I’m the editor of several email newsletters. Every issue has a reader question that everyone is welcome to help and answer. Sometimes the questions stump readers, so I post it in Help a Reporter Out (HARO). Most of the time I receive dozens of replies. The latest submission had 40+ replies and only ten made the article.
Here’s the short version of the reader question. “My clients come from all over the country. So I wondered if I should pursue some of these options (referencing social networking), or stick to phone calls and emails? Which networking tools are best?”
Many replies didn’t make the cut, even good ones. Here are the reasons they ended up in the rejected pile.
- Unoriginal answer. I’m not going to bore readers with multiple replies all making the same point. The one that says it best wins.
- Off track. These didn’t pay attention to the query. Notice the reader said he has clients all over the country and that he uses phone calls and email to stay in touch. That tells me that face-to-face isn’t an option. Yet, many replies mentioned face-to-face. However (the grey area), I added some strong responses because there are readers who have local clients. And face-to-face is still important.
- Self-promotion. One response provides a URL immediately followed by a suggestion to send handwritten cards. Guess the person’s business. Yep, sending cards. Some opened with the company name and what it does. Who cares? Had the person cut that part, it may have had a chance. Several constantly mentioned their own organizations in giving examples. Sharing your experience is good, but not when your company dominates the response and adds irrelevant details. For example, an organization emphasized networking events and included the name of a speaker and other details about a specific event. Again, who cares?
- No paragraph breaks. I got a 600-word reply in one giant paragraph. If I had five replies instead of forty, maybe I’d take the time to add the breaks so I can read it. Not this time.
- Expects a follow up. I put the following in my query: “A reader asked the following question. Please answer it in email. No interviews or phone calls.” A couple of PR people introduced their expert and offered to set up an interview. Smart PR folks get the answer from their clients and then email me the reply.
- UPPER CASE LETTERS. The reply itself may not be in all upper case letters, but the entire signature is. Of course, upper case is acceptable in a company name, abbreviations, initials or career as in CPA, M.D. or J.D. In this 40+ reply pile, at least three violated this. This may sound uptight to you, but it speaks to the quality of the person and business. For grins, I clicked these folks’ links to discover unprofessional-looking sites to match the emails. One person’s signature had an entire paragraph of 160 words — all upper case.
- Unprofessional website. I add links to the responders’ websites as a way of thanking them for sharing their expertise. Well, I’m not going to send my readers to unprofessional sites. A weak website could have readers questioning our judgement in selecting experts. I expect the experts to be professionals and treat their entire business as such.
- Wrong audience. Like I said, I’m OK with replies that use a person’s company as an example if done without promotion overkill. One person said he’s gotten a lot of X work doing Y from Twitter and Facebook. It was a business-to-consumer (B2C) type of company. Our readers are people who work in business-to-business (B2B) and professional services. Granted, my query may not give that clue, although I did mention the publication’s name. Grey area, but it’s a reason some responses go in the trash pile.
- Missed deadline. That didn’t happen in this round, but it has happened in previous queries. Several folks were nice enough to admit they knew the deadline had passed, but wanted to submit it in case I could use it. It shows they paid attention and I consider them if… (a) I still have time, (b) I didn’t get many replies and (c) they’re strong responses. They knew the risks of submitting a late reply.
These rules aren’t black and white. But I’ve rejected responses because of every one of them. I’ve let some through, too. When responding to queries, all we can do is be aware and do the best we can.
What annoys you when people respond to your query?