Peter 5: Dirk Smillie, Reporter, Forbes

Have you joined my incredibly non-annoying, once-in-a-while email newsletter?

Thank you, Dirk, for taking the time for Peter 5.

1) Give us a brief overview of you – What you like to write, favorite types of stories, what you’re always on the lookout for

I love a good fraud story, say a ponzi scheme involving wine futures…or a rapscallion business visionary who sells big but implodes because of ego or a business plan that falls apart. If there’s a celebrity angle, that’s a big sell. I like a trend story of any kind that counters conventional wisdom or pokes fun at sacred cows. A little guy who is out to reshape the playing field of their business is always a welcome pitch.

2) What can a publicist do to make sure he or she helps you out, and increases his or her chances for coverage with you?

Probably the most helpful thing is some advance work which 1) Establishes there really is a story to do and 2) Give me at least a thimble’s worth of inside info. (metrics, strategy, upcoming deals) that I can use to sell the story. A publicist who can artfully answer, “Why now?” (as opposed to doing the story 6 months from now or 6 months earlier, say) will give me some of the steam I need to get a story moving.

3) What can a publicist do to truly piss you off and guarantee you’ll never cover them or any of their clients again?

The worst thing a publicist can do is try to sell a story elsewhere at the same time (in our case, our direct competitors are Fortune, BusinessWeek and the New York Times business section). The second worse thing they can do is attempt to over-manage the process. That is, try to co-write the story by giving me the third degree on how the story is being shaped/slanted. Or…providing only cheerful information which makes the subject one-dimensionally sweet and adorable. Obviously, I don’t expect a publicist to rat out a client or bring up their criminal record (though that would be nice). But the best publicists are ones who have enough confidence to be frank about their client, and trust me to craft a colorful, engaging piece without burning them in the process. I have never done that.

4) What’s your favorite stuff to read? Magazines? Other papers? (Apart from your stuff, obviously)

I have to admit that Peter Shankman’s blog has now moved to the top of my list (also: BoingBoing, Defamer, Arts & Letters). Regional business pages of newspapers around the country and local versions of Crain’s are fantastic sources of business intelligence. New York magazine under Adam Moss is roaring back, I don’t miss an issue. In the food world I think the best reads are Chow, Rosengarten Report and Saveur.

5) When’s the best time to contact you? The worst? Day and Times?

I’m seldom off the grid, but, that said, Forbes is published every other week, so the times I’m least able to consider new queries are during production weeks. Email is always best; if I don’t respond right away, just ping me again.

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