Regularly meeting media contacts and making connections is the only way to stay ahead in the PR game. Keeping abreast of the current media landscape is essential to be able to give the best advice to clients and colleagues.
That’s why Big Old House jumped at the chance to join a recent ‘Meet the journalist’ event hosted by Enterprise Nation at Nottingham Trent University.
The prestigious panel of professionals included Andrew Lynch – assistant business editor, Sunday Times and the Start Up List; Sam Metcalf – editor, East Midlands Business Desk; Kevin Stanley BBC Radio Nottingham presenter; John Collins, NTU lecturer and freelance broadcast journalist at BBC and Notts TV and Greg Simpson – Nottingham Enterprise Nation Ambassador and Press for Attention owner.
Speaking to an auditorium full of freelancers, micro businesses and established start-ups eager to get press tips from the experts, the group took questions from the audience. Giving a brief overview of their respective outlets, they shared tips and tricks for making contact and offered honest accounts of how they like to work with businesses and PRs…
What makes a good story?
For East Midlands Business Desk editor Sam Metcalf, a good story is something that stands out as extraordinary – either in a good or a bad way. A newsworthy story is about more than just doing a good job; it has stats, growth or job creation. It goes a step further and explains why something is different or better or what can you do now that you couldn’t do before as result of it.
Broadcast journalist John Collins, shared that for him and the outlets he represents, a good news story is about change. It’s about being cheaper, easier, harder, better, quicker or safer, rather than “we did XYZ”. A story needs to explain what has changed for the wider community as a result of the news and what impact that has had on its audience.
“Think like a reader” was the advice from Press for Attention’s Greg Simpson, who advocates getting the “What’s that about?” buzz going amongst your target audience.
As a broadcast journalist, BBC Radio Nottingham’s Kevin Stanley is interested in people telling their story rather than just the written word. For him, great people make great stories, so anything with human/personal/public interest angles works best.
And a bad story?
A contract win, a gimmick, attending an event, self-promotion, well, anything that…isn’t really a story!
Identifying the right news outlets
Greg Simpson emphasized how essential it is for businesses to identify their correct target audience. The best way to do this is to ask your customers what they read. Once you know this, read and research the publications and don’t be afraid to get in touch.
The panel agreed that it was vital to know your press – what articles they run, the types of things they cover, how they like to work. Research is the only way that you can achieve this, but it pays dividends in the long term – whether you do it yourself or do it via a PR agency/freelancer.
Finding contact details is not as difficult as you might think. Every commercial radio station has a public file on the website where you can find relevant contact details. Email addresses can often be found in journalist Twitter bios and bloggers with specialist interests can be found through web searches or using hashtags such as #journorequest on Twitter.
Getting in touch
There’s no ‘one size fits all’ method for approaching the press, so it pays to know how journalists like to work.
Most of the panel welcomed email contact or businesses getting in touch through social channels including Twitter and LinkedIn. BBC Radio Nottingham was happy to chat through story ideas on the phone via the newsdesk.
He added that The Sunday Times business team would rather speak directly to business owners/entrepreneurs. Approaches from PRs or external communications agencies isn’t ideal, as they would rather develop a direct relationship. They also prefer hearing from start ups who have created a bit of buzz about their business with local inward investment agencies, as they have already convinced other people that they have a story worth telling.
Become the ‘go to’ person for comment/opinion in your industry sector
Experts that have proved themselves to be consistently reliable and newsworthy will become a journalist’s long-term ‘go to’ resource.
Kevin Stanley shared some helpful interview tips for getting the the best from your story and communicating your key message effectively, these included:
- Making sure you share the relevant points you want to convey
- Presenting your background – get your facts about yourself and your business prepared in advance
- Being a good interviewee on a particular topic, as this will get you asked back again and again
You won’t get approval, so get your facts straight
Most interviews are the start of an ongoing relationship and good stories develop from a two-way dialogue, but don’t expect approval on a piece prior to publication.
When asked if the panel would gather approval on a piece in advance of publishing, it was a resounding “no”. And here’s why:
- Journalists and publications need to retain independent editorial control
- A good journalist will fact check
- Journalism is an honest and honourable profession – journalists are not out to get you
- It is up to you to get your facts and your story straight in your approach
Will you lose control of your story?
You may not get chance to approve the story, but the panel were keen to express that building a story was a two-way process. John Collins was quick to point out that it could (and should) be a mutually beneficial partnership with a journalist to develop a story.
The panel also agreed that there were several phrases it pays to remember when talking to a journalist:
- “On the record” – Suggests it is OK to publish everything discussed
- “Off the record” – If you say it, it could be quoted but won’t be attributed to you directly
- “On background” – All conversations are completely confidential as there are sensitivities around the story and you should not be identified as the source in anyway
The event uncovered many more useful tips, tricks and insights about making friends with the media – keep a look out for the next event with Enterprise Nation. Until then, do your research, find the right contacts and start building a relationship.