By Carl Carter, APR
Originally published Feb. 2013 Auctioneer Magazine, used by permission
I rarely meet an auctioneer who doesn’t have a story (or 10) about a reporter who misquoted him or garbled the story of a high-profile auction. I just smile, shake my head and say something like “unbelievable.” I’m sympathetic, because there are a lot of ways an incorrect story can hurt an auction or a company — just as a “good” story can help bring in bidders or future sellers.
At the same time, I can usually see what went wrong. There are a lot of potholes to step in when talking to journalists (and I’ve stepped in a lot of them). But you can avoid the most common mistakes simply by understanding four basic things about reporters and letting your common sense guide you.
1. He doesn’t want to hurt you — or help you. The single most helpful thing to keep in mind is that a reporter is just a guy doing a job. He’s not controlled by corporate advertisers or political bosses. He’s not looking for a scalp. At the same time, he’s not looking to do you any favors, either. If he’s a competent reporter (and believe it or not, most reporters are), he just wants to do a good job — and that means getting a good story that meets the needs and standards of his publication. He wants to get his byline, get home to see his kids and collect his paycheck at the end of the week. So follow the old Dale Carnegie advice and think in terms of his interest. He needs a good story, so tell him one!
2. He’s overworked, underpaid and probably scared. From the New York Times to your “Mom & Pop” weekly, newspapers have been shedding reporters at alarming rates. So that reporter you’re talking to is likely looking around at a lot of empty chairs. According to the Paper Cuts blog, more than 1,850 newspaper jobs disappeared in 2012, and that’s been going on for more than a decade. The reporters who still have jobs are often expected to write more stories, take their own pictures, and promote their stories on Facebook and Twitter. Some are even being handed camcorders and told to post videos. And many have taken pay cuts as well. He doesn’t want your sympathy, but he’d appreciate your being cooperative and making his job a little easier. In short, he’s human.
3. He’s thinking local — VERY local. When I first started publicizing auctions in the 1990s, local media were still making money hand over fist. A mid-sized daily newspaper would typically cover news from a city 80 or 100 miles away, or more. But as readers have turned to the Internet for their national and regional news, local media have realized that the only thing they have to sell is strictly local news. And that usually translates to news about a single city, county or metro area. An editor in Memphis probably isn’t going to even glance at a press release about that property you’re selling two hours away in Little Rock. (If there’s a solid “local” angle that directly affects his readers — for example, if the seller is a prominent Memphis business leader — you have a chance. But if your pitch for the Little Rock sale is that “we’re hoping to attract bidders from Memphis,” you may want to just back off and try again another day.) Show respect for his needs, and you’ll score points that will earn you the benefit of the doubt in the future.
4. He wants the basics, but not much more. You live with the details of the auction business. You write contracts to cover all the things that could go wrong, because the wrong language can turn into a no-sale or a lawsuit. The reporter lives in a very different world — one where his editor’s expecting two more stories before quitting time. And his story needs to be short. He has no time for your detailed explanation of the difference between a sale that’s “reserve” and one that’s “subject to confirmation.” He doesn’t want to know the sale price with and without the buyer’s premium. He just wants a number. The simpler you make things for him, the more likely he is to get it right. Trying to explain too much just opens the door to confusion and problems.
Reporters are people too. If you remember that, your dealings with media will go a lot better.
Copyright 2013 by National Auctioneers Association