5 creative ways to engage journalists

Written by the Editorial Team

by Paul MacKenzie-Cummins, Editor and Managing Director of ClearlyPR 

If you think that your InBox gets filled with a plethora of unsolicited and unwanted emails, spare a thought for journalists. Each day, they receive countless numbers of emails from PR people (yup – people just like us) ‘selling’ their clients’ stories in a compelling way in a bid to get them seen and heard by their target audience – a task which is easier said than done.

Getting your voice heard above the noise means ensuring that your story is the one that hooks the journalist. This, by default, will create a buzz around your business and get people talking about you. But you don’t need to employ the services of a PR agency or have a large budget in order to achieve this – you can do this yourself.

Here are a few tips, based on our own experiences, to win the interest of the journalists who act as the conduit between you and your audience.

  1. Is it newsworthy?

You need to put yourself in the shoes of the journalist reading your media release. Ask yourself, Will anyone outside the four walls of our office really give a jot about what we want to say – is this really a story?

For instance, being featured among the lower echelons of some industry Top 50 list is not going to prompt anyone to sit up and take notice. However, if you feature in the top 3 then that’s an altogether different proposition. Similarly, taking on a new employee doesn’t make story newsworthy, unless the person in question just so happens to be an industry hot-shot of course.

So think about the validity of the story you wish to communicate – would your public really be interested or would the story be best placed on your blog or company news pages?

  1. Opinions only count when they add to the debate

If you are the head of a market-leading organisation, you’ll already be on the radar of journalists. But if you’re not, you need to try a little harder to give credibility to your voice.

For instance, if you share the opinion of every other Tom, Dick and Harry then save your breath because your voice will not be heard. Rather, offer a well-argued opinion, which adds value to the debate and provides journalists with a balanced argument rather than a bandwagon’esque viewpoint.

  1. Time for some matchmaking

A story that is interesting to a journalist working on The Guardian may not be interesting to one working on the Evening Standard or a trade magazine. Don’t waste a journalist’s (or your) time by sending them press releases they have little or no interest in. Instead, be choosy and target journalists based on the subject matter you know they have written about before.

It is your job to help them understand why you are the ultimate source within your area of expertise. You can only achieve this by demonstrating you know your subject area and showing you understand the content they write.

  1. Learn from rejection

If you apply for a job but don’t get it, most employers will give you feedback on why you were unsuccessful. Journalists work the same way. So if your pitch is rejected with a flat ‘nope, not interested’, send a quick email to ask why. This will help you to understand what they are looking for and what you should avoid next time you contact them.

For instance, they may feel the subject matter is tired or perhaps the only reason why your story was dropped is because a bigger one broke. So again, keep abreast with what they are writing about and that when it comes to approaching the same journalist again, you can tailor your pitch based on what they are interested in hearing, rather than what you think they want to read.

  1. Finally, don’t brown-nose journalists

You need the media to know who you are and what you can do for them. But they will only call you if they feel you can add value to their story and not because you got them sozzled one Thursday lunchtime.

I once met a PR guy who had taken an editor to lunch at The Ivy on two separate occasions in a bid to secure coverage for their client. Their efforts were in vain and all they got in return was a couple of late afternoon hangovers and a client who was ever-so slightly aggrieved at the bill they had been sent with nothing to show for it apart from a slightly inebriated PR consultant.

PR is made difficult when clients attempt to ‘sell’ stories in to the media, which quite frankly are not stories at all; self-aggrandising carries very little sway with the media. So if you are perched atop your high horse, it’s time to get down.

If you do go along the route of employing a PR company, be wary of those who say ‘yes’ to everything you suggest. PR is not about playing to your ego because ultimately, everyone will see through it – and that includes some of the most influential stakeholders you have: journalists.

We’re not in the business of telling you what you want to hear or reminding you of how great you think you are. We are in the business of telling it as it is and enhancing your profile as a highly credible player within your space.