Part of a series dedicated to encouraging excellence for Qwoted users everywhere.
Chances are you haven’t heard of Angelo DeCandia, a professor of business at Touro College in New York City. But in my days covering investment for U.S. News & World Report, this avuncular font of knowledge became one of several go-to sources for me. The reasons were many; first, Touro’s publicist Elisheva Schlam was a pro. She always delivered what she promised. But it also helped tremendously that DeCandia was eminently quotable. Which is why in this column, I’ve made him “Qwotable,” if you will. I mean, It’s hard to beat gems like this when talking about an oft-covered topic such as “Are we headed for a bear market?” Here’s part of how he answered in 2019:
“The longest bull market ever may simply run out of gas, for no reason other than investors expect it to be so. … Add to that the U.S. government shut-down and there is an overall skittishness which may burst into flames like a pile of dry kindling on a hot, dry, summer day.”
Couldn’t have written it better myself, and I know that some of my less principled journalist colleagues certainly try. But why fabricate when you can exhilarate? PRs, this falls to you more than you may think. Even a dull-as-dishwater source can score points with a reporter by putting more than just academic effort into their answers to a reporter’s questions.
Here are five points to consider when working with a source to get a reporter’s attention and earn their loyalty.
1) Play the long game.
This value underlies many of the bedrock principles I try to teach PRs, though here it’s a bit different from the direct publicist-to-reporter relationship. Getting a source in and out for a one-time score is especially shortsighted when you can impress a writer with just how pithy, eloquent and even puckish that person can be.
I get it, I get it: A PR can only work with the hand they’re dealt. And if that hand is wimpy, well then … what can you do? Plenty, I’d say. Which leads me on to point number two…
2) Coach your source.
The bottom line here is that anyone is coachable, even if they (and you) feel that might not be the case. It’s simple; great teams don’t win without mapping out the strategy ahead of time. One of my mentors, former McDonald’s worldwide PR chief Chuck Ebeling, discussed how the company spent quite a bit of time coaching its people to be effective, focused communicators. That strategy paid off in positive press. Which is often earned when you teach your source to…
3) Be “qwotable.”
Sources need to think in terms of tasty sound bites, not as a substitute for substance but an attractive way to bang it home. This is how writers think: We work hard at crafting “kickers” (story endings) and catchy “ledes” (the top of the story). When DeCandia talked about the bull market “burst[ing] into flames like a pile of dry kindling on a hot, dry, summer day,” he gave me a poetic license to drive, if you will. But with ready-made kickers like that, who needs a license to drive? The sky’s the speed limit!
4) Do your (source’s) homework.
In building a relationship with a journalist directly, it helps to know about their work. The imperative here is to go beyond the simple source request and get a sense of what the reporter is looking for—beyond the query itself. If everyone is equally authoritative, and every PR equally responsive, asking the reporter about what represents a home run is valuable, valuable knowledge. Then you can go back and coach your source on the rest.
5) Ask what your source can help with next–immediately.
Emphasis on help. Be of service, not greediness. Here you’ll want to ask, “What else are you working on that Dr. Goodsource can help you with?” Jump ahead of the competition. Give the reporter some sweet, sweet music to soothe a deadline-weary soul: “We can always get you quotes within a day,” for example. I loved that. When Schlam told me as much, Angelo became a big time A-list source, and I had it both ways: quick stuff that was great stuff.
Putting it all together: The secret source sauce
What can you do to increase the chances of getting your source a coveted slice of the media spotlight? It’s a question that must be answered with a positive attitude. But not a pugnacious one. Strong-arming or making a pest of yourself simply won’t do. And putting your fate in the hands of the source, unless said source’s name is Paul McCartney or President Biden, is simply inexcusable—and, I would contend, lazy.
Let’s do better. Qwoted is all about doing what we do better. The media, so often a showcase for passion made visible, demands nothing less than passionate PRs at the service of driven reporters. However crabby or irresponsible those scribes may turn out, give yourself every chance to make sure your source can shine. And if you work it with creativity and pluck, they will. Just like Angelo DeCandia.