It’s often said that the majority of press releases sent to journalists are deleted or ignored.
I’d love to be able to contradict this but it’s true. However, the good news is journalists need decent stories and a lot of them.
They all have web space, newsprint or airtime to fill, day in day out, and the more easily they can get hold of great content, the better.
So, you WILL get a journalist’s attention if you can give them something they want to write about or broadcast.
Come up with a story to interest their readers, viewers or listeners, and they will be only too happy to work with you. Here are my five pointers to do just this…
Make sure your ideas are good
People think journalists don’t want to be bothered. That’s not fair. They do want to talk to you, but only if you have a good idea for them – ideally backed up with some solid information and access to interviewees.
Increasingly local media cover only stories that have a “life online”, that are interesting enough to get a good rate of clicks, likes, comments and shares.
Why would people be interested in what your company has to say? What’s unique or different about your news? How could it be a talking point?
A new Burmese restaurant in Huddersfield had some nice publicity from the Examiner a few weeks ago because it was a first for the town. Business correspondent Henryk Zientek knew full well that people – most of us love eating out, let’s face it – would be interested.
So what is Burmese food exactly? Where is this restaurant? It’s the sort of thing you would mention at work or in the pub – a talking point.
Get to the point
Whether you want to approach a journalist at a drinks reception, Tweet them, email them or phone them up, you will need to verbalise your idea succinctly.
Don’t start with a history of your organisation. Just tell them what the new bit is. “There’s a new Burmese restaurant opening in Huddersfield. It’s the first one in the town.” Nice and simple.
Distilling your ideas into a few choice words is essential if you want a journalist to keep listening to you, read past the subject header of your email, or reply to your social media post.
Do what you say you will
Journalists prefer to source their news from people who are reliable. If you are able to give a journalist a good story they will appreciate this and be happy to take your call next time you have an idea.
Much like the rest of us, journalists don’t like being messed about or kept waiting. You will lose their goodwill if you don’t do what you say you will. Let’s imagine your start-up business is making cupcakes featuring the faces of the England World Cup squad. Another good talking point!
You explained this to a journalist, they told their editor and they want to cover the story right now. They won’t be pleased if you suddenly decide: “Actually we’re not quite ready yet, can you call me again in a week’s time?” Even worse, the journalist comes to interview you but you are 40 minutes late.
Meet them halfway
Journalists often need volunteers to act as case studies. They might want to talk to someone who’s had a particular, often personal experience – let’s say, having their first child aged over 40 or being diagnosed with SAD syndrome – to enhance a statistics-based story.
If that’s you and you don’t mind being featured in the media in that way then go for it, and use the exposure as a way to mention whatever it is you want to promote. For example: “When I became a mum I needed more flexible home-based work and that’s why I gave up investment banking to start my cupcake business.”
Journalists often look to people they’ve spoken to before to help them out with content they need to generate. When it’s the Budget they might want a business owner to talk about how tax changes will affect them. You might be really busy that afternoon but prioritising time to help will earn you some brownie points with that journalist.
Show an interest in their work
Finally, you will have a much better chance of getting a journalist’s attention if you do some research so that you understand what it is that they are interested in. What sort of stories have they covered? What are the themes they seem to like?
Your idea about pet hotels might be great but if the journalist writes only about show jumping, pitching to them is a waste of time.
Have a look or a listen via their news outlet, follow them on social media and – being careful not to look like a stalker – add the odd positive comment to their stories, where you have something meaningful to add. Journalists attract flak so some support can go a long way.
Conversely, if you have a good idea but you’re not sure who would be interested in it, a quick search will uncover journalists who cover freshwater fishing equipment, the powder coatings industry or the welfare of badgers – whatever it is you want to talk about.