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It’s Not Just About the Pitch
By: Gerard E. Mayers
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PR involves pitching of story ideas, pitching releases to trade media, and pitching a guest article or blog by an industry thought leader (if you are lucky enough to have one in your organization). It also means strategizing over product campaigns, dealing with crisis preparations and communications, and ensuring your client or organization speaks with a single, solid voice.
But it’s not just about the pitch. It’s about listening, and asking the right questions...especially if you are interviewing an industry leader for a blog or a relevant story. Well, if you have to do an interview, ah, that brings up the question of what makes an exceptional interviewer.
Jeff Haden recently contributed an article on LinkedIn about the 10 Qualities of Exceptional Interviewers. Jeff’s article was really geared towards the job market, but it has application for us flacks who often are called upon to interview sources for stories and other communications venues.
Below is what Jeff offered about exceptional interviewers. Fr our purposes I took the liberty of some slight editorial modification or adding a note to his original comment.
1. They understand their real needs. (For us, this means understanding the real reason why we need to speak with that industry thought leader; why it’s so important to articulate what the CEO or Chairman really expects from that new products; etc.)
2. They ensure candidates can come prepared. (Read “client” or “contact” instead of “candidates.” It’s a good idea if you can clearly explain to your contact or client what they can expect to be asked when you contact them for that project.)
3. They do more research on the candidate than the candidate does on the company. (For us flacks, this means doing due diligence on the product, the client, the client’s service area or niche, the client’s competition, or whatever it takes to know more about what’s necessary for successful completion of the project or pitch than what the client will ever know.)
4. They make the interview a conversation, not an examination. (Asking the right questions and really listening for the answers and making the process stress-free will generally produce good results.)
5. They bring shy or nervous candidates out of their shells. (Ever have a story contact or client who is hard to get information out of? Make them feel comfortable. As Jeff noted, “Ask a few softball questions you know he can hit out of the park. Take a few minutes to help him gain confidence and settle in.”)
6. They wisely go off script. (Don’t be afraid to let the conversation about the pitch or story idea deviate from where you want it to go. A totally different, and workable, campaign may be the result of a wise deviation from where you “think” the client pitch or campaign should trend.)
7. They never take over. (Listen, listen, and listen! Let the story contact or pitch contact feel as if he/she is coming up with the ideas and how to implement them. Great interviews are 90% to 95% interviewee with 10% or less the interviewer...that is, you.)

8. They thoroughly describe the next steps. Explain the rest of the process. Explain what you will do, and when you plan to do it. And then actually do it.”)

9. They never fall into the “checklist trap.” (Goes back to the first item...know your real need and you never will have to settle for second best or something that sounds too good to be true. Every good story or pitch idea has some flaws in it somewhere; it’s your job to find what they are and how they help or hurt your real needs with your project.)

10. They provide closure to every candidate. (Jeff noted why this is so important:Describe next steps, follow through on those steps, contact candidates when the process for some reason gets delayed, and eventually provide closure to every candidate — period. Not only is that good business, it’s the right thing to do.” It goes without saying that it’s good business practice to keep your story contacts or clients informed and in the loop every step of the way. After all, they gave you a massive compliment by wanting you to help them with their product pitch or article project, when they could have picked someone else.)

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About the Author
Gerard E. "Gerry" Mayers writes about PR and other relevant topics for PR professionals. A former PR manager for Sensor Products, Inc. (currently based in Madison, NJ), he lives in Milford, NJ.
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