Meet the Press

by Jeri Cartwright
Your Business Online  1/13/2009

Getting interviewed for a news story can be one of the best ways to score publicity and spread word of your business—and it positions you as an expert in your field. “You’ll earn more credibility and become a community name,” says Jeri Cartwright, president of Cartwright Communications, LLC, in Salt Lake City.

Connecting with reporters and effectively communicating with them when they call can be tricky, but it’s definitely doable. Just follow Cartwright’s tips, and your phone will be ringing with press inquiries—not to mention potential customers—in no time:

Share the scoop. Do you have an angle on industry trends or current research? Did you successfully solve a major problem? Have you done something innovative with your business? Be the first to tip off roving reporters. “They’re always looking for stories,” says Cartwright, a former reporter.

Reaching reporters can be as easy as shooting them an email. Kick off your message with a concise yet succinct subject line that compels the reporter to open it, such as “Fear Relief.” That’s the subject line Cartwright recently used for a successful story pitch about a university offering free psychological counseling. In the body of the email, share your ideas—as well as a few possible story angles—to establish your credibility as a source. And be sure to include detailed contact information so it’s easy for the reporter to respond.

Master your media outlets. If you have a story pitch to share, you’ll need to determine what type—and what size—of media outlet to pursue. Large-scale media outlets such as a metropolitan newspaper may have a broad reach, but small community papers boast a faithful reader base, Cartwright says. And consider trade publications that relate to your business. Because they’re distributed to members of specific industries, associations or clubs, they have a very targeted audience. Case in point: If you supply medical devices, for example, you could aim for a publication that’s distributed to a nurse’s association. According to Cartwright, Utah Nurse, a Utah Nursing Association publication, is distributed to 18,000 members. “That may not sound like a lot, but if you’re a member of that organization, you’ll have a more personal connection to that publication and will read it with more loyalty and interest,” she says.

Meet deadlines. Anytime you receive a message from a reporter, respond ASAP. Always. “Chances are, the reporter has put out seven to 10 calls to other potential sources,” Cartwright says. “If you respond too late, they’ll probably have the story done.” Plus, Cartwright adds, the faster you get back to them, the more likely you’ll be asked to weigh in on future stories. Should you field a press call when you’re in the midst of a project—or you need time to prepare—ask for story details and tell the reporter you’ll call back in 10 to 15 minutes.

Do your homework. Round up necessary research or chat with knowledgeable colleagues to prepare for an interview. And take time to carefully consider how your statements could potentially affect the image of your business. If you think a neutral trade organization would be more qualified to speak to the story topic, it’s OK to politely decline, Cartwright says.

Memorize your message. Walk into your interview knowing exactly what you want to say. A short, sweet quote incorporating a metaphor, comparison or a true story is the best approach, Cartwright says. Weave your main point throughout the interview and remember, “Regardless of the direction of the interview, you have a right to interject your message,” she says.

Answer with confidence. Few things are as daunting as answering a challenging or harsh question when you’re on the record. If such a question is thrown your way, stay calm and collected—and answer negatives with positives, Cartwright advises. “Don’t dwell on the past,” she says. “Speak to the future.” One example: If your competitor just laid off employees, take the long view when reporters ask your opinion. Speak of overall market trends without judging the local folks.

As for questions urging you to make a prediction? “Answer with great care,” Cartwright says. “You have no crystal ball, nor does anyone else.” And if you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t make something up. Look up the answer and get back to the reporter right away.

Time your answer. If you’re lucky enough to score a television or radio interview, aim to provide short, punchy answers—usually around 5 to 15 seconds—and stay on topic. “You’d be amazed at what you can say in that time if you use metaphor or comparison,” Cartwright says.


Article originally appeared at Your Business Online.

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