6 Tips For Getting Experts to Quote in Your Article
Find out the right way to get the quotes you need from someone who learnt the hard way.
“Go through the proper channels.”
This was an actual response from one of my prospective interviewees who I’d approached on LinkedIn. It was also the first time I twigged that I might have been approaching getting quotes in the wrong way…
I was on assignment for one of my first articles as a professional freelancer and I’d been asked to get quotes from primary sources on the topic. I was honest with the Editor about not having much experience with this, but assumed I’d be able to muddle my way through it, so I took the assignment.
Like most women, I have a terrible habit of saying no to opportunities because I’m not 100% convinced that I am qualified for them. In an effort not to screw myself out of paid work, I said I was sure I could work out how to get quotes from expert strangers. It couldn’t be that hard… surely?
Almost two weeks later, and with little success, I thought I must have made a mistake. Clearly I’m not cut out for journalism if I can’t crack something so fundamental. It wasn’t until I was given a scolding by a LinkedIn acquaintance that things clicked.
“Go through the proper channels!” he practically screamed in response to my follow up message. Although, it might have been nice for him to enlighten me as to what those proper channels were, seeing as I was clueless.
Obviously, it’s my fault that I was clueless, but also, not really. I did try to research the correct procedure. However, this knowledge must be stored under some elusive journalistic keyword, since my search only threw out results like “How To Get a Job Interview” or “What is a Primary Source”.
Because I had no idea how to approach this task, I did what I knew how to do which was to approach people on LinkedIn. At my last job we had to approach people to speak at our events and quite a good portion of this work was done through LinkedIn.
I didn’t always get good responses, but this method did generally yield some degree of success if I approached people in the right way. Therefore, I (stupidly) assumed this approach for getting quotes on a topic these people were supposedly excited about would be a piece of cake… *crickets*.
How bizarre. I was genuinely perplexed by how many of these people either left me on read or gave icy, noncommittal responses. I’m only asking for some quotes, why is everyone being such a d*ck about it?
Because I was doing it wrong…
Why you can’t just casually ask for quotes
You see I was operating under the false illusion that giving a quote is a simple process. A real expert can bang out a bunch of appropriate comments in fifteen minutes, easy peasy. Nope.
Sure, if you’re asking your mate to give an opinion on something inconsequential then that will only take a few minutes. Expecting an expert to give their opinion on a topic in print is an entirely different kettle of fish.
Not only are these expert people very busy doing their very expert jobs. Any comments they make in a public setting, such as an article, has the potential to open them up to something called ‘libel’.
A written or oral defamatory statement or representation that conveys an unjustly unfavourable impression
Or to put it simply — something they could be sued for.
Absolutely no one wants to open themselves up for a lawsuit, which is why there is this baked-in due process that journalists must follow in order to get an approved quote. I’ll admit I went into this task a little bit naively.
I don’t live in a world of litigation, so I can be a bit tone deaf when it comes to these kinds of complexities. It hadn’t occurred to me that you could get sued for a poorly considered quote, so I thought people were being withholding for no reason.
Now we’ve discussed the wrong way to go about getting sources, let’s talk about the right strategies to help you get your expert quotes.
How you actually approach sources
Understand your article and do your research
It is very important that you don’t waste people’s time when trying to get a quote. There is nothing more annoying than an email from someone obviously trying to sell using a scattergun approach since it’s clear their request has nothing to do with you.
Similarly, it is not your expert’s job to provide you with market research on whether they are knowledgable about your topic of interest. You need to do the research into your topic so that you understand who to approach in the first place.
Do not approach anyone unless you are at least 90% certain that they will be able to give you the quotes you need. Otherwise you’re wasting everyone’s time and effort, especially yours.
Contact via Media/Press
Most companies will have a PR contact somewhere on their website, which can usually be found through a link sometimes referred to as ‘Press Room’. This is your first port of call when approaching a company for quote.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always straightforward. I had a few instances were a company website didn’t list a press contact or the email address resulted in a MailerDaemon. However, there are a few ways you can get around this.
If you can’t find a press contact on their website, you can sometimes search the company name + ‘press contact’ to find the information. Another way is to contact their general enquiries to see if you can get information on their Marketing/PR.
You could also ask your Editor if they have details for the company you are looking to approach. If all else fails, you can approach their Marketing or PR Team on LinkedIn, but this should be your last ditch effort, and don’t expect it to yield positive results.
It’s all about numbers
Like with many things in life, getting quotes for an article without connections, is all about the numbers. As you get further along in your career, or a particular niche, you will build out your list of contacts meaning this part will eventually get easier.
However, for newbies, your first few successes will rely on volume. It’s important that you fish in the right pond with the right bait, but the more people you approach the better your odds that someone will say yes.
For example, I must have approached at least 40 different people before I saw any semblance of a result. I was lucky enough that one of my interviewees referred me to her PR agency, who set up the meeting for me.
All in all I probably had a less than 5% return rate on requests. Do your research to find a large pool of potential contributors and start making pitches.
Tell the fish exactly what you need from them
In a lot of cases you are only going to get one shot at this. If you’re not absolutely clear what you’re asking for and why, don’t expect any follow up emails to clarify. You are asking them for something, so if you’re not clear in your demands you’ll be dismissed (and deservedly).
These people are busy. They don’t have time to wade through wishy washy requests from someone they have no relationship with. You’re not special and are not worthy of any kind of special treatment from strangers. Sorry.
You need to craft an appropriate pitch that makes clear the following things: WHERE you are from (publication); WHY you are contacting them; WHAT exactly you want from them; WHEN you need it by; and HOW long it will take.
It doesn’t have to be a novel length request, in fact the more succinct the better. For example–
Hi [PR Manager],
I am a writer for [PUB] and I am writing an article on [your area of expertise] and I would like to interview [an executive] from [company] to get a few quotes.
The scope of the article is [a few sentences on the article and why it needs their involvement]. I already have my questions, which I am happy to provide for your approval.
I would like to schedule an interview within [time frame] over video call, or by email if this is more convenient. The interview should only take around 15–20 minutes total. My deadline is [DATE & TIME, TIME ZONE], so I will need a response no later than [DATE & TIME, TIME ZONE].
To give you a little context about me [who you are re: the publication and a few details about why you are appropriate to write the piece].
Please let me know if it would be possible to arrange this interview. I am happy to answer any questions you might have about the article or publication.
Kind regards, [YOUR NAME]
This message says exactly what they need to know about you, your publication, what is expected of them and why. It’s all very upfront and is unlikely to trigger any alarm bells that the request could be a scam.
Start early and give deadline for response
This might seem obvious but it is very important that you make it clear to your interviewees when your deadline is and how long they have to respond to you. A lot of the time people don’t realise that your deadline is when you need to submit the article, not their deadline for the quote.
Similarly with my own naivety, many of my primary sources didn’t realise I also needed to write the article once I had received their quotes. You need to tell them when you need a response by so they have all the facts and can let you know if they can meet your request.
This ties into the next point of you need to approach your sources as early as possible. Not only can it take time to find appropriate people to interview but it can then take days, or even weeks, for their quotes to be approved. You need to let them know your deadlines so that they have time to get those approvals or reject the request.
This is why it is important to be blunt, upfront and make sure that you are incredibly clear about what you need from them. You can’t leave anything to interpretation. Let people know exactly what they are signing up for and you will have greater success.
Be polite, even when they’re not
I had a rather negative experience with one of the PR people for this article. First she gave me the runaround for a few days promising then going ghost. When I did eventually pin her down, she scheduled a prep call at 10pm, despite knowing I was UK based, during which she was patronising of both me and my publication.
I knew as soon as the meeting was done that she had absolutely no intention of giving me the quotes. But for some reason she still made me wait an additional two days before “letting me down gently” with another incredibly patronising email. Safe to say I was annoyed.
Unfortunately, some people will use any semblance of power over you as an excuse to treat you badly. This is their problem, not yours, and does not mean you need to stoop to their level. It is a truth universally acknowledged that some people simply suck.
There is no sense burning bridges, no matter how frustrated you get. After this experience I ended up connecting with another company who were so kind and gave me amazing quotes. They even told me I could approach them anytime, which was a huge win for me.
A lot of us haven’t had formal education in writing, which forces us to stumble our way through learning journalistic etiquette. There appears to be little information to help, or at least that has been my experience. We can only do our best.
Hopefully this article will serve as much needed insight into the world of primary sourcing, and prevent you from making quite as many errors as I did. The point is not to get discouraged if you hit a few stumbling blocks in the process. You’ve got this.
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