(Published in Auctioneer, Sept. 2011, page 34)
By Carl Carter, APR
Sooner or later, almost every auctioneer will get a call from a reporter. The publication or station may be intrigued by your upcoming auction of a first edition of Thomas Paine’s Common Sense. Or maybe they’re just doing a feature on the auction business in general.
Sadly, it seems most of those auctioneers will fumble the opportunity. Some will alienate the reporter by acting defensive and suspicious. Others will vent about how the press has treated them badly in the past. Perhaps worst of all, some will indulge in such shameless self promotion that the reporter tunes them out.
And a few will get it right. They’ll give the reporter just what he needs in a way that makes them look good, helps promote their upcoming sale, and — most importantly — gains the reporter’s confidence, leading to future opportunities.
I’ve been talking to reporters for a living for 27 years, and for the last 17 of those years I’ve been actively promoting auctions. I’ve found that a few simple principles can dramatically improve your odds of being happy with the story. I can’t teach you everything I’ve learned in that time, but here are four things that can make a huge difference.
Do some homework.
Don’t feel like you have to start answering questions just because a voice on the phone started asking them. Ask if you can call back in a few minutes. (The answer will always be yes.) Then go to the publisher’s web site and read some recent articles by the reporter. You’ll learn something about the reporter’s style and gain insights that will help you respond more effectively.
When you return the call, comment favorably on one of the stories. Don’t pretend you were already familiar with his work — unless, of course, you were. It’s fine to say, “I couldn’t place your name, so I took a peep at your site. Looks like the City Council is keeping you busy dealing with that rezoning stuff.” Reporters actually appreciate it when you put a little effort into preparation. You’re sending the message that you care enough to give them what they need.
Remember what the reporter wants
The whole process gets easier if you remember that the reporter is just a working guy like you, trying to do a good job. He’s not out to “get” you or hurt your business. Nor does he want to understand your company in intricate detail. He just needs a couple of good quotes for a story, which will probably be less than 500 words long. (Note: This article is about 750 words.) That doesn’t leave a lot of room for nuance, history and multi-step explanation.
Remember also that the reporter is taking notes. (Surprisingly few reporters record interviews, and many take notes by hand, which is usually slower than typing.) If you use short sentences, the reporter can keep up. But long, tangled sentences get lost in the note-taking, because the reporter can’t get it all down. All those brilliant thoughts and subtleties are lost. So talk slowly, in short but complete sentences. Give him time to catch up.
Stick with your core message
I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard somebody say, “They didn’t quote what was really important!” So here’s an “insider” secret on which you can always rely: Say what you want to see in the publication and then get off the phone as quickly as possible. Why? To avoid diluting your message. It’s all about the math, really. If your “core” message is 80% of what you say, it’s probably going to get quoted. But if you ramble about secondary or complicated matters, you’re going to be quoted on those instead. And those are the comments that are mostly likely to get confused and distorted.
Establish a two-way rhythm
Keep mental timer on yourself, and if you find that you’re dominating the conversation in the interview, take a breather. If the reporter’s just being quiet and letting you talk, don’t assume it’s because he’s lapping up every word of your wisdom. He may just be letting you “blow yourself out” in hopes that you’ll eventually say something useful. If you’re not sure how you’re communicating, stop and ask. I’ll often say something like, “Is that what you were asking?” If it’s not, my candor will usually net me a “do-over.”
Will following these guidelines guarantee a great outcome? Absolutely not. But they will tilt the game in your favor.