As a writer for Startup Nation as well as Fast Company and Entrepreneur, I get a lot of emails and press releases from small-business owners and publicists hoping to get some press. Some are great but unfortunately most are not, and my delete key often gets a workout as I review my inbox.
Then there are the small-business owners and public relations professionals who get it. I welcome their correspondence because it makes my job easier, and when I’m looking to find a source for a story, they’re top of mind because I know they’ll be responsive and knowledgeable.
I polled some of my fellow writers and found that they have similar thoughts on what makes a good source.
If you’d like to become a reporter’s favorite source, here’s what you need to do:
1. Find out which writers cover your industry, and follow their work. Figure out what they would consider to be news, and only bother them when you’ve got some, says Elizabeth Gardner, a freelance writer specializing in science and technology. Also offer to hook them up with other sources once you’ve made sure those people are willing, she says
2. If you read a story that you could have been a good source for, don’t email the writer and tell them that. It’s highly unlikely that the reporter be writing another story on that same topic. However, if there was an angle that wasn’t covered that could make an interesting separate feature, let them know. Writers are always looking for good ideas and you’ll quickly become a favorite source if you provide a lead on a new story.
3. If you’re responding to a HARO or ProfNet query, follow the reporter’s directions. If the query asks for tips in your email, send them. If it doesn’t, send them anyway. It can be risky for a writer to get a source on the phone without having any idea of what he or she will say. Writers will more often choose the source that took the time to share good information in the pitch.
4. Don’t over-exaggerate your qualifications. If you say you’re a best-selling author, it better be documented somewhere. And don’t try too hard to impress; let your credentials speak for themselves. Someone recently sent me this pitch to a query I placed on HARO: “I think I can definitely give you a some damn good information for your piece…Why? Forbes Magazine named me one of the “Ten Consultants Who Avoid the B.S.” (Yes, THAT Forbes!)”
5. Be available! Keep in mind that reporters are often on a tight deadline and need to find someone immediately. This isn’t because we procrastinate; it’s because we’re assigned something that’s related to a recent news piece and we need to do a quick turnaround. Recently, I approached someone to be a source for a story for Entrepreneur’s website and this is the response I received: “I will not be able to give you an interview today. It’s my habit to schedule focused time in more of a mutually convenient time. A good tip is that someone else’s urgency doesn’t need to become your own.” I did not use this source and was able to secure an interview with a nationally known expert. It’s no wonder why the expert is nationally known; she makes herself available and gives a great interview.
6. Commit to an interview time and be available at that time, suggests Jennifer L.W. Fink, a freelance writer who specializes in health, education and parenting. You’d be surprised how often a reporter will call a source only to reach their voicemail. If you have to reschedule, it’s OK. Just let the writer know so he or she can decide if a different time will work or if they need to find someone else.
7. Talk in sound bites. Writers look for sources who have colorful and unique ways of conveying information. They don’t want someone who talks like a press release. I did an article about pet-proofing your home and the source I interviewed said this: “Dogs don’t have Facebook and they don’t have Twitter. If you don’t provide them with something to do while you’re gone, they might chew your sofa.” I kept his name in my address book.
8. Don’t put us on speakerphone and move around the room doing other things while you’re being interviewed, says Peggy J. Noonan, a freelance writer who specializes in health, technology and finance: “I know it’s way more convenient than holding the phone to your ear, but we can hear you clicking the keyboard on your laptop or shuffle papers.”
9. After the interview thank the reporter and offer a way to get in touch for follow-up questions. Don’t ask to review the copy before it goes to print, says freelance business writer Rebecca L. Weber; you’re not part of the editorial team. And don’t bother the reporter by continually following up to ask when the story will run. Many reporters will send their sources a link to the story, but sometimes we get busy and don’t take this step immediately. Set up a Google alert for your name and you’ll find out via technology when it runs. Then send the reporter a quick email to thank them for the coverage.
10. Finally, think long and hard about whether you should request a change. Typos and misspellings happen. If a mistake was made that affects your credibility, by all means contact the reporter to discuss this. But if there was a typo that has no impact on the story or your reputation, please don’t ask the reporter to fix it. This requires us to contact our editor and ask them to take the time to make a change.