you could elaborate on that."

The fact that I didn't have a specific set of questions for him was my mistake, born of inexperience. But what happened next was his mistake. Instead of taking a moment to ask me to remind him of what he said, or to somehow lead me along a bit (remember, I was new at this and it showed!), he snapped, "I don't have time for this. Either ask a question or get off the phone."

I thanked him for his time and hung up. That was 15 years ago, and guess what? I'll never bother him again and I remember his name. So what's the lesson?

Most reporters have never owned a business, been subject to a profit motive, and except for the few that specialize in insurance and work for the trade journals, don't understand insurance all that well. As your own public relations band, it's your role to become an orchestra leader. You must guide the interviewer when needed. And always, no matter how busy you are, be gracious. People remember jerks.

I have provided a link to an interesting article about how to talk to journalists written by a journalist.

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