Why the Reporter Didn’t Quote You — or Your Client

Why wasn't I quoted?
Why wasn’t I quoted?

Nothing is worse than picking up the phone and hearing an irate client on the other end of the line asking, “Why wasn’t I quoted? Why did I waste my time talking to John Jones? How come you didn’t make sure I was included in the story?”

You’re lucky if you’ve never experienced that sinking feeling in your gut because you, or your client, weren’t quoted in a story after a media interview.

Definitely not a fun experience!

Learn to be an Expert Source

The most obvious reason for being left out of a story may be that you, or your client, didn’t get media training to learn how to develop and deliver compelling key messages.

For example, a while back we were conducting media training for a team of consultants in the financial sector. Frank, the group leader, was invited to the media training session but told us that he didn’t need training as he had just spent two hours talking to a reporter from The Wall Street Journal.

When the story was published, he wasn’t included. All he ended up doing was supplying background information for the reporter to use when interviewing other experts.

Since Frank hadn’t gone through media training he never expressed his strong point of view on the topic. He rambled and expected the reporter to ferret out the nuggets he could use in his story.

He needed to learn how to sharpen his key messages to become an expert source that reporters call for quotes. The next month when we were back at the consulting firm, Frank asked me if we would work with him one-on-one. We had a productive session. The next time he spoke to a reporter, he knew to limit the interview to 10- 15 minutes and to be ready with compelling key messages.

Why You Weren’t Quoted

There are many other reasons why a reporter may not include everyone she interviews in her story.

In one unfortunate case, a company’s PR person pitched a Fortune reporter with a story about a new industry breakthrough. The reporter was very excited about the idea and interviewed the company’s expert for two hours.

Several weeks went by and then a major story on the topic appeared – without quoting the original source. When asked why not, the reporter responded, “I’m sorry. I just forgot.” After the initial conversation he had interviewed many other experts and simply lost track of his first contact. Reporters are human, too, and very often are on overload.

Another reason you may not have been quoted is because the reporter’s editor cut the story – along with your comments – for lack of space. The reporter may have found a “celebrity” source or the story angle may have changed.

But barring these reasons, here’s how you can increase the odds that you will be quoted in a reporter’s story:

  • Repeat Your Key Messages.  State your key messages early in the conversation. Then repeat them throughout the interview as appropriate. Ask questions such as “Do you need more clarification on that point?” to assess the reporter’s understanding.
  • Avoid jargon. As reporting staffs shrink, writers are assigned to cover industries they may know little about. Don’t use jargon – unfamiliar industry terminology and acronyms. This is especially important if you work for a government entity where people seem to speak in a special code. Do you know what SIMFA, FINRA, NAWQA and GPRA stand for? Didn’t think so.
  • Know the reporter’s hot spots. What is the reporter’s “beat” and the topics she regularly covers? Try to identify the gaps in her understanding or coverage that you can fill. Tell her something she doesn’t know.
  • Establish relationships. Don’t only pitch a reporter when you want something. Send the reporter articles or studies that may be useful, even if you can’t comment on them.
  • Be searchable. Increasingly, reporters are searching the web for sources. Are your website and your social media network profiles optimized for your key words? Do a search for the key words you want to be known for. If you don’t show up on the first page of search results, you have work to do in building your web presence by blogging, commenting on other posts, engaging in conversations and posting to your accounts.
  • Follow reporters.  No, not in the sense of stalking. But follow key reporters on their Twitter accounts. Retweet their tweets. Engage in online conversations. Comment on their articles. That will keep you top of mind as a source when they are writing stories.
  • Follow up. Don’t let the reporter who interviewed you for a story forget about you, as in the Fortune example. Send additional information or drop her an email to keep on her radar screen.
  • Say thank you. When a reporter does use your quote, send a brief thank you note. It’s the polite thing to do.

If you follow these tips, then the next time the phone rings with an irate client on the other end, you will know you did your very best to get his quote included in the story.

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The Newman Group is a recognized leader in guiding business professionals, celebrities and authors to improve their communications skills in presentations and media interviews.

Our highly skilled and experienced professionals have the expertise in media and presentation training to meet any business situation — from helping an executive to prepare for the challenge of talking to a reporter during a business crisis to presenting a group of investors during an IPO or keeping a celebrity spokesperson on point.