Feb 28, 2011

Submitting ProfNet Queries: Guidelines for Reporters, Authors and Bloggers

Last week, I wrote about guidelines for PR professionals and experts on responding to ProfNet queries.

Turnabout is fair play, so here are a few guidelines for reporters, authors and bloggers for submitting ProfNet queries. Some of these are part of ProfNet’s query submission policies and might cause us to reject or revise the query; others are just good guidelines to follow to ensure you have the best possible working relationships with PR professionals and their sources.

* Whenever possible, include the name of the news outlet in the query. There are, of course, some instances when that is not possible, such as in cases of proprietary story ideas or skittish editors, but you’re likely to get more and better responses if you include the specific outlet for which you’re writing.

* Include as much detail as possible about the kind of expertise/responses you’re looking for. If you’re looking for experts in a particular geographic area or with specific credentials, include that in the query.

* When choosing your deadline for responses, provide as much time as possible. Of course, for breaking news or last-minute stories, you may need responses within a few hours, but if you can extend your time frame at all, you’ll get more responses.

* If you are a freelancer and are in the pitching stage or are writing the article on spec, indicate that in the query, as well as to which outlet(s) you’re pitching the piece. We can still run the query, but sources should be aware that the article has not yet been assigned.

* If a query is on a controversial/political topic, please try to keep it as unbiased as possible. Emotions run high, and there are ways to get the information you need without alienating possible sources. While we try not to edit queries so as to leave the reporter’s voice intact, we may request revisions if it’s likely to become an issue.

* Product requests: This is a relatively new type of query, and we are seeing more and more of these as blogs become more prevalent. We’re happy to help with these, but realize that many companies are understandably skittish about providing samples, so the more information you can provide about the blog (statistics about page views, Google Rank, Facebook/Twitter followers, etc.), the better the chances you’ll get responses. If you can return the product sample after reviewing it, all the better, but if not, make sure you indicate that in the query so companies are aware before they provide the sample to you. We also require that blogs comply with the FTC blogger guidelines regarding product reviews, and that companies will not be requested to provide any sort of payment in order to have their products reviewed. In addition, blogs must be live and actively publishing for at least six months before a product request will be sent. Any violation of the above will result in a ban from using ProfNet services in the future.

* For queries from authors of fiction books, indicate how responding to the query will benefit the experts. Fiction books, by their nature, do not provide experts with an opportunity to be quoted, so any benefit (such as the expert being mentioned in the book’s acknowledgements section) should be mentioned in the query.

* Student queries: We do not run queries for class assignments, but we do run student queries if the article is being written for the university’s newspaper or another established publication. When submitting the query, indicate which news outlet the article is slated for.

* Respond to respondents: I know this one might be a bit controversial, but if you can let respondents know you got their e-mail, it would go a long way into fostering good will. Imagine yourself as the PR person, answering a query and then not hearing back as to whether the e-mail ever even went through. Now imagine yourself as that same PR person, who replied to a query and got an e-mail response from the journalist. In which instance will you be more likely to respond to the reporter’s next query? This doesn’t mean you have to personally reply to each and every one – with the volume of responses, that might turn into a full-time job in and of itself – but a simple automated return message (“Thank you for your e-mail. I’ll be reviewing all responses over the next few days, and will touch base if your expert is a fit. If you don’t hear from me, please know that I appreciate your response and will keep your expert in mind for future stories,”) can help foster good working relationships with PR pros.

* If possible, follow up with PR reps when an article their expert is quoted in is published. While many freelancers aren’t necessarily even notified themselves when an article runs, and many articles can run weeks or months after the interview has taken place – or not at all – if you do know, sources would appreciate the head’s up.

Reporters: What are your thoughts on this list? Do any strike you as unreasonable?

PR pros/experts: Anything I missed? What would you add to this list?

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists find expert sources. You can read more from Maria at her blog on ProfNet Connect, a free social network connecting PR professionals, experts and the media: http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

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