How to ask busy people for help - a guide

I work in PR. Though I love it, it's at times the most ungrateful job you could ever do. It's been great for me as it's forced me to stop taking things so personally, but still - sometimes it feels a bit like everyone hates you. Journos who won't get back to your emails/calls/tweets/etc, or clients who refuse to believe that their sheer existence isn't news worthy of headlines, or spokespeople who resent a young woman showing them why they should say what - I've worked with them all. Work isn't always like that (if so, I would've changed jobs), but often enough for me to realise pretty quickly that the easiest way to get what you want in the world of PR is to be nice to people.

That's perhaps why I've been so baffled by two random men who've recently contacted me out of *nowhere* in the truly strangest of ways. I used to bump into Man #1 at London house parties back in 2009(!), and Man #2 and I went on a date - as in, one (1) date - once. They both contacted me on the interwebz and it looked a bit like this (Man #1) and this (Man #2) - you could also call both those screenshots "How to not ask for help - a guide".

So, since I myself ask for a lot of people's help (I'm a one man team and whether it's introductions, or getting the right data, or brainstorming storyline ideas, I often reach out to others for help) and since I seem to get a lot of requests, I decided to write a guide on how to ask busy people for help. Here it is:

1. Don't be a dick
This one's easy (you'd think). If you know the person from before but haven't spoken to them in a while (in Man #1's case, it's 7ish years), perhaps start off by asking how the person has been. Even if you don't care, the person you're reaching out to clearly has something you want, so just some pleasantry to butter them up might help when you're reaching out. After all, you want them to think you're a pleasant person to deal with, because why else would they want to help you? Another important thing here is to give the helper the choice of how to help you. If it isn't for work, I'm a pretty messy writer, but I don't want to come across as messy - therefore I'll always prefer doing a Skype call or a quick coffee as opposed to having to write a long reply on something you want my help on. Other people might work differently, so simply asking whether they'd be able to do a quick Skype/coffee/whatever they prefer will probably increase your hit rate.

2. Do your homework
Before reaching out, think about how you can make it as easy as possible for the helper to help you out. You don't want to add a chore to their to-do list - unless you do, in which case, go back to point 1, or expect to get this blog post sent to you. Why are you asking the person you're asking? Tell them. Have you done any research on this yourself? Tell them, and give them something to comment on as opposed to "I've asked other people and no one knows anything about this super general thing that is the Swedish job market" (as was the case for both Man #1 and #2). 

3. What's in it for them?
A while back I reached out to an acquaintance of mine I hadn't spoken to in 2-3 years. I needed to get some insights into her field of work, so I messaged her and asked her if I could take her out for lunch somewhere close to her work and pick her brains. This required minimum commitment from her end - she just had to walk over to her chosen cafe, sit down over paid for lunch, and talk to me about what she does. In exchange, I bought her lunch (and coffee because I'm lavish like that) and hopefully she felt good about being able to chat about her area of expertise. I also said to her that if you ever need to chat PR, hit me up. If you're going to ask for busy people's time and help, you need to give back - or at least demonstrate a willingness to do so. Just saying "would love to take you out for a drink next time I'm in town" would suffice - which the helper can then turn down, but at least you're not a dick. 

Asking people for help is the best way I know to extend your network. It's an opportunity to make people feel good about themselves while essentially doing you a favour - an excellent win-win. Personally, I love helping people out. That said, I'm not a doormat.

Which is why I love the final option of