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    Coffee with a Journalist: Alex Knapp, Forbes

    Today on the podcast, we’re joined by Alex Knapp, a senior editor at Forbes. Alex covers, and manages, stories surrounding healthcare, science, and cutting edge technology. He’s been with Forbes since 2011 starting as a social media editor before becoming an associate editor in 2015, and finally rising to the ranks of senior editor in April of 2020.

    During the show, Alex answers an audience question, talks about his inbox organization, what types of pitches he loves to receive, and more.

    Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:

    CWJ View Transcription CTA


    His Work Inbox 

    [00:02:47] BB: Wow! God, you learn something every – Okay. Well, we'll get to what you're listening to, reading and all those things a little bit later. But good to know. All right. I was born and raised on Star Trek. So Deep Space Nine, all these things. So we can talk about that a little bit later. First, Alex, let's start with your inbox. How crazy is it in there? 

    [00:03:10] AK: It is pretty crazy. Even with filters, and even when I focus, I'm still looking at upwards, close to 200 new emails in the inbox that aren't already separated out. So much of which are pitches and event notifications, things like that, obviously work stuff too. But I have a tendency to put that in a box where I know to look at it sooner. 

    [00:03:37] BB: Now, 200 a day? 200 in the morning?

    [00:03:39] AK: Yeah.

    [00:03:40] BB: A day. Okay.

    [00:03:41] AK: That's where it's not already filtered. I'm sure if you counted it all, it’d be probably closer to three.

    “I keep things in my head for a while. And my Outlook inbox actually goes back a couple of years. And sometimes if I'm looking for an expert, that's what that search bar is for.”

    [00:03:46] BB: Oh, gotcha. Yes. Tell us about your filtering system because, often, for all the ones I've now done on here, which had been dozens and dozens, some people have flagging mechanisms. Some people do folders. But I have I don't know of anyone doing screening like you're talking about.

    [00:04:05] AK: Well, I am old school. I do folders for the most part. So for example, all my newsletters go to one folder so I can just hit those all when I want to read them and I'm ready to kind of imbibe that. My analyst research notes on public companies, they go to one spot. I have different work projects where I can filter by subject line. For example, our under 30 lists, which is ramping up right now. We're accepting nominations. I have a folder just for that with a very easy filter of if under 30 is in the subject line, that's where it goes. And I know that's where all the incoming mail for that is going.

    [00:04:45] BB: Wait a second. Are you running that list? How is that under your purview? 

    [00:04:49] AK: I don't run the list. Alex Wilson is our [inaudible 00:04:53] of those lists. But I do edit the science and healthcare list, as well as I oversee science and healthcare for Europe, as well as industry manufacturing for Europe.


    His Thoughts on Pitches

     [00:05:06] BB: Got it. Ooh! Wide bench you got. What would you say are the things that will make you open a pitch? Or do you open every single pitch?

    “I will say that what makes me respond to a pitch is when it's clear that it's not a blanket pitch. So when there's notes in there, like exclusive opportunity, for example, is always a great way to get my attention.”

    [00:05:16] AK: I try to open every single pitch. I am not always successful. I will say that what makes me respond to a pitch is when it's clear that it's not a blanket pitch. So when there's notes in there, like exclusive opportunity, for example, is always a great way to get my attention. Flattery is always a great way to get my attention when clearly you have read what I wrote. 

    [00:05:42] BB: Okay, yes, yes. 

    [00:05:46] AK: And little details to show that you understand the outlet and the beat. I will actually have a great example of this. I picked up a story that was interesting about a software company getting into the commercial space market. But what had caught my attention in the pitch, I get a lot of pitches for this industry, is that he referred to his customers, the customers of the company, as global 2000 customers, which is the Forbes list of big companies as opposed to the fortune 500. And that little detail actually caught my eye, because fortune 500 is, to give our hats off to the competitor, really the one more people think of than the global 2000 list. So actually using that made me say, “Hey, you get the Forbes angle. You know what outlet you're pitching to. This is not a blanket pitch. 

    [00:06:36] BB: So the details do matter. Do you have a preference on length of pitches? That's been a topic of late.

    [00:06:42] AK: I prefer them shorter simply because I don't have a lot of time. And I do like it to be a lot of power in the details. I understand that some companies are more sensitive about embargoes than others. So maybe you can't say you're partnering with Google until I agree that you agree to an embargo. But if you say we're partnering with a well-known search engine firm, I can probably puzzle it out.


    How He Writes Stories

    [00:15:09] BB: Militantly sensible. I love that. We already covered your perfect Sunday. So my favorite stories to write are – 

    [00:15:19] AK: My favorite stories to write are about people, first of all, people who are at the center of all the best stories no matter how cool or nifty the technology. And I love it when people have cleverly taken an idea from another field or sometimes even another era and are able to use it in a new and exciting way. For example, one of my favorite stories I've written was a profile of a company out in North Carolina called Phononic. And they are developing a cooling technology. And the technology itself is over a century old. But it wasn't really practical until modern material, sciences and manufacturing made it work better, but because it had been developed in the 1800s. It wasn't practical then. People kind of ignore the technology until these guys really put it to work and are doing interesting things with it.

    [00:16:24] BB: Oh, that's cool. Indeed. Did that come from a pitch by the way?

    [00:16:29] AK: That did come from the pitch. And let me even help some of the frustrated PR folks out there. I had, I think, two interviews with the CEO over the course of a year, in which I didn't actually write anything until finally I thought the company was mature enough and I was able to pitch my editor on making it a really nice feature story. I like the technology so much. I didn't want to kind of just do a little online post and move on. I wanted it to develop as a story and I wanted to mature as a company. Oh another thing, one of our digital cover stories. Yes.

    [00:17:02] BB: Oh, a year later.

    “My favorite stories to write are about people, first of all, people who are at the center of all the best stories no matter how cool or nifty the technology.” 

    [00:17:04] BB: Yes. [inaudible 00:17:05]. 

    [00:17:05] BB: Nice. By the way, for everyone listening, you might have just caught that. So you have an editor even though you're an editor.

    [00:17:14] AK: That's correct. Yes.


    Audience Ask

     [00:07:10] BB: Yes, I would imagine. Alex, as we were discussing, we've got an audience ask. This one comes from Karolina – Let's see. Throssell from Iden marketing. And this person is asking, “What's the best way to get potential experts on your radar for future commentary opportunities?”

    [00:07:30] AK: That's a great question. And the best way to do that is not to try to introduce me as an expert, qua-expert. It's to hook it – And a lot of people who are very good at this. Hook it to something happening in the news that I might be covering. So for example, if you want to talk about booster vaccines, maybe you have an expert on vaccine equity that you would want to put on my radar, or maybe you have a virologist you want to put on my radar, or whatever that might be. Hooking it to the specific news and saying I've got an expert available. That's the best way, because even if I don't use them for a story I'm doing, because I do have sources I may have already contacted, I'll have another idea of someone that I can reach out and talk to related to that issue. And it will be stuck in my mind connected to that issue.

    Whereas if you just say, “Hey, I've got this guy who knows a lot about immunology. If you ever need to talk, great.” That's great. But I probably forget that person because I don't have something to hook them to in my mind. Where I've already got – If you put the name in front of me because you're hooking the vaccine news, now I have their name associated with vaccines in my mind. If you just say, “Hey, this is an expert,” I get a lot of here's my expert pitches, and I won't remember them. So hooking into the news event even if I don't use them, it's happened a lot that I've ended up reaching out to them later. Or maybe my first couple folks that I tried to reach out to couldn't talk, “Oh, I remember I got this email about an expert in this.” And I'll go and try to find that email.




    Alex has a lot on his plate which means reaching is more difficult than most. He’s helping with the 30 for 30 list, compiling video segments, and editing all at the same time (hint: it’s all about people). Use the notes above to increase your chances of reaching him!

    For more great 1:1 conversations with journalists from top-tier outlets, subscribe to the Coffee with a Journalist podcast to get the latest episode drops. Also, don’t forget to follow us on Twitter for other updates on our newest PR tips, tools, and best practices.

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