You can easily tell which journalists are busy and which are not.
The ones you can connect with easily are those with less to do, fewer outlets for their articles and thus carry least influence in the editorial they write.
The busy ones are those you really need to touch base with but the problem is… well, they’re busy.
That is, of course, a sweeping generalisation but there is more than a seed of truth in it.
These days the caricature image of over-staffed newsrooms with journalists enjoying three-hour three-bottle lunches is a thing of the past.
At local level, many newspapers have collapsed from daily to weekly with staff cuts in the same proportion. Reporters typically cover stories by telephone from the office rather than in person at an event and the local paper where I live has sacked its two photographers – instead, the public are invited to send in their own telephone or digital camera efforts.
At national level the story is the same. Staff numbers are down and journalists are writing all the time for papers’ real-time websites, not just daily deadlines. Budgets for freelances have been slashed – I should know, as back in 2009 most papers cut what they paid me by 30 per cent-plus.
The picture should be clear from this: good journalists who have survived the recessionary cull are working hard.
So here are five golden rules for getting in touch with them efficiently and effectively.
1. Email ideas, introductions or invitations rather than telephone.
Most journalists I work with – staff or freelance, hard news or soft features – are good at checking their emails but dislike telephone calls which may come at a bad time or in a noisy environment. The words most journalists dread most are an unknown person on the phone saying: “Do you have a few minutes…?”
2. Make the email contact straightforward and simple.
If someone cold-emailed you with a rambling message, it would create a bad impression – so the same applies when you approach a journalist. Try to keep your email friendly but short, continaing the “Five Ws” to describe your business, idea or invitation – who? what? where? when? and how? (Er, that’s four Ws and one H, but you get the point.)
3. If you have a story idea, make it ‘oven-ready’.
…and by oven-ready, I mean make it as complete and ready-to-go as possible. This should include:
- a press release of 500 words or less;
- contact details of the key people for journalists to call, email or tweet if they follow-up the story;
- high-resolution, professionally taken photographs depicting the product or idea and, preferably, photogenic people connected with or using it.
4. If at first, you don’t succeed…
Do not be knocked back by a paper or journalist ignoring your first few press releases. A few journalists are rude, lazy or unprofessional so will not acknowlege your approach but most are decent professional people – if they do not use your story it may be due to lack of space, recent coverage of similar stories, or perhaps because the point was not made as clearly as it could have been. If you are sure you have produced good, oven-ready material, in time your efforts WILL be recognised and your stories ‘picked up’.
5. Get professional PR help if you need it.
Seeking fresh ‘angles’ and preparing material for journalists to use as easily as possible does not always come naturally to busy entrepreneurs whose skills lie in creating and marketing their products. So hire a public relations expert if you need one. They will know exactly WHICH journalists to approach, WHEN and HOW. If you want advice on good PRs, contact other businesses whose appearances in the media have impressed you, or ask a journalist specialising in ‘your’ activity.
Today’s Micro Action
Think about your own experiences of interacting with journalists and identify one thing you can change or try to build a stronger relationship.