Anne Fisher is a contributor to both Fortune.com and CNNMoney.com, where she covers workplace and small business topics, respectively.
Our work with Annie centers on her Fortune.com work, where she has been writing her “Ask Annie” career column since 1996. In it, she helps readers navigate booms, recessions, changing industries, and changing ideas about what’s appropriate in the workplace (and beyond). In addition to answering readers’ career questions, Anne also writes thoughtful columns on a variety of workplace-related topics, including evergreen themes like employee turnover and communicating during a PR disaster as well as of-the-moment topics like data visualization and little-known career opportunities in the growing logistics industry. While she will occasionally write a full column on a business book that grabs her attention (see question #5 below), she also relies on authors as sources, whether she wants their advice to answer a reader question, or if they have a specific idea or point of view that could lead to a column topic.
Anne took a few moments to share her thoughts on publicists, business books, and what catches her eye in a pitch.
1. What’s your biggest publicist pet peeve?
I actually have two. First is PR people/publicists who have obviously not taken five minutes to Google my recent pieces and see what it is that I actually write about. For CNNmoney.com, for example, I write short pieces (under Resource Guide) wherein small business owners, most of whom are also founders of startups, share advice — based on their own experience. They usually pick the topics — about a particular aspect of entrepreneurship, whether it’s finding affordable office space or hiring the right people. Yet I keep getting pitches about cool startups (they’re all cool, and there are thousands of them!) with no mention at all of any topic the company founder/owner would like to talk to fellow entrepreneurs about.
So these pitches that say, “Hey, look at this interesting company!” are all wasted — and then usually “followed up,” which brings us to my second peeve. Every pitch has the publicist’s email address, Twitter handle, phone number, etc., on it, so no response usually means I’m not interested. If I were, you’d have heard back from me right away. These “follow-up” emails (and, worse, phone calls) are pointless — and annoying — time-wasters. The only reason I can think of for why I keep getting them is that PR people need to be able to tell clients they “followed up.” Here’s a suggestion: Just say you did and leave me out of it.
2. What gets your attention in a pitch?
What gets my attention in a pitch is a clear indication that someone has actually read my stuff and knows what I’m looking for. (See above.)
3. What causes you to pull a book out of the stack?
Books that get a second and third look are usually written in clear, plain English (as opposed to consultant-speak or academese) and have something fresh and thought-provoking to say. There are so many good books out there that I really wish I could review more of them, but I do quote books/authors in my column when the subject is relevant to a reader’s question — which, alas, depends on the questions I get, so I have only limited control over that. One thing about books, though: if I get a good one on, for example, how not to blow a job interview, I often hold on to it for up to a year, until I (one hopes!) get a question about that, and then I get in touch. So if some time has gone by with no mention of a particular book, that doesn’t mean it’s out of the “stack”!
4. You began your career at Fortune Magazine in the 80s and now work exclusively on the digital side of the publication. What is one of the biggest changes from the old landscape to the new that influences the way you work with publicists?
Other places might be different, but there really haven’t been any big substantive changes at Fortune (at least, not to my knowledge) resulting from differences between print and online. Print or digital, we’re still looking for great business stories and interesting angles on newsworthy subjects.
5. What’s the best business book you’ve read lately?
The best business book I’ve read lately is The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits (see http://management.fortune.cnn.com/2013/12/12/better-jobs-wages-costco). Although author Zeynep Ton, who teaches at MIT’s Sloan School, spent 10 years researching it, the book appeared just at the moment when the national debate over low wages and “dead end” jobs was at a peak, so it was very timely. Two other things I like about it: 1) It presents a clear, compelling argument for a point of view that many businesspeople may not have considered — that is, it’s a little bit surprising and counterintuitive, which caught my eye; and 2) It’s full of case studies from real (and successful) companies, not based on theory. It’s also written in lively, readable prose (as opposed to some consultants’ or academics’ work), which is important to the people who read Fortune and Fortune.com.