Sound the Alarms! Why Weren’t We in This Article?

“Why weren’t we in this article?” It’s the inevitable question every public relations professional hears – and, having worked in PR agencies for the last decade, it’s a fairly regular occurrence. The question itself comes in different forms, but it’s usually triggered by a competitor mentioned in an article.

My first reactions used to be: cringe, minor panic mode, fear client scolding, get defensive. However, the more frequently you hear the question and analyze the situation, the more you realize it doesn’t have to be such a fire alarm moment. In fact, if you hose it down quickly enough, you can turn it into an opportunity with the upset client/individual, the reporter, or ideally both.

So, why wasn’t your client in the article? Following are five of the more common reasons I’ve seen in the B2B public relations world, along with questions to help you assess the situation:

  • You Have Not Built a Relationship: This is absolutely, hands-down the most critical element. It really is all about reporter relationships. And by “relationship,” I mean this reporter/editor/blogger hears from you regularly (like more than once every 6 months) and not just when you have a pitch. Check out this PR Breakfast Club post for some good pointers. Do you read the reporter’s stories? Do you understand the viewpoints they’re looking for? Have you made the relationship a two-way street – and offered to help when it doesn’t necessarily get you an immediate quote? If you take the time to truly nurture relationships with reporters important to your business by staying in touch with new, meaningful insights about the issues they are writing about and that you can talk about, you’ll slowly earn your status as a trusted source. When you do, you’ll find the phone starts working the other way and you’re getting calls for interviews.
  • Your Client Isn’t Viewed as an Expert: Maybe your client really is smarter about the topic than the person quoted. Maybe they’ve authored a brilliant paper on the topic. Maybe you have more recent research.  But does anyone outside of their organization and their customers know? Your client might live and breathe the topic on a daily basis, but have you taken the time to consistently and actively cultivate relationships with reporters who cover the topic (see above), so they’ll know to call? Is your client regularly producing interesting, new content on the topic? More journalists today are turning to blogs, social networking sites and microblogging services for story research (see Jeremy Porter post). Would their name come up if a reporter was digging around on Twitter, blogs or even doing general online research about the topic?
  • Your Timing is Off: Was there an external news trigger of which you should have been aware (i.e., an expected regulatory development, a time of year when stories always come out on the topic)? Was it a topic that was noted on the publication’s editorial calendar? Do your client’s competitors regularly release information on that topic at the same time every year? If you do your homework, you can create an action plan so that you’re ahead of the curve on important developments and news stories.
  • Unreasonable Expectations: Let’s face it, sometimes you’re up against irrational people. Ask yourself a few questions to determine an appropriate response: Is the complaint driven purely by a bruised ego or is there something more? Is there any way you could have anticipated the news story? Did your client realistically have any business being in the story (i.e., they’re a consultant and the story only quoted lawyers involved in the situation and the head of a major industry association)? Was this reporter someone who regularly covers the issues your client cares about?
  • Your Client Didn’t Make the Cut: There are also occasions when you’ve done everything right, but your client hits the chopping block and is left out of the story. Why? Maybe they were edited out for space, the story angle changed, someone else had a stronger or more actionable sound bite, or they just unknowingly made a common interview mistake. Don’t sulk, and more important, don’t get snippy with the reporter. Keep the long-term relationship goal in mind – there will be some “give and take” and, if you encourage your client to keep at it, you’ll usually see the relationship blossom over time.

You can either over-analyze situation to death, or follow the advice of my eleventh grade English teacher and “stop whining!” Turn it into an opportunity.

Use the article to start a dialogue with the reporter. Think about what you have of value to add to the conversation – a counterpoint, an outlook about “what’s next,” a preview of research your company is doing on the topic. Then, use it as ammunition to talk with the reporter. Suggest a quick call, or better yet (if you’re in the same area) suggest grabbing a cup of coffee.

What tips do you have to share? How have you dealt with the inevitable “why weren’t we in this article” question?


To reach Kellie:

Twitter: @kshe
LinkedIn: Kellie Sheehan