Today was a perfect example of how NOT to make friends or influence people. A series of unfortunate events have led to me dreading a meeting next week with a particular journalist. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he thinks I'm a moron. In fact, he would be very justified in thinking so. If he reads this, you know who you are, and I can't apologise enough.
To set some context, the catalogue of errors were not all my fault, but when you add them all together, it just presents a classic set of 'what not to do when meeting new contacts'. Not only did my office leave it too late to arrange a venue for a meeting I'd booked for him, but then today I publicly announced his coming to an event a day later than he was actually coming. Lesson learned. Never tweet a date without checking it first!
With that in mind, here is a list of some better ways to meet and greet journalists...
1. DO confirm bookings that you agree with journalists in good time. If they have taken the time to reserve a slot in their diaries, make sure you are also going to be able to make that time. Importantly, make sure the place (and any other people who need to be there) is reserved and kept ready for the meeting.
2. DO confirm all those arrangements with the journalist ahead of time. As much as you'd like them to keep meetings, the nature of news means that they won't always be able to. It's not their fault. And it's not personal.
3. Do think about convenience for the journalist. They're more than likely to be pushed for time: can you meet them near their office? If you can't, are you sure the arrangements fit with their schedule? It's not press deadline day? It's not a really tricky time of year, or on the day something else important is happening? (see the above on that last point too).
4. If they've got time for more than a coffee (most haven't), do something nice with them. Lunches are rare occasions - at least my contacts book tell me so. With less staff on many titles, they just don't have the time to do this. If they do you should feel both privileged and make sure it is well worth their while.
5. Keep it relevant. If they're taking time out of their day, make sure there's a story in it for them. That means doing your homework, and ensuring that what you're telling them is going to light their fire.
6. Find out what lights their fire. See above.
7. Follow up. Nothing worse than meeting a new contact, or seeing an old one, then forgetting all about what you talk about afterwards.
I've never regretted taking time out of my day to go and chat informally with a contact. Particularly if I've exchanged emails or phone calls, but not met them in person, it makes a world of difference. You learn more about that individual and what they are interested in, and go away with a much stronger relationship.
I'm going to have to work hard next week to prove I'm not a moron, and despite my catalogue of errors that I'm a friendly, helpful contact for them to know and get to know better. Hopefully I'll follow some of my own advice.