The following Q&A appeared in the the latest edition of the MEDIA CONNECT newsletter. To subscribe for future editions, click here.
MEDIA CONNECT: Do you prefer being pitched by email or are you open to phone calls?
Harvey Schachter: Email is perfect — asynchronous. Phone is a disturbance, and my reaction ranges from displeasure to intense displeasure.
MC: Are there specific days or time of day that you prefer being contacted?
HS: Nope. Nor do I think there are times that are more advantageous to you. I might read more when I’m less preoccupied, but that varies every week and day. The key remains to grab me at the start of your pitch.
MC: What business topics currently interest you the most?
HS: I am looking for things that are novel. Newspapers are supposed to be about what’s new — it’s embedded in the name. Beyond that, I want something provocative, that will catch my reader’s attention and make them think. Insightful is good. So is entertaining. But new, or if old a fresh spin that makes it new. That being said, something I have just written about is by definition is not new when I am pitched on it a day later by somebody who read the paper. Even something in the news already is by definition not new when the inevitable pitch comes in. I was a newspaper editor and know that for big news there is frenzy — my first newspaper, as a reporter, was The Toronto Star, which is expert at flooding readers with extensive coverage of something hot. Readers probably like that for major news, although it can be overdone. But I think for what I write about, it’s different. I prefer a cafeteria approach, changing the menu regularly. You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned any subject area, because that doesn’t matter. If it’s novel and perhaps also provocative or insightful or entertaining, I’m paying attention. If not, well, I’m not.
MC: What’s the most common mistake publicists make when approaching you?
HS: Pitching stuff that’s old: “I saw your column yesterday on X and my client, Y, can speak on the topic.” Also, not specifying what the person will actually say or talking about it in grandiose rather than practical terms that I let alone my readers can understand. A surprising amount of times I haven’t got the foggiest notion what the pitch is offering, given the abstract, high-sounding terms. For me to understand what is actually novel-provocative-insightful-entertaining I want a lot of specific bullet points on where we are going with the topic. A lot of bullet points, let me stress, since some won’t ignite me! I also am not big on surveys that tell me what I know as justification for a story. And finally, I hate a pitch from somebody I barely know or don’t know at all that begins, “I hope you are having a great day.” Pardon me if I view those good wishes as insincere, and if they sour me to the writer, who I now see as inauthentic and lose some trust in. Just get to the point and don’t waste my time. (And, oh yeah, don’t pitch a second time to me, with a follow-up. I read you the first time. Maybe other journalists and editors don’t but I do, and you are coming close to being labelled junk mail.) Do you like receiving galleys? Do you prefer physical or e-versions of a book? I prefer to operate from the actual books, to time the review better and know my quotes — I like to quote — are accurate. So unless I ask for a galley, please hold back for the full book.
MC: What is your policy on running byline articles or guest blogs?
HS: The Globe and Mail will do that but I’m a freelancer and don’t have the power to run a bylined article or guest blogs. But a lot of my stuff comes from blogs or articles, where if the writer wants I will interview them on the topic and use the interview and written material in a column. That seems to work well, for both of us and, most importantly, the readers. It gives me a much better sense of where the column will be going, compared to “my client is willing to talk on topic X.” So please send me such material, but not with the expectation I can print it with a byline, as it is — that goes to Globe editors.
MC: Do you ever feature self-published authors?
HS: Certainly. Always have. But interestingly, for my book review column while the number of self-published books are increasing dramatically the number I feature isn’t — might even be going down. My sense is that the quality of such books isn’t what it was five and certainly 10 years ago. Too easy to self-publish, I suspect, now compared to the past. Too many books much like other books. But I still glance at them.
MC: What is your typical lead time for a story or interview?
HS: I usually have forever. The column is not written close to deadline, even if that would be more fun. So I have a lot of time and patience on when it will appear.
MC: What topic or trend have you seen enough of in business books?
HS: It still comes down to whether it’s novel, etc. But there are probably too many books on (a) innovation creativity and (b) the biology of the brain, and how that influences decision-making, behaviour, etc. That doesn’t mean they can’t be new and fresh, but the bar is higher, and even if they have a novel approach I don’t want the same theme every week or two.
MC: Which business leader(s) or business author(s) would you like to interview most? Why?
HS: None, particularly. They are all interesting in their own way. I have a lot of time for business authors and feel they are providing a remarkable service for people in organizations. I don’t believe we need business books that aren’t like business books — as some pitches like to brag. There are a lot of interesting business books, and I do my best to try to separate the wheat from the chaff — obviously far from perfect in that — and share with readers.
MC: What are some of your favorite business books?
HS: Usually it’s the last or second-last-one I read. When somebody asks for a favourite list, I usually ask what their interests are because there are so many.
MC: Please briefly describe your demographics or audience.
HS: It’s quite a mix, I find. I appear in the Report on Business, which is Canada’s best business section, and so read widely by business people, notably but certainly not exclusively top executives. But the Globe is also in many ways the New York Times of Canada, so a broad, intelligent audience. My Monday Morning Manager column has the advantage of appearing Mondays when there is usually little of much interest in newspapers — I say this as an editor of another paper who used to despair at Mondays in our paper — and so I think more people dip into the business section than on other days of the week, desperate for something to read that they don’t already know from weekend TV and web sites, and sometimes I can be appealing. I get messages from an amazingly diverse group of people, from piano teachers and dentists to marketing execs and CEOs. I am in awe of the podium the Globe provides and extremely grateful for it. And thanks for this podium, as well.