To my PR client: Why journalists never quote you

A PR veteran gets to the bottom of why, post-interview, certain clients’ names never make it into a big story about a hot topic or industry. The answer boils down to “Talk less, say more.”

Public relations pros dread the reaction from a client if the client is left out of an important story.

Especially if you’re a subject-matter expert or spokesperson, you may have had many interviews but never been mentioned by name in an article. Or your contribution rated just a few words.

We hear this often. After the interview, the interviewee feels that he or she spoke with the reporter for a long time, exhaustively covered the topic, and gave the journalist more than anyone could ever want to know about the subject.

Then the story appears. Competitors and other experts get quoted extensively, the information you gave to the reporter appears in the story but no attribution at all. The PR pro and client are angry, disappointed or embarrassed.

Ms. or Mr. client, your thoroughness, your eagerness to cover everything, your desire to be absolutely clear and factual, all those precautions you thought so considerate and thoughtful, actually worked against you. You must refocus to do a productive, mutually beneficial interview.

PR pros often hear from reporters that their interviewed client talked for a long time without saying anything useful or usable. Let’s help with some basics to fix this.

Start with you (the client) going on and on: This can be so counter-productive. Unless it’s for a major profile on you or your firm, journalists don’t have an hour to spend with you. Reporters can’t spend that much time with a single source!

Rule No. 1: Keep your responses short and to the point. Focus on meaningful info that the reporter can use. Remember: You aren’t that interesting!

Next, covering a topic from beginning to end may help the reporter with education and context, sure. Still, leave that conversation to others. Assume the reporter already found the context through research. This is why your comments were not attributed to you, even when your very words show up in the article. Frustrating, I know.

Rule No. 2: Forget supplying context. Focus on the most compelling insider ideas and insights that the reader may be unfamiliar with, but will care about. Say something news-worthy. Determine what is most compelling and new and say it in as memorable a way as you can. Remember: The only time a writer should quote someone is when the reporter can’t say it better or with more authority.

WORKSHOP: Become your own media outlet and apply journalistic practices within your organization.

Next, you go too deep: Finally, going into great detail is an easy way to bore the reporter. You may supply much more than the journalist can possibly convey. Simplify and shorten your talking points.

Rule No. 3: Tell a story. Come up with analogies or anecdotes so that you’re quotable, helpful. The media need a story. To be quoted, you must contribute to that story by saying something easy to understand by readers who sit far away from your scene of action.

The goal for a successful media interview is not just to get through it. Make the most of your time with the reporter. Help the reporter by giving her or him clear, concise comments that add clarity and something unique. That will get your name in the article.

Spend more time preparing your points so that you spend less time talking to the writer. Both you and the journalist will benefit from your intense zeroing in on what is significant.


Melissa F. Daly advises communications professionals and industry leaders across the country. She is the founder of MFD Communications. A version of this article first appeared on LinkedIn.

(Image by Griffith College, via)


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