From the Belly of the Beast: Three Top Financial Journalists Share their Insights (Part 1)

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Nearly everyone interested in growing their business recognizes the value of positive media coverage. For the financial services industry, media attention can confer a level of credibility that no other sort of marketing or communications activity can deliver. Lauren Davis, one of our rising star Account Executives here in Gregory FCA’s specialized financial services PR unit, visited with three journalists to get their take on how to successfully engage the media. The following is the first part of a two-part Q&A roundtable with CNNMoney’s Heather Long, PBS Next Avenue’s Richard Eisenberg and The Hill’s Kevin Cirilli.

Lauren: How many pitches do you get a day?

Kevin Cirilli:  About 10.

Richard Eisenberg: On average, I receive about 10 pitches per day, though some days I receive more. I do read them all and maybe respond to four of them. The ones I don’t respond to aren’t relevant. Occasionally I’ll write back and say don’t send me any more pitches because they’re not relevant to my audience.

Heather Long: It does vary, but if I stripped out research papers and market-moving event alerts, I probably get two to three dozen from PR professionals.

Lauren: Email or phone pitch?

Richard Eisenberg: I typically prefer emails because the phone interrupts what I’m working on. The only time I would say a phone call is best is if it’s something that’s urgent, like someone releasing a survey or breaking news.

Heather Long: Generally emails are best because of the volume we get. My biggest pet peeve is people who send an email and then call five to 10 minutes later. It’s OK to call a couple hours later or the next day, but you need to give people time to read their emails.

Lauren: What makes a good story pitch/idea?

Kevin Cirilli: A good pitch is short, to the point, and is tailored to specific reporters’ beats. Different publications have different tones and audiences. Understanding that is key.

Richard Eisenberg: It has to be right for our audience. I’m always surprised at how many pitches I get that are not helpful. A good story idea is something that’s topical; it’s going to tell our readers something they haven’t heard before. The more useful and relevant, the better.

Heather Long: There are three levels of stories we write about. One is breaking news. The plane that went down in Ukraine, that’s a market-moving event. People are trying to figure out what’s going and see how that will affect the markets and economy.

The second level is feature-type stories. There are two types. First, we interview a really interesting person or subject-matter expert. We published a story about an advisor who was a spy with the US Intelligence Service.

We also look for trend pieces. So lately in finance we’ve seen people pulling out of high-yield junk bonds. There is some news relation, but it’s not breaking news like bombings or a plane crash. For me personally, that’s where I find research notes helpful. Financial advisors will send out notes to clients or a research paper that might look dull or dry, but that can be turned in to a trend story.

Lastly, we publish investigative pieces. We get some pitches from individuals looking for exposé pieces.

Lauren: Are there any specific features that automatically grab your attention in an email pitch?

Kevin Cirilli: Anything related to Congress or regulators.

Richard Eisenberg: The more concise, the better. The clearer the better. If I get a pitch that takes four paragraphs before it gets to the point, or if it’s very vague, I’m not really interested in that. It helps to know what the pitch is actually about.

Lauren: What makes for a good interview?

Kevin Cirilli: Be yourself. Especially for print/online, don’t worry about being too wonky or in the weeds or perfecting the perfect sound byte. Just talk the way you talk, the quote will come.

Heather Long: In the business world, there are two pitfalls. One, the person is too technical and speaks in jargon or only about the numbers. Numbers are important, but they’re hard to quote. That’s definitely something you learn over time: the people who are better at translating these concepts.

The other pitfall is people who don’t get the media world. They seem almost hesitant to say anything. I see that more with banking, they don’t want to talk about details. We have a lot of bizarre situations when we will get on the phone with someone who says great stuff. Then, they will say, “Oh I changed my mind. You can’t quote me.”

Lauren: How would you define the ideal soundbyte/quote?

Kevin Cirilli: Television and print / online are totally different entities. With TV, it’s all about the delivery and the buzzword. But with print / online, you can go in-depth and have a conversation with the reporter. You should always understand on background and off the record, too.

Richard Eisenberg: A journalist knows a good quote when he or she hears it. A publicist does too. Sometimes the people I’m interviewing don’t know that because that’s not what they do.

Whenever they can provide a catchy phrase, a metaphor or something that’s unconventional or surprising, that’s quotable. What’s not quotable is if it someone gives me a fact. Like IRA withdrawal rates, that’s not something I would quote them on. There’s no reason why it would be in their voice if it’s a fact. If they say, “Well here’s what I think about that or I challenge the conventional wisdom and here’s why,” that’s something that might catch my attention.

Lauren: How do you feel about follow-up emails from sources? Helpful reminders or annoying?

Kevin Cirilli: The most important thing is to develop a professional relationship from a source where a reminder doesn’t feel like an obligation.

Richard Eisenberg: I say follow-up emails are usually annoying. Not always, but often. The ones that are annoying are the ones from publicists who are pitching me on topics completely unrelated to what I do. I get pitches for baby products or beauty products. I’m the editor of the money and work channels.

What gets me annoyed is I get these follow-up emails from the same person, for the same incorrect pitch, asking whether I saw it.

What’s not annoying is if it’s a publicist who believes it’s something I’d want to hear about, and they think for whatever reason I might have missed it or they weren’t clear. In that case the follow-up email is OK, but nine times out of 10 I’d rather not get a follow-up email.

To be continued…

Don’t forget to check back in with the Financial Services Marketing Blog for part 2. Coming soon!