Tips for writers seeking access to events and interviews
Published: November 23, 2010
It’s no secret the writing industry is glutted. Most print publications have a website full of content and numerous blogs dot the cyber-landscape. Content mills multiply like spam and everyone, it seems, wants to be an author these days courtesy of publish-on-demand technology.
Kay B. Day
As a result, access to events and highly-sought interview subjects may seem to be contracting. Even if you have a press card from a professional organization or a media company, you may be turned down. For those seeking access, however, there are options that may land you that interview you’ve always coveted.
One simple tried and true manner for establishing your brand is a letter of introduction if there’s enough lead time. I can’t estimate how many doors that simple tool has opened for me. Remember to keep your letter brief and pithy. Begin by pitching what you bring to the table. If you know you can place the story with a respectable publication, that’s even better. Put that information in the opening paragraph.
If you hope to place the story at your own website or blog, explain why that provides a benefit to the event host or to the publicist handling wannabe interviewers. Remember it’s not all about the numbers, although high traffic is an asset. If your site draws an audience whose interests align with the interests of your subject, that is an asset. If your site statistics reflect high value traffic from specific message boards, corporate or government websites, say so. The key is to sell the benefits of your site to your target.
Explain your takeaway—what you hope to learn from the interview and how you will handle it in your article.
Conclude your letter with four or five sentences about your background and writing credits. Include your website URL and contact information if that data isn’t on your letterhead.
Before writing that letter, do a teaser article about some aspect of the subject you’re hoping to cover. Include a copy if possible, or at the least, a link. Be sure your letter is grammatically accurate and well written.
If you can access an e-mail address for your target, you can try e-mail. But people often read e-mail on smart phones and it’s my experience they don’t like lengthy messages on such devices. If you do opt for e-mail, and sometimes that is very effective, keep your pitch to one paragraph. Include relevant links and annotate them. Be sure to close your message with your street address and contact information after your signature.
If you learned about an event at hand and there’s no time to write a letter, try phoning officials in charge of the event or celebrity. Don’t hesitate to throw yourself on the mercy of the employee answering the phone. I’ve talked my way into numerous stories by engaging that all-important gatekeeper.
As an aside, it’s also my experience that having a quality blog or website related to the subject areas you like to cover is an asset. That indicates you’re building your own platform in the subject area your target comprises.
There are some events where advance permission isn’t possible. For instance, you might be a witness to a breaking news story. Those are the hardest because you may be dealing with law enforcement officials who aren’t too wild about media anyway. On the other hand, with advance notice, public information officials at law enforcement agencies are often very accommodating. The best you can do in a breaking news situation is to get as close as possible to the action, but under no circumstances should you impede officials. Try to talk to people who are milling about—sometimes you can get man-on-the-street quotes that enrich your narrative in ways you didn’t anticipate.
Celebrity events can be the most difficult to gain access to. Ideally if you’ve already placed a story pitch, your editor will write you a letter. In the absence of that advantage, try talking to whoever is leasing the event space or hosting the event. You’d be surprised at what some people will do for you if you convince them your story will be an asset in some way. For instance you might pledge to include a description of the great facility the event is being held at. Bear in mind there’s always a communications director or other personnel handling media access. Your job is to do the legwork ahead of time and find out who that person is.
No matter how much or where you’ve published, bear in mind you will eventually encounter a lack of appreciation for your talents. I am reminded of one political event I sought access to. I received an e-mail confirming my request for media access and advising me to wait for further details. Several weeks later I received an e-mail confirming my access—to a pricey fundraiser for a fee. It seemed I’d somehow moved onto a list of major donors even though I didn’t belong there because the “donation” was equivalent to my monthly mortgage payment.
As with everything else in the world, you want something your target can give you. View your target as someone you’re selling your skills to and allow enough time ahead of the event for back and forths.
Despite record numbers of citizen journalists, I believe it is actually easier now for a writer to gain access. In the old days, press access usually went to staffers or freelancers for top media outlets. Political candidates, emerging artists and up-and-coming authors have discovered the power of blogs. To be honest, I get invites to far more events than I can possibly cover. Work in the business long enough and smart enough and the same thing will happen for you.
Florida journalist Kay B. Day has won awards for poetry, nonfiction and fiction. The author of two books, she has written for
The Christian Science Monitor, United Press International,
The Florida Times-Union and Sky News. To learn more about Kay Day, see www.kayday.com. To read Kay's other Web Savvy columns about writing for the Web, click here.