by Maria Tabish Chawla
“You are guilty not of the epic transgressions but the tiny crimes. You have failed in the most base and human of ways—you have not imagined the lives of others.” - Michael Cunningham
Success in media relations is contingent on a compelling story, delivered in the right way. The delivery must be shaped by imagining what it would be like to be the reporters on the receiving end. When ‘imagining the life’ of journalists you wish to contact and develop relations with, there are a few questions that need to asked and understood:
What do they write about?
A quick google search of the journalist will pull up a list of topics that they’ve covered. Having a quick read of the journalist’s articles will highlight the topics and themes previously covered, helping you to decide whether they are relevant to your company and content strategy. This allows for a more targeted approach, saving you from getting in touch only to hear a ‘this is not relevant for me’.
What is the publication like?
Most writer’s guidelines within publications include the following statement “Before you submit a piece to us, please make sure that you are familiar with our publication.” This not only involves understanding previously published content, but also singling out the ‘evergreen’ topics – i.e. the topics they always cover. Looking at the format of the publication also helps to understand whether a briefing or a by-lined article is appropriate. Some publications also have a forward features list that details themes they will be touching on for the year. This enables you to plan ahead and contact journalists well in advance with your story idea for a theme relevant to your client.
Which angles have the journalists covered in the past?
When you reach out to a journalist, you’re asking them to dedicate their time to researching and writing about your organisation. This shouldn’t be a one way street – it’s important to know what they cover and the kind of stories they’re interested in. Understanding the angles the journalist has covered in the past, and the general tone they adopt, enables you to tailor your pitch accordingly before reaching out to them.
What makes yours different?
One of the key factors of successful PR is understanding why your story will be of interest to the journalist. To make your story relevant, there are some basic strategies you can use. A popular approach involves picking a trend to which you can link your product, service or content to and then proceed to researching the way the journalist has covered the trend in the past. Another method for successful pitching is focusing on the ‘behind the scenes’ – rather than focusing on the “what,” consider the “who” or the “how” to heighten the impact of the story. Remember, journalists like stories, not just factual press releases. Alternatively, the pitch could also be used to answer a question–or to ask one. Statements can often get boring, so find a way to use what you’re pitching to ask or answer questions that have been on the writer’s mind.
How does the journalist prefer to be contacted?
To avoid getting a disgruntled, voice at the end of the line, it is important to figure out what the best time and way to contact the journalist is. This may involve a single or multiple conversations with the journalist to .find out if they prefer being contacted in the morning or afternoon, what time of the day they are most likely to be in an editorial meeting, and if they prefer to be contacted on the phone or via email.
An empathy-driven approach can go a long way in establishing strong media relations. After securing media opportunities, the emphasis then falls on conveying your company’s message even in the most difficult of interviews. Ensuring you get the right media training would then be the next step!