Like British summers and North Korea, selling-in a story to media is an unpredictable business. Busy tech journalists may receive 50 or more news releases a day, while breaking news can bump even the strongest of stories off the agenda. However, once you have a story ready to go, there are a number of common-sense things you can do to maximise your chances of cutting through the clamour and ensuring your content makes the impact it deserves.
- Why tell this story now?
Everyone believes their story is the most important of the day, but very few are truly indispensable. Journalists will look at all ‘news’ in terms of relative value and ask themselves whether it’s worth their readers/listers/viewers’ (limited) time? To determine this they will weigh your story against the day’s other stories, consider a) when they last ran something similar, b) whether the topic is ‘hot’, c) how it fits the blend of content that they have available that day, and d) whether it moves things on from the last time they covered the sector. And they’ll usually do all that pretty much instantaneously.
- Plan ahead
Even the best stories get knocked off the agenda by events. Sometimes a huge story breaks and your news doesn’t stand a chance. However, you can mitigate that risk with some careful forward-planning and by doing some simple research. Look at the news agenda for the day – and the week – that you are planning to pitch your story. If there is a relevant news peg at the same time, such as a key industry conference, then that might be helpful. Conversely, if there is something big happening in another sector that your target journalist usually covers, then they will probably be too busy for your story.
If you get positive feedback, but the journalist doesn’t have time for the story at that moment and says they will get to it, for example, next week, then consider waiting. This won’t work if you have already got interest from other outlets under embargo of course, but if you are pitching an exclusive then be prepared to be flexible with your timing.
- Never pitch yesterday’s story
One of the most infuriating things for any journalist is to have a company call up to say that they enjoyed yesterday’s story and they work in the same area. When a journalist has just done a story on your sector is the time they are least likely to write another. Unless you can move the story on – for example, by offering a solution to something the previous article said was an obstacle – then you are wasting your own and, worse, the reporter’s time.
- Feed The Beast
Talking of time, perhaps the biggest cliché about journalists is that they are time-short and therefore your message needs to be punchy to get their attention. This is not entirely true. Yes, journalists are increasingly hard-pressed and time-short, but what they are always is short of good content. If they find a story that will bring real value to their readers – and, even better, scoop their peers – then they will take the time they need to develop it. The relationship between journalists and PRs is symbiotic: PRs want to get coverage for their clients, but journalists have an insatiable need for quality content. A great story will always get their attention. The reverse is also true: constantly contacting a journalist with thin stories or random notes will lead to you being tuned out. Make your contact count.
- Know what makes you interesting
Often the thing that a startup founder thinks is most interesting about their company is not the thing that will interest journalists, or their audience. Perhaps you do have a groundbreaking technological solution to a previously unsolved problem, but a mainstream audience is not interested in the detail about how your technology works. When pitching, you have to take a step back and objectively assess the value of your story. If it is a detailed technology story then perhaps it will be of interest to a specialist publication. But if it is a story with broader appeal then you might have something of value for a mainstream journalist. Be honest with yourself. Then think about how best to articulate that value of the story clearly and concisely, so as to grab a journalist’s attention.
- Find the right journalist
Journalists come in all shapes and sizes, so you need to tailor your story to fit each individual. Is the journalist an expert in your sector? Have they shown a particular interest in your area in the past? Do your homework. For example, if you work in wearable tech, then don’t pitch to a consumer tech specialist who is a sceptic and has written negatively about it. Is the journalist autonomous or do they work under the auspices of another editor? This will determine who you really need to convince. Also, keep in mind that journalists move outlets fairly regularly, so keep track of where existing contacts go to and be ready to help and build relationships with their replacements.
- Who has the audience you want to reach?
As mentioned in #5, some stories suit a mainstream title while others are more appropriate for specialists. Look at the audience of the outlet you are approaching and consider whether your story works for them. Does the title place a particular emphasis on exclusives or is it a title of record?
- Relationships matter
Selling-in your story is easier if you have an existing relationship with the journalist you’re approaching. Working effectively with the media is a matter of creating and cultivating good relationships. This doesn’t mean inviting them to lunch every week, but it does involve introducing yourself at conferences and events, and being able to put a face to a name. Does anybody else in your organisation have a better relationship with a journalist than you? You are much more likely to get positive results if you’re making the most of existing relationships.
Nadia Kelly, founder of leading PR agency Burlington