Keeping your expert’s quotes off the cutting-room floor

by | Mar 11, 2016 | Journalism, Media Relations, Traditional Media

You’ve pitched an expert to a top freelance writer on assignment for a big consumer magazine. They take you up on the offer, and the interview seems to go well. Your expert is psyched to see their name in print, and so are you. Then the issue comes out, you eagerly turn to the article—and nothing. No quotes, no mention of your expert, no sign that the interview took place. At best, the expert is disappointed. At worst, they’re looking for a new publicist.

I hear about these situations not from frustrated PR pros, but from the freelancers who have to deal with the aftermath. “PR people need to understand that there are things outside of a writer’s control,” one told me. “There have been times when I interviewed someone, and the editor dropped the person’s interview. I had nothing to do with it. It’s the editor’s call what gets into that final piece.”

It may be an occupational hazard, especially in these days of limited print budgets. But here are a few ideas for reducing the odds that your expert’s quotes end up on the cutting-room floor.

Media-train your sources. Another freelancer I interviewed a few years ago put it best: “The biggest problem I have is getting experts who can’t talk. They give me ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers and can’t seem to postulate an opinion. Sometimes it’s like pulling teeth. PR people should know that if they have someone who can’t talk, don’t put them out there, or do some media training. They need to be quotable.”

Be sure they can speak to the audience. This goes along with the point above. If the story is for a mass-market publication, your expert should be able to speak in consumer-friendly language. If the quotes are too technical and can’t easily be re-cast in simpler terms, there’s a good chance they’ll be dropped from the story. On the other hand, if the writer is contributing to a trade publication, the expert should be able to speak at a level of sophistication appropriate for readers in that industry.

Be up front about their agenda. If your expert has strong opinions about the subject matter, make that clear from the outset. It could be just what the writer is looking for, but it could turn out that the expert’s take isn’t a good fit for the outlet.  Also be sure to disclose any financial conflicts-of-interest up front.

Even if you make a good-faith effort and do everything right, sometimes quotes just get dropped. It’s an occupational hazard, and you should make that clear to your experts up front.

Whatever happens, avoid the temptation to take out your frustration on the writer. Take a deep breath and count to 10 before picking up the phone. Have a civil conversation. You can make your disappointment clear, but don’t overreact. Depending on how you handle the situation, you could forge a better relationship with the writer, and score brownie points for the next time they need an expert. Handle it poorly, and it’s unlikely they’ll go back to you.

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Steve Beale
Stephen Beale is the editor of Bulldog Reporter’s Inside Health Media, a publication for PR people in health and medicine. He covers media news and interviews health journalists about their preferences for dealing with PR people. Based in the San Francisco area, he previously worked as a technology journalist.

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