The Art of the Interview:
The Confirmation Letter
We always consider a pitch letter and a confirmation
letter together, not separately. They have different
purposes, but they work together, not only to schedule an
interview but to give it the direction you want it to have.
Just as you write a media
alert to convince the press you have an event they should
you write a pitch letter
to convince a producer (or editor) to interview your client on the
air (or in print)... and
you write a confirmation letter to help "script" the interview to
deliver your message.
These suggestions are written primarily for setting up radio
and TV interviews, but they work for print interviews as well.
Uhh... I never read this in a textbook
No, this is a much more sophisticated approach
than the old-fashioned way. The confirmation letter is a secret in
the profession, and it will help you in a number of ways.
Remember, the PR bureaucrat is satisfied just to get an
interview scheduled. There is hardly any thought given to
the results of the interview. But you're not going to be a
PR bureaucrat -- you're going to be a PR artist.
One of the many reasons that you're going to make the big
bucks in your PR career is that you have a much more enterprising
approach. It will come as a pleasant surprise to your boss or
client, when they figure out that you're taking responsibility way
beyond what they're used to.
Keep in mind, the broadcast interview is one of your best publicity tools.
You would not think of giving it any less attention than a PSA or
broadcast release. Therefore, you will cultivate strategies and
tactics to make sure that your message gets delivered.
Your job isn't done when you've pitched your idea...
Think of a pitch letter as your foot in the door -- and then
think of the confirmation letter as your real pitch.
Here's the secret of our success:
- first we write the confirmation letter
- then we write the pitch letter
- then we mail the pitch letter
- then we telephone and make the pitch by phone
- then we email or fax the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)
Why do we do it this way? That's actually several questions in
Q. Why write the confirmation letter
A. Because the confirmation letter does
- it confirms the details of the scheduled interview
- it serves as a kind of "script" for the interview
- it helps you (and your client) plan the interview
- most importantly, it will help you figure out where and how
you're going to make your pitch. Once you've written your
confirmation letter you'll have a pretty good idea of which
interview targets you can rule out -- and which you can focus on.
Q. But why write it first?
A. Because it will focus your planning on
what matters most.
After you've prepared a
confirmation letter you'll keep it ready in your word processor.
As soon as you've made your pitch by phone, you'll go to your word
processor, do some fine tuning in the first paragraph, and then
email or fax it out -- about 30 minutes after your successful telephone
Q. Should I use email? fax?
In the course of the call, ask whether you should use email or fax or some other preference in your communications with that media person. Keeping a good record of media preferences will produce, over time, an invaluable PR writer's contact list. Anyone can produce a mailing list, but if you know the "secret" of how best to approach each media figure -- perhaps including cell phone and home numbers, Facebook and Twitter connections, etc. -- you'll have a tool that will also enhance your employability.)
Q. What's the point of the 30 minutes you keep talking
A. To clinch the sale.
The point is after you've made your phone pitch, you want to
hit them with the email or fax while it's still fresh.
Also, this will help you "save" the interview, if they
discover they've double-booked or otherwise want to change their
minds about giving you
the interview -- if it's between two competitors, the one who's
fustest with the mostest is going to come out ahead. Never take
for granted that anything is a done deed -- you're always selling,
pre-selling, or post-selling.
Q. So you write the pitch letter
after the confirmation
Once you've written the confirmation letter you're going
to find it much easier to write your pitch letter creatively,
because you're going to be completely clear in your own head
exactly what you're trying to accomplish. (Actually, you can write
the two letters in whatever order works for you, so long as you
understand the idea is to write them both together.)
Q. So give me that sequence again --
A. Okay --
First we write the confirmation letter
We do this not only to confirm the details of the interview but
also to help "script" how the interview will go.
Second, we write the pitch letter
This will make a strong case for why your client will make an
exciting interview for the media audience.
Third, we send the pitch letter
As already explained, in some cases you might want to phone first.
Fourth, we call and make the pitch by phone
The producer (or editor) will by now have some idea of why
you're calling and how your idea is a perfect fit with their
Fifth, we email or fax the confirmation letter (30 minutes later)
This will help guarantee the arrangement you've just agreed on,
and it will be the first step toward controlling the interview to
deliver your message.
Q. I know a PR director who says you should
always call first.
A. That's an interesting point.
In some cases I will phone the producer (or editor, or a
reporter) before -- or instead of -- sending a pitch letter. When
I'm doing political PR, stories are sometimes breaking so fast
that a phone call is the only way. It's also a good way to
"negotiate" the approach to a story -- that is, to see how
suggested ideas are being received, and even establish ground
rules for an interview.
And when I'm doing arts PR -- for theater, dance, arts
advocacy -- I'm almost always working with the same producers or
editors or reporters on that beat, with whom I've developed a symbiotic
relationship -- a kind of partnership -- I bring them celebrities
or lively show biz ideas and they put them into stories.
Obviously, if you have a cozy relationship (with anyone, for
that matter) a formal letter can be awkward and inappropriate.
Except for cozy relationships, however, these pointers on pitch
letters should be taken seriously.
Okay, let's take a look at the "formula" for a
Go on to the next page.