On the drive into the office today, I was listening to “Morning Edition” on our local NPR affiliate, WPLN, when they aired an interview with the editor and reporter of a high school newspaper in Washington state.

The reporter, Teddy Fischer, saw Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis’ mobile phone number in a photograph and, in coordination with his editor, decided to reach out with an interview request.

So, you’re thinking, ‘yeah, a reporter reached out to a government official for an interview. What’s the big deal?’ As someone in the communications world who has made hundreds of media pitches, I found this story intriguing.

Here we have a high school reporter who saw the number and had the gumption to reach out to the highest-ranking civilian military official in the country and did it not by emailing or calling – but, according to NPR, by texting. How modern. They interviewed Secretary Mattis and ran an interesting story, which had news value.

I’m not going to get into the news value of what Secretary Mattis said or the questions that were asked. Rather, even though it was a reporter reaching out to an official instead of a PR pro reaching out to a reporter, there are lessons to be learned for communications professionals.

  • Don’t be afraid to make the ask. I don’t know if I would have called the Secretary of Defense on his cell, but they saw a direct line to him and took a shot. Perhaps the method and the confidence in making the ask made an impact on Secretary Mattis (or perhaps because he is a native Washingtonian).
  • If you do make the ask, make sure you do your research and target the right person. You don’t want to waste their time, or yours.
  • Even more, make sure your pitch has value.