I’m writing an article in which a source asked me to contact their PR firm to set up an interview. After days of runaround from the PR firm, I ended up contacting the source again directly to let them know what was going on. After that, they arranged the interview themselves. Was that okay for me to do? — Annoyed
It’s always nice to play by the rules. But sometimes the rules don’t get you what you need. In that case, start out by playing by the rules and if that doesn’t get you what you need, break them.
In the situation you describe, the source asked you to contact their PR firm, which you did. Sources do this for many reasons. They may not keep their own calendars. They may have to clear interviews with corporate. They may have limited time for interviews and PR reps can provide basic factual information, which frees up the source to tackle the most important questions.
But if PR reps become more hinderance than help, by all means, tell the source. You are not in business to be nice to PR people. You are in business to do interviews with sources so you can get the information you need to write your stories.
In the end, it’s up to you to get the information any way that works. If doing an end run around gatekeepers who are giving you trouble, so be it.
Go Straight to the Source
If you’re getting flack from the flacks, here are some other ways to get straight to the source:
1. Call after hours.
Managers, executives, business owners, nonprofit directors, they’re all more likely to working after assistants or switchboard operators have gone home.
2. Find them online. Ask to connect on LinkedIn or Twitter, then ask for an interview. My new favorite trick: you can send messages to LinkedIn members who are members of LinkedIn Groups you belong to, even if they’re not one of your connections. Look on the person’s profile for LinkedIn Groups they belong to and join the group (if it’s a group that discusses a subject you write about, even better). Once you join a group, you can “Follow” other members. Once you follow someone, you can send them a private message – use it to ask for an interview, or just go ahead and pose your questions.
3. Go where they are. Show up in person wherever the source works. If you know he or she is going to be at a meeting or conference, arrange to be there too. This is guerrilla journalism, not for the weak of heart. You might want to try all other options first, because if it goes bad, you might not get the info you want.
How have you had to do an end around to get to a source? Share your story by leaving a comment.
[Flickr photo by Salim Virji]