From the Belly of the Beast: Three Top Financial Journalists Share their Insights (Part 2)

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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 second 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: What qualities do your go-to sources possess?

Kevin Cirilli: Passion for their job, honesty, frankness, professionalism.

Richard Eisenberg: My go-to sources appreciate deadlines. They are reliable in responding. If they don’t have anyone, they’ll tell me. The more I know that they’ve heard what I’m looking for, the better.

Heather Long: I think people who actually pick up their phone are very helpful. Oftentimes we’ll have a good in-person meeting with a source, and you think, “This is a sharp person.” Then you call them, and they don’t return your call. When it comes to a group like CNN, there’s a breaking news element, and we’re probably doing a story within the next 24 hours or sometimes even in the next two hours.

Sometimes a source will send me an email or call me back and say they are not able to discuss that topic but they suggest a colleague. Or they will just say they are unable to comment but to try them another time. At least the person responded in a timely manner.

Lauren: What can members of the financial industry do to help you?

Richard Eisenberg: Members of the financial industry can tell me things they think I’ve not heard, but more importantly, things my readers haven’t heard. Personal finance tends to be an area where things don’t change all that much.

What members of the industry can do to help me is say something people might not know or a common mistake people are making that hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. I also always appreciate hearing about something that came out in the news or a survey that my audience might want to know about. It’s also important to be prepared for an interview.

Heather Long: When being interviewed, try to explain things really, really big picture. There’s still a lot of mistrust and distrust of the [financial] industry. The only way to dispel that is to have accurate reporting, so we need people in the financial industry to be willing to talk about how stuff happens, and clarify that what’s going on isn’t necessarily trickery or insider deals.

I’ve had people ask whether I’m privy to insider info. To me, that means most people have no idea how the financial world works.

What we’re doing, broadly speaking, is pointing out the areas that are wrong and explaining how things work and how regular people can benefit and are benefiting.

We’re in a really interesting place in the market. We’ve had this incredible five and a half year bull market and everyone’s waiting for the shoe to drop. People are trying to get a handle on what they should be doing to protect their gains or how not to miss out on what gains may come.

Lauren: What is your biggest pet peeve with sources?

Kevin Cirilli: Feeling like they’re reading from a script.

Heather Long: The worst thing people can do is they don’t even read our site. It’s so obvious I almost didn’t even think to say it. People will pitch me on a new [non-financial] book that came out or a new hairstyle.

Lauren: Any anecdotes you’d like to share about a good or bad interaction with a source?

Kevin Cirilli: Sourcing is much more than coffee and drinks, nowadays. It’s texting, G-chatting, tweeting, etc. Washington journalism is extremely fast-paced. And as the role of the media has evolved, the way in which reporters source evolves, too.

Heather Long: Any time I can walk away from an interview and come away with a story nugget you didn’t think of before, that’s a great interview.

Sometimes they don’t even know it’s interesting, but it’s something they see every day. If it hasn’t been on the front page of The Wall Street Journal or on CNBC, it’s a trend that can have wider appeal. That’s a winner.

That’s the goal for us as journalists and for PR people [and sources]. Try to recognize what some of those trends are that they don’t find interesting in their world but it might be a story that should be told. Sometimes it comes from an offhand comment or one of the last questions you ask.

Lauren: Any last thoughts?

Richard Eisenberg: On our site, we publish articles written by financial experts when we think they have expertise they can offer.

Sometimes I’ll get a pitch for an interview, and I’ll ask if the person can write an article about it. That’s one way of us getting content; I can only write so many stories per week. I would bet that’s probably going to be happening increasingly as websites are looking for more content, and it adds credibility when the reader sees who the writer is.

Heather Long: Social media is hugely important right now. There are different levels of engagement. Twitter is so fast and breaking. For quirky stories, most organizations tend to see better engagement on Facebook. People click the story and read it.

Twitter and Instagram have that quick bounce. I think it’s a great place for ideas. You can get breaking news tidbits. For example, we like StockTwits. It’s fun to get a glimpse at what the trader community is talking about.

I look at what is trending on social media. I may see something that spurs another idea. That’s where a blog post can be helpful.