After the Interview: Things One Journalist Wishes You Did


Get Shift Done: Management

A news story or feature article published by the right media outlet can have a massive impact on your business — good or bad. After all, most reputable publications have far more credibility than does any marketing collateral your company might craft, simply because the press are considered unbiased observers.

Yet, you have no control over the final article. You can do your best in the interview with the journalist, particularly if you prepared for it, but ultimately the journalist writes the story. You can’t affect how your product is referenced, what is said about your direct rivals, or even if your exec’s name is spelled right.

That all said, there are certainly things you can do to improve your odds. Based on my 29 years in tech journalism, here are some thoughts for what you can do after the interview with a reporter.

Don’t Ask to See the Story Beforehand

Really, don’t. We will never let you see the article. Never. Not at a top tier publication, anyway.

The article is not being written to serve you. It’s meant to serve the reader. That means the points you thought were important aren’t necessarily relevant. That’s not just a matter of the reporter being disinterested in spouting your marketing message and extolling your company’s wonderfulness. It’s a question of selecting the things that matter to the target reader (at least in the view of the journalist).

Besides, if the reporter shows you the article ahead of time, you are apt to imagine that your opinion of it matters. You’ll think you have permission to approve the story, even when the company executives say, “We only want to check it for accuracy.” Far more often, a company exec or PR person tries to change their answers or affect the reporter’s interpretation.

This isn’t marketing collateral. You don’t get to approve or make changes.

The result is that most publications have a strong policy prohibiting journalists from sharing an article with sources.

Besides, even if you did see the article ahead of time, it might not make a difference. The publication’s editors and copyeditors often make changes after the story is filed. (You should see what this article looked like in its first draft!)

Incidentally, this is also often seen as insulting to the reporter, as though you don’t trust her to get it right. Honestly, you want to piss her off when she’s busy writing about you?

That said, some reporters offer to read quotes back to the person who said them (and not to anyone else). Or an author may send a follow-up email message to confirm data scribbled in his notes (“Am I correct in understanding that the application doesn’t have OCR capabilities?”). If there are issues of accuracy, they can be addressed at that time. I have done similar things at the close of some interviews. But that must be initiated by the reporter.

Do Look at The Story the Instant It Runs

It’s fine to ask — once — when the story is likely to run. We understand that you’re anxious to learn how you’re presented publicly, and that PR people benefit financially when their clients are mentioned in articles.

But scheduled publication dates often change at the last minute. Freelancers usually don’t know when the article will be published; it’s out of their control. Trust me: The reporter is likely just as frustrated by this as you are. Asking repeatedly won’t help.

Instead, watch the media outlet’s homepage and closely monitor Google searches for your company’s — and the interviewee’s — name. If you have an intern, put them on this task.

It’s fine to ask the reporter if she can be kind enough to alert you when the story runs. Don’t rely on it. Sometimes, a story runs on a busy day and she may not even be aware that it ran that day. Also, some stories quote many people so alerting sources may take some time.

We’re aware that that favor is meaningful. Sometimes, we use reporter services such as HARO, Profnet, or SourceBottle. (If you want coverage, you should explore these.) A lot of people respond to journalist queries sent through such services and have no idea if their input is included until the article is published. Sometimes I have gotten 50 responses; even if I correspond with the source, it doesn’t mean that their words make it into the final article. So the fact that someone was interviewed doesn’t mean that his name will show up at all. If they aren’t included, they have no idea because a google search doesn’t include “that story I wasn’t quoted in.”

Let’s assume you were quoted or your product is referenced. Speed is critical. Once a story is published, read it carefully. If you have concerns, quickly decide how significant they are. Is the reference truly wrong or is it merely not phrased the way you would? Is this something that impacts company sales or reputation?

I have to stress: If the wording is fair and within editorial discretion, the fact that your CEO is angry is the world’s worst reason to ask for a change. A PR reason representing a small vendor wrote, “I think it’s fine, but the CEO is really unhappy. Can you please change this?” Think how that makes your company look. We don’t edit accurate references to please anyone. (OK, other than a grumpy editor-in-chief, but that’s our problem.)

Let’s say that you have a legitimate problem with the story: a fact is wrong. (The price is $14, not $140; the device uses a USB connection, and the article makes it sound as though it lacks one.) Contact the reporter right away and state your concern; explain why the reference is wrong or misleading and suggest an editorially-neutral phrasing that you’d prefer.

All of those elements are important. I’ve received messages asking that something be changed without any indication why. Or their “reason why” is that it’s not how the company likes to phrase it. Or they suggest phrasing that simply isn’t going to happen, such as, “Of course Product X is the best in the industry. Everyone knows that.”

Once you present the concerns appropriately, the reporter looks at the published piece.

Avoid saying things like, “You said it’s green when it’s actually blue.” The reporter might have indeed said blue and an editor changed it. You have no way of knowing that. Instead, say, “The story said it’s green when it’s actually blue.” It’s less confrontational. This might very well be the first time the reporter learns of the change.

This is why speed is so important. Most people read an article within a couple days after publication, sometimes within the first six hours of it being live.

I have had companies come to me weeks after the story ran — once it was two months later. The odds of getting a change approved at that stage is far less than an immediate request. On the flip side, if you come to me 15 minutes after a story has published with a legitimate change request, you have a dramatically better chance of success.

What if you make a request properly and it is respectfully declined? In nearly every situation, you truly need to let the matter drop. Going up the food chain has an extremely strong chance of ruining your relationship with that reporter. And there’s a fine chance it will ruin your reputation with a lot of reporters; we talk, especially when a company does something offensive.

Appeal your case to a senior editor if you must, but understand it’s a risky move. Also, don’t even think of going beyond the editor. Appealing your case to a publisher is certain to kill your relationship and, in most cases, it won’t even help.

Don’t Steal The Story

Perhaps the story was wonderful and your people are thrilled. Great! Do link to that story from your site and on social media (and it’s fine to include the author’s Twitter ID). Don’t cut and paste the text and place it on your site.

Most media sites make their money either from selling ad impressions or from selling premium subscriptions. Either way, by placing the story on your site, you are ripping them off. This angers the reporter (who might herself get bonuses based on story traffic on the media outlet’s site) and may merit a nastygram from the media outlet’s lawyers. (If you really like the piece, some media outlets will sell you reprints of the story for your site or to hand out at trade shows.)

But even aside from reasons of legal copyright, there’s a marketing reason for you to link and not to paste. It’s much better credibility for your product to let your prospects read it on a media outlet’s site. This avoids the perception that you might have edited the story, deleting any negative references. So link. Always.

Preparing for an interview and your behavior during that interview are obviously critical. But your moves after that interview can undo all of that effort. Don’t let that happen to you.

Photo credit: Sarah DuMay via / CC BY

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