Thursday, April 24, 2008

How to Respond to ProfNet, PRLeads, and Helpareporter.com Queries, Part 1


An author I was coaching by phone this week mentioned that she was frustrated by the ProfNet query response system. She responds to queries from journalists looking for her particular expertise, but never hears back from the reporters -- not even a "thanks, but no thanks," e-mail. "Is it always like this?" she asked.

I noted that responding to these queries is an art form. It's not enough to be an appropriate resource for a story or segment -- you have to demonstrate your expertise in a pithy response that makes the journalist think, "She's exactly the person I'm looking for." Your answer has to show you understand what the reporter needs but you have to do it in a way that makes a tired, dullwitted or overworked reporter see this quickly and easily, without doing any more work than is absolutely necessary.

The reality is that the typical query posted on a service like ProfNet and its PRLeads reseller, or the new upstart, Helpareporter.com, generates more than enough responses from qualified sources.

So how can you make certain that you respond in a way that gives you a fair shot at being quoted? I'm going to use this afternoon's responses to my latest ProfNet query to help me illustrate what works and what doesn't. Out of respect for the publication I'm writing for, I'm not going to share my query, but I will say that in my request, I stated what the article is about, the industry I'm writing for, and that I was looking for experts to comment on that topic in that industry.

Here's how people actually responded, and how I reacted to each response. I hope this helps you understand the level of detail many of us do -- and don't need -- to help us select the best sources for our articles.

SOURCE 1: "I know some people that will be able to help you with this story. You can give me a ring to discuss this further."

ME: Tell me more. Who are these people? What are their credentials? I don't have time to fish for information on the telephone when I've got several more responses from people who look like good sources.

SOURCE 2: Writes a hasty response full of typos, missing words, and marketing jargon on behalf of her client, someone who doesn't appear to have specific industry experience. Doesn't tell me who her client is, but says, "Let me know if I can connect you." Signs only her first name. No last name. No company name. No phone number.

ME: Eyeroll.

SOURCE 3: "I have a great client that I am not certain is a perfect fit. We represent XXXX - they provide XXX customer service. (XXX's URL) (Descriptive info here that would reveal too much about the company and I don't want to embarrass anybody...) They have a great story that I would love to share with you if it is a fit.

ME: I like her honest approach, but if you're not certain it's a perfect fit, then it most likely isn't. Try to respond only to those where you are positive you can make a valuable contribution. This is the kind of response I'll send a "thanks, not no thanks" e-mail to because while she was off-target, she was at least articulate and honest.

SOURCE 4: "I must speak with you about your article. I have a lot to say on this. (Includes URL)"

ME: I'm not comfortable with the intensity of this response.

SOURCE 5: "We represent a company that's does XXX that has been interviewed before and would be happy to work with you for the article. The company is called XXX. http://www.xxx.com/. If you are interested please let me know."

ME: At least we've got the right industry. That's a good start. But why is this company qualified to address the problem posed in my query? Show me that they can give me good information in an interview. I don't have time to interview somebody who knows the industry, but has nothing to say about my topic.

SOURCE 6: "Check out this article I authored for http://www.biznik.com/, which offers (title somewhat related to my query topic). You can find it at this link: XXX.com. If this serves the article you are writing for your magazine, please feel free to use it for that purpose.

ME: I'm not sure what to do with this. Do you want me to read an article you wrote that might contain information that might be appropriate for the article I'm writing, and quote you from your article in MY article? Or are you using this to show me you'd be a good resource? If you really wanted to be quoted in my article, you'd summarize your thinking in your response.

SOURCE 7: "I received your query request. Attached is an article I wrote about XXX and it applies to all industries. I thought it might help you with your needs – even though it isn’t specific to XXX."

ME: She attached a Word file. See response to Source 6.

SOURCE 8: "We have an expert here, XXX, who blogs and speaks about how to XX, XXX and XXX effectively in the XXX industry, starting with market research and insight. (More text here that shows she understands what I'm looking for.... followed by her client's advice:)
(1) Find out where the opportunities are that align with your products/services
(2) Focus attention on winning the right ones.
(3) Do your homework to position yourself correctly

Here’s XX helping a small XX company via Fortune Small Business (link to an article showing her client in action). Let me know if you want to set something up. We can also look for client who’s in your industry to speak to this."

ME: Bingo! Great response -- especially when compared to the others.

In Part 2 tomorrow, I'm going to offer a formula for responding to queries that works for me as a journalist looking for sources, but also generates interviews for me as a responder to queries when I'm publicizing my books.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

GREAT post. I wish all PR people and others who respond to Profnet and HARO queries would read this. It perfectly sums up so many of the responses I get and why I don't even bother to reply. Great post!