Back in March 2017 – when the topic of source meetings was last covered by this contributor – White House press secretary Sean Spicer was charming the press corp, Instagram was cool, and there had been a grand total of 13 SPAC transactions the previous year.
But things have changed.
With variants varianting, and a mix of different return-to-office policies, we posed the question to four different reporters: are you meeting with sources in-person?
If a recent report from Muck Rack is any indication, reporters are indeed leaving their homes. According to the report, more reporters plan on attending in-person events in 2022 when compared to 2021. But does this attitude also translate into a willingness to meet with sources one-on-one?
Lydia O’Neal, a business reporter, shared that she’s willing to adapt to source preferences.
It’s almost hard to remember what I did before when it comes to meeting with sources —I’ve spent about a third of my post-college career in the Covid era, which is wild. I definitely didn’t think twice about it as I do now. I’m starting to let go of the assumption that people are more likely than not going to be uncomfortable with meeting in-person after a couple of source coffees that felt wonderfully normal. But you still never know someone’s health risk or that of others in their household, so as long as Covid is around, I’ll be asking sources for in-person meetings with the modifier “depending on your comfort level.”
Alicia McElhaney, a financial reporter, noted that while she has concerns regarding large scale events, she also recognizes the value in meeting sources in-person. But office meeters beware! (as of April, 2022).
I am taking in-person meetings these days. I dove into the deep end after Omicron subsided a bit, first doing a conference and an investor day around the time that I started meeting one-on-one with folks again in person. While the pandemic has made it easier to access sources via Zoom, I realized that there is no substitute for the natural flow of conversation in person — and ideas shared at events. I’m obviously more apt to attend events and meetings when I know folks are vaccinated, although that’s not something I ask ahead of one-on-one meetings. The other thing is that my office is closed to outside visitors, so I need to meet folks in coffee shops or in their own office spaces.
Echo Wang, a financial journalist, was also eager to start meeting in-person sources again, but noted that Zoom calls are here to stay.
In-person source meetings are one of the things I have missed the most since remote-work became the norm. I re-started meeting sources in-person last summer, but that was unfortunately interrupted by the Omicron wave. With recent low case volumes and more and more people engaged in a ‘return to normal’ attitude, it has again become possible to comfortably meet sources indoors. It is uncertain what the future holds, but phone/Zoom introductions have become widely accepted now as compared to pre-pandemic, so we as reporters have multiple options to meet with sources.
A reporter at a major business news outlet was candid in her response – being a parent makes the commute into Manhattan tough for in-person meetings. So super important execs to the front.
Basically: I’m taking in-person meetings if the source is important enough, but otherwise sticking to phone calls and Zoom because it’s more convenient and I have a kid, so I’m all about efficiency! The amount of time I spend getting ready, traveling to and from a meeting and the gymnastics around figuring out Covid protocols are tbh not really worth it for most people. That may be mean, ha.
So if you’re a public relations professional looking to set up in-person meetings, there is certainly an appetite. But keep in mind, some folks are only looking to meet your VIPs. Others may get relegated to Zoom.
Bill C. Smith is a senior vice president at The Bliss Group in New York.