Meeting sources: Dimly lit parking garage or Soul Cycle?
Many potential sources (PR people’s clients) are keen on meeting with the media while they’re in New York City for business.
This also holds for clients visiting other cities that may have a local bureau — San Francisco, Chicago, London, Hong Kong, etc. New York carries a special significance given that it’s home to both Wall Street and some of the largest media bureaus — as well as being a hot spot for B2B media and public relations agencies.
On the PR side we let our clients know that these meetings often allow for a more-candid discussion and help establish trust with the media.
And everyone needs to eat. So my guess was that lunch was the preferred venue. But the media pros I spoke with had varied preferences regarding the best times and places.
Joseph Adinolfi, a reporter covering the markets and a person who watches movies, clarified that a “dimly lit parking garage” was the optimal venue.
Adinolfi also shared that:
“Aside from that, coffee shops (for meetings during the day) or a bar (if you’re meeting in the evening). If you’re discussing a sensitive topic, it’s better to let them pick the location so you know they’ll at least feel comfortable.”
Lydia O’Neal, a business reporter at an international news outlet, underscored that for feature pieces, the source comes first.
“I would say it depends on the source. If it’s someone like an expert who gives you their input, it’s OK to have more casual meetups over lunch, drinks, etc., especially if you’re trying to build a long-standing relationship, so that you can reach them quickly if needed. If it’s a profile, you want to see the person in his or her natural habitats and be able to set the scene that way.”
Another reporter covering the legal beat for an global news organization — who often meets with law enforcement officials — relayed that it really depends on the beat:
“…but I prefer breakfasts/early coffees or post-work drinks. If you have a beat with lots of unpredictable breaking news, it’s hard to do lunches.”
Kelsey Butler, a financial journalist, underscored the importance of a mutual interest, such as mac and cheese:
“My favorite venues to meet with sources I know well are places that are quiet enough to carry on a conversation but show some personality! If we both have a particular interest (let’s say searching for the best mac and cheese or a shared favorite sports team) it’s fun to try a place that reflects that. That said, one of my favorite “meetings” was with a work contact who invited me to a Soul Cycle class — wasn’t exactly the place for a ton of quiet conversation, but it was a shared interest and definitely stood out from a ton of boring lunch meet and greets!”
But for the initial meeting, Butler relayed that the generic coffee meeting may be your best bet.
“For an initial meeting, though, you can’t go wrong with coffee at a cafe that has enough seats to sit down and hang out (and some food or dessert options so everyone is happy). That way you can keep the meeting brief until you assess if you have enough to talk about over a longer meal or drinks or want to circle back on another topic. And on the flip side, if it’s an epically bad encounter, it’s easy to cut short. It’s a classic for a reason.”
And what if the source doesn’t like mac and cheese? O’Neal opined that there are certain optimal venues for people in power, and one of them may not be what you thought:
“If we’re talking about government officials or people in power, however, who you may be challenging with your reporting, I think it’s necessary to keep a distance and arrange more formal meetings in their offices, to make it clear that you’re getting information and not getting cozy. Although I once read a Time piece in which a reporter met with two ideologically-opposed lawmakers at a zoo.”
We generally counsel our clients — who are the potential sources — that reporters and the media are idiosyncratic in their writing and interview styles.
Based on my conversations for this future Loeb-winner of an article, they are equally specific in regard to preferred meeting venues. As a general rule of thumb, it seems that for conversation off the record or on background, a neutral venue may be ideal.
Perhaps incorporating a shared interest such as mac and cheese, sweating on a stationary bike, or animals. For profile or feature pieces, the source/client’s natural habitat may be the ideal venue.
Bill C. Smith (@BillCSmith87) is an assistant vice president at Makovsky & Co., in New York.