Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Etiquette and Editors

Yesterday on Twitter, I encountered a person with a unique business in this day and age: An etiquette service. (Etiquette Outreach)

It got me thinking: How important is etiquette to you in your dealings with editors or potential clients?

Webster's Dictionary defines etiquette as, "the conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority to be observed in social or official life."

You may think that pertains strictly to your table manners and may not apply to your business. But in this economy, with so many reporters being laid off from newspapers and flooding the freelance market, understand that good etiquette goes far in differentiating you from your competition.

I spent 12 years of my life in and among news reporters. So believe me when I say that if you exhibit courtesy and polite manners in your freelance business dealings, you definitely will be placed far above the rest of the pack. News reporters are the worst offenders in the etiquette game. (I've been elbowed in the ear more than once by aggressive reporters jockeying for an interview position in a press pack).

People want to do business with people who make them feel secure and who respect them. So how do you do that? Well, let me give you a first-hand example from my dealings this week:

I'm currently working on three major projects. One is due in two days. One is due on Monday (four days from now). One is due next Friday (10 days from now). I'm also working on five, quick-hit, very short, personal profile pieces for a client's Web site.  They are also due next Friday.

First, I always let my editors know how many projects I'm doing in addition to theirs. I let them know when these other projects are due. That way, if they email me and I'm in the middle of a phone interview and don't answer them immediately, they understand that I'm working on multiple projects simultaneously.

Next, I send them periodic updates. Yesterday, I alerted the editor with the Monday deadline that I had another story to write up first, and then I would work on his, even if I had to write through the weekend. This morning, I alerted the editor whose story is due in two days that I had completed all interviews and that I was currently writing. Then I emailed the editor whose project is due next Friday, to tell her that 3/4 of my interviews are done and that everything is on schedule. Lastly, I emailed the client with the Web site to tell her that three of the five interviews are scheduled, and I'll keep her posted on when the other two finally occur.
When I finish the stories, I don't attach an invoice unless the editor indicates they expect it along with the story. Instead, I advise them that I'll give them two to three days to review the copy and make sure it meets their expectations before I send the invoice. Usually, I get a response within the hour that says, "This looks great. Bill me now." This isn't about being a doormat and not expecting payment. It's showing the editor good faith that you are concerned about turning in a quality product.

About a week after I submit the story, I'll circle around with the editor to make sure there isn't anything else they need.

This then clears the way for me to contact them the next week and ask if they have anything coming up or if I may submit a new list of story ideas. The answer is always, "yes."

Oh .... one more thing .... When you submit a story, always (always!) sign off with the phrase, "Thank you for the opportunity to work on this project for you. I am grateful for the relationship."

These are very  small actions and may sound like common sense. But I promise you that not every one is doing these things, and if you practice simple courtesy, you'll also find yourself working for people who are equally as kind and considerate. When you get right down to it, that makes our business dealings the most enjoyable.


  1. These are helpful tips to remember during each and every phone call and email. What about the etiquette for querying newspapers? For example, if the community newspaper's website has no submission guidelines, should you email a query? Phone the editor? Try to build a networking relationship first? Thanks so much.

    1. Thanks Ligoodnews for asking -- great questions!

      Well I worked half of my career in newsrooms, and I am happy to help you out.

      1) Call the reception desk and ask what time the newspaper is on deadline. Then make sure you do NOT CALL during that time period. Wait until the newsdesk has settled down, maybe about 1 1/2 hours after deadline has passed.

      2) Then, call the editor and say you want to "string" for the newspaper and ask what you need to do to be considered. Ask him/her if it is a convenient time to talk. This is crucial, because if they're in the middle of an unexpected breaking story, you'll get the shaft.

      3) If they're available immediately, you'll probably have a short phone interview right on the spot, because they're always looking for stringers. Have a script handy -- be ready to tell them exactly what you've done so far in 2 minutes or less. Keep in mind that these people are ruled by the clock, and their time is short. If the person seems impatient, do not take it personally. Only give as much information as they ask, and then wait for them to ask the next question.

      4) Ask if you might come in with your resume and clips for a face to face interview.

      5) Be ready for them to say, "Can you come in today?"

      Stringers are a dime a dozen, but newspapers rely on them to cover municipalities and school board meetings. This is the best way to get your foot in the door and gather clips to the next step.

      Feel free to hit me with any questions here or on twitter, where you can find me at I always keep the screen up for Replies, because I am always writing and chatting simultaneously. It's no bother at all.

      Good luck!