On Season 2, Episode 14 of Coffee with a Journalist, host and OnePitch co-founder Beck Bamberger sits down to talk with Eugene Kim, Chief Correspondent at Business Insider. Eugene Kim covers news and stories around Amazon and the e-commerce space. Listen in as Beck and Eugene dive into his role at Business Insider, his process for finding stories through interviews and data research, his views on the future of journalism, and more! Click below to listen to the full conversation and read below for highlights from the interview:
His Thoughts on Pitching
Beck: Tell us more about the story ideas you’re looking for. So is it someone saying, “Hey, I’ve got a little tip on Amazon” or “I’ve got a trend about it.” Like, does it have to be Amazon focused?
Eugene: Yeah. Most likely. Nine out of 10 it’s Amazon-related, but it doesn’t always have to be an exclusive or a scoop. I think if it’s unique data point about Amazon’s marketplace, very good chance I could write about it.
Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eugene: In fact, just a couple of weeks ago, one Amazon agency that works with a lot of Amazon sellers reached out with a pretty interesting data point, a couple charts. And I thought that was pretty interesting. It wasn’t reported elsewhere. So, we got some comments from their VP and turned it into a quick post.
Beck: Got it.
Eugene: Yeah. Yeah.
Beck: Okay. What if someone has anything, because you touched on this now, that’s an agency that’s handling Amazon, but if it’s more in the realm of just e-commerce in general, I can see you don’t have a lot of stuff up there, so are you really, is it 99? 95% Amazon?
Eugene: Yeah, but I’m also trying to expand my coverage area a little bit.
Eugene: Just because there’s more competition. Walmart, they’re becoming big. Shopify.
Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eugene: Just in general, because of COVID a lot more people are shopping online, and there’s huge readership demand about e-commerce in general. How to sell online or what to buy. So yeah, I’m always interested in hearing about new ideas.
Beck: Look at that everybody. Interested in hearing more. Do you, for the subject line, like if I don’t know you, I mean, I know you now because we’re talking, but if I don’t know you and I’m a publicist, I want to get you to respond. Is it all about the subject line? What should the subject line look like?
Eugene: I think it’s pretty, I mean, I make sure to read every email.
Beck: You read every email?
Eugene: I mean…
Beck: You skim, you skim it.
Eugene: Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly.
His Work Inbox
Beck: Yes. No pressure. No pressure. Well, let’s talk about what the heck’s in your inbox. Now this might be interesting because while you, again, you tell us, since you’re so niche-focused, although your coverage does include e-commerce, what does your inbox look like of pitches?
Eugene: Actually I’ve noticed I’m getting less pitches actually compared to a few years ago. I think it’s, maybe it’s because of my reputation of being very laser-focused on one company or I haven’t really written a lot about stories based on press releases. So maybe no one’s just reaching out to me, but it used to be like four or five years ago when I first started, my inbox would fill within an hour. I would get like 50, 60 emails, but now it’s like, even overnight, I think I get maybe less than 20.
Beck: A day? Or a week?
Eugene: No, no, no. A day, maybe like, I don’t know, 50.
Beck: Currently, you still get 50?
Eugene: In the past, it used to be like in a couple of hours, but now.
Beck: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Okay, that’s kind of manageable-ish.
Eugene: Yeah. Yeah. So I’m pretty religious about keeping inbox zero.
Beck: Got it. So then with those remaining pitches that you do get, and since you want to get the box to zero, do you do any filing of the pitches? Do you ever go back to them?
Eugene: Yeah. I keep my inbox very simple. It’s either starred or not starred. And if it’s starred, I would probably go back through it at the end of the day or take a note and make sure I respond to those guys.
Beck: Oh, within a day?
Eugene: Yeah, I mean, because I’m also constantly looking for story ideas and if the pitch is good enough, there’s a chance that I could turn it into a story within 24 hours.
How He Writes Stories
Beck: About when you’re crafting a story, Eugene, we like to talk about this part, I’m like, the actual making of a story. How does it happen? Are you, for example, reading something and you go, “Oh, I haven’t seen that yet.” Or do you get a little tip in your inbox and you go, “Okay, let me follow that.” Or are you digging, digging, digging around, I don’t know, whatever part of the internet you’re looking at and you find something and you’re like, “Aha.” How does that work for you? And what also is the time? Obviously you’re posting stuff, you can get it up in 24 hours, but are you working ever on pieces that take weeks to deliver?
Eugene: Yes. I mean the sort of the crux of every story is, the foundation has to be reporting obviously. You just talk to a lot of people and usually, that’s how you get story ideas. You can’t have exclusive scoops every week. So to diversify the channels… I go through a lot of public documents that include earning statements, for example. Every quarter there’s a lot of data included in, in that quarterly statement. And I try to make sure I get at least one or two stories out of it just based on-
Beck: What’s said.
Eugene: Yeah, unusual changes in a line item or their cash balance or whatever.
Beck: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Eugene: Our readers really like those types of stories. They don’t have to be CPA, CFA level, deep dive into the statements. But as long as it’s new and original, I think a lot of readers find it useful. For Amazon, I also talk to a lot of sellers and partners that work with Amazon. Just because Amazon is such a big company, they have a lot of partners that they rely on. And in those transactions between Amazon and those partners, there’s always something that’s happening. It might be something controversial, it might be something good. A lot of these things, they don’t announce it. It’s not public information. So if you talk to a lot of people, a lot of sellers, you’ll find something interesting to write about.
Beck: So would you even say, or does this happen, where you’re like, “Okay, don’t have a story. Let me talk to eight people. Let me spend my whole morning and just getting on the phones.” Like, does that happen?
Eugene: Yeah. I block out a certain time of day, every day, just to make sure I reach out to cold emails and LinkedIn messages. Almost every day.
Beck: Oh my, you’re doing some outbound, cold.
Eugene: Yeah, yeah.
Eugene: In some way, I feel like a salesperson.
Beck: Yeah, you do. Will you get on the phone with me, I want to talk to you. Yeah, yeah. Are people usually… What’s the response for that?
Eugene: I would say the hit rate, like the success rate is, maybe if you reach out to a hundred people, you’re lucky to get one useful.
Eugene: Yeah. I mean, that’s my expectation.
In the full conversation, Eugene said that now might be a great time for new college graduates to enter the media field. If you are looking to take the leap into PR, be sure to check out our blog Public Relations 101: 3 Things to Know as a New PR Pro. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to Coffee with a Journalist for new weekly episodes with journalists from some of journalism’s leading outlets!