As someone who has worked on both sides of the fence — journalism and public relations — I understand stories from two angles: How questions are being asked, and how they are carefully being answered.
So when seeking out journalists to cover your story or simply to get your message out, it’s useful to know a few helpful tips.
Let’s talk about pitching. Not the kind you see on a on a baseball diamond but the kind of pitching we do to get our stories told. A successful pitch comes first with the knowledge of the people to whom you are pitching.
As a reporter who has worked on many financial publications I was on the receiving end of a lot of PR pitches. One of the most common mistakes people make is not even knowing what the publication is about. Many PR people will make general lists of financial publications, for example, and send a blanket email to as many editors and reporters as they can. But more often than not, their product, service or story is not in alignment with the subject matter of the publication or their readers. That’s a big no-no. Pitches like that are ignored immediately and the credibility of the agency or PR person can be lost quickly.
Therefore it is critical to study the audience you want to your message to reach, and know which media outlets cater to that audience.
Make it Easy
When you do find a media outlet that might be interested in your story, make sure you know your stuff backwards and forwards. Pitching to the right person is the first part, but ensuring the pitch is succinct, interesting and has a unique angle, is the next part. Tell the editor or journalist why this story matters to their readers. Tell them why it’s a new trend, or a challenge or solution to a problem you know their audience has. Make it easy for the journalist to get the idea, which, in turn, allows them to move forward on the story. Also, if there are spokespeople available to be interviewed, make sure they are queued up and ready. There’s nothing worse than agreeing to cover a story only to be told the right people to be interviewed are unavailable.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Now that the interviews are set up, having good interview skills will be important to getting your message across without any issues. How do you do that? In many cases, especially in the B-to-B world, journalists are after (a) the facts, and (b) how those facts are unique in moving the story forward. It goes without saying that if you are being interviewed you should know your facts.
Don’t be a volunteer
Also, be a good listener. Hear what is being asked and answer it as honestly and succinctly as possible. Don’t volunteer information that was not asked of you. Those are usually the answers that get people in hot water or provide an opportunity to reveal information that was not meant to be made public. A lot of journalists might not volunteer to check quotes with you but they will likely agree to it if you ask ahead of time.
Make sure you have a clear understanding of what “on the record” or “with or without attribution” or “on background” means. Generally speaking, “on the record “means everything you say is considered fair game for publication. When we do media training sessions with clients, we counsel them to consider everything they say may be “on the record.” Better safe than sorry! “With attribution” means it is quoted to you, and “without attribution” means you may be listed as “a source” but not named. Finally, “on background” generally means you are providing useful information but it is not on the record and cannot be used in a story.
Overall, the media is not looking to trick you or dig up dirt necessarily. It is a symbiotic relationship and your credibility rests on how you deal with the media and how available you are when needed. The skills come with experience and once mastered, will help deliver on your media relations goals.