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Apr 09, 2004

PR Interview: How to Pitch Your Story to CFO Magazine

SUMMARY: 450,000 top financial officers get CFO Magazine from the publishers of The Economist. In our exclusive interview, Senior Editor Roy Harris explains the best way to get his attention. Turns out he hates phone calls and often ignores snail mail:
Roy Harris
Senior Editor
CFO Magazine
253 Summer St.
Boston, MA 02210

-> Reach
450,000 controlled circulation

-> Harris' background

Harris was at the Wall Street Journal for 23 years, and worked as the paper's Deputy Bureau Chief in the Los Angeles bureau, before moving to CFO Magazine in '96. In addition to being the magazine's Senior Editor, he is the VP of the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

"I've always enjoyed looking at things that people think are dull," he says. "A lot of people think finance is dull but there are a lot of fascinating aspects."

Recently, Harris took the students of a journalism class he teaches at Emerson College to visit what was once the longest bridge in Boston, to conduct interviews and learn about the bridge.

"They thought it would be the dullest thing, but it turned out it's a whole little universe. They learned that there are 56 people employed by the bridge. There's a guy who rescues people from suicide, machinery for making sure the number of cars that pass is the same as the money that comes in."

The students came back "all lit up," after assuming they were in for a dull day. Those deceptively uninteresting stories, Harris explains, are the ones he likes to unearth.

-> Current editorial coverage

The magazine, a member of The Economist Group, is read by finance executives in the US. "We cover corporate finance news of a level that is a little more detailed than the Wall Street Journal and Business Week can afford to cover," Harris says.

Content combines straight news stories, trends, and analysis, all of it focused on corporate finance. "We talk about what finance executives need to know, and what's going on in the finance department."

In addition to news and trends, there are a couple of columns that add "flavor" to the magazine. One, called Grapevine, covers "news stories that are personality oriented, short and easy to read," says Harris.

The other, Your Move, is a short career-oriented column. "It's like the paprika on the magazine," he says. "It looks at issues in careers, areas of finance training, how to identify your successor, what to do in a merger, how to keep your job…"

-> The best way to pitch editors of CFO Magazine

"Email is the best way," says Harris. "We can send a quick note saying it's interesting, it's not interesting, ask for more information."

Snail mail goes almost unread, and phone calls give Harris the dreadful feeling he's going to be tied up forever on a pitch.

Read the publication, then send your pitch to the appropriate editor. You can view the masthead online, complete with email addresses, at

-> What CFO Magazine editors look for in a story pitch

First, editors want to see that you have an understanding of the magazine. "A lot of people pitch stories on the basis of, 'Here's a CFO who really does a good job.' That's not who we are," Harris says.

Your pitch should focus on something in the news with an angle that other people haven't noticed, particularly if you're offering an exclusive.

Subject lines shouldn't be cutesy. For example, pitching a story such as Top 10 Reasons a Company is Unprofitable is not an appropriate pitch. "You might get a nice piece placed in Parade," says Harris. But CFO focuses on serious business, he says.

Keep the pitch short and be sure that you can offer a client for an interview. "If somebody [represents] a software vendor, it's unlikely we'll be writing about that vendor," Harris explains. "We'd be writing about that company's client, and specifically the CFO of that client."

If you've got a CFO at a well-known company, "We'll pay a lot of attention. We can't meet with every CFO, but if it's a publicly traded company and the CFO wants to come talk to us, we'll find a way to do it."

-> Pet peeves

1. PR people who don't take no for an answer.
"It's hard to say no," Harris says. "I like people. But if the pitch isn't for us and I send a note out saying it isn't for us, it's really aggravating to have someone come back and say, 'But what if….' Give it one shot and when it's gone, that's it."

2. Distribution lists
"Putting us on distribution lists for emails is the kiss of death," he says. "It does more damage to the public relations business than you know."

3. PR emails that don't have a way to remove his name from a list.
Harris often gets emails from certain PR companies where it's clear he's on a distribution list, and he can't get off it. "It's not negating someone, it's just the wrong list," he says. For example, "We don't want quarterly earnings."

-> What he looks for in online press rooms

If the magazine is running a story on your company, the first thing the editor will do is check out the Web site. The information should be easy to navigate, and it should have phone numbers for PR contacts, not just email addresses.

-> Becoming a regular columnist

"That's another pet peeve," he says. "Magazines either are or are not open to contributions. We do not take bylined contributions."

-> Deadlines

"The worst time to bother us is the end of the second week of the month, that's when we're putting next month's issue to bed. Around April 10 - 14 you'll be stirring up a hornet's nest if you call us."

-> Favorite professional publications

Harris reads the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and "a lot of things online," including The Daily Deal from
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