Think like a journalist

I regularly counsel clients on media relations – how best to build relationships with media, secure valuable media coverage and make it onto reporters’ coveted lists of expert sources.  As a former journalist myself, my advice usually starts with “think like a journalist.” Reporting is a challenging gig, and it’s getting more competitive and difficult each day. As PR pros we can make significant strides in media relations by simply putting ourselves in journalists’ shoes before pitching:

 

Move fast: Reporters are beholden to tight deadlines, so we have to be ready to work just as quickly. The digital age has made speed of publishing more crucial than ever before. Information moves fast and media outlets are competing to break news before their competitors. So before sending a pitch, consider, do you have a spokesperson available to speak ASAP if needed? If the reporter requests additional information, can you compile it quickly? If not, you’re not ready to pitch.

Speak powerfully and concisely: There is a time and a place for beautifully written prose and long-form, verbose content. A media pitch is not it. Journalism school fundamentals taught reporters to tell their stories without editorializing and in as few words as possible. We should speak their language when sending pitches or other content. Learn AP style, be direct and be concise.

Ditch the industry jargon: We need to be respectful of the level of expertise that journalists can cultivate on various topics today. Ten years ago, a newspaper reporter likely specialized on one beat. Today, it’s often multiple, and they pitch in with breaking news as well. The same can be said for trade media. Where once they focused on just one specialized industry, now many trade reporters work for numerous trade journals from disparate industries that are owned by a common publisher. We can help reporters by speaking in laymen’s terms. Ditch acronyms and jargon and wait for the reporter’s lead when it comes to diving deep on complex topics or nuanced industry info.

Be transparent: Reporters work to uncover and report on the truth. Just as we counsel clients to be transparent with customers and partners, we must act with transparency to gain the trust of the media. This means that when a reporter calls with a tough question or about a not-too-flattering topic for a client, we must do our best to work with him or her. Media relations is a two-way street, and if we want to create real relationships with journalists we must be committed to honest, open communications.  (This philosophy is especially important to remember amidst crisis mitigation.)

News must be newsworthy: While this seems like a no-brainer, it bears repeating because as PR reps we must continually counsel our clients on when and when not to share information with the news media. Promotional information about a client’s company that isn’t valuable to a reporter or her readers is of absolutely no value and will not yield coverage. Quite the opposite, it can actually damage our relationship with journalists by sending it. Instead, push back on clients who want to announce non-news. Find creative ways to insert their products, services or executives into stories and trends that will matter to the media. Send information that makes journalists’ jobs easier, not thinly veiled advertisements that clog up their inboxes.

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