Think like a Journalist and Get Your Story Covered
By Tannette Johnson-Elie
I’ve been a journalist for 20-plus years and I must admit that journalists are complex individuals. We can be creative, yet strong-willed, and tough, yet compassionate. We’re also inquisitive and ruthless in seeking the truth.
If you work in public relations and you must deal with the media, understanding how journalists think can be a daunting task. Nevertheless, when it comes to getting your story covered, to pitch effectively it would serve you well to train yourself to think like a traditional journalist.
For starters, it’s fairly common knowledge that journalists operate under tight deadlines. They’re also often in smaller newsrooms these days, where they are more likely to juggle multiple roles and are under an unrelenting news cycle.
To fulfill our insatiable appetite for news 24/7, journalists must constantly file stories and post blog and social media updates. Getting a reporter’s attention nowadays requires a lot more initiative than in the past.
For basic tips to help you to think like a journalist, I turned to veteran PR Consultant Kathy Gaillard. Here’s what she recommends:
Get to the point
Reporters are busy and often work under crazy deadlines, so it’s important to “state your purpose (on the phone or in a news release) upfront and in a compelling and interesting manner” says Gaillard.
Tie your news to some local or national trend.
“Know what’s going on in the world and what’s trending,” Gaillard said. “Look for a hook (a newsworthy tie) or different angle that speaks to a trend.”
It can be said that journalists love numbers. Identifying key facts and statistics related to your company or industry and package them in a way that can be used to support your story, Gaillard said.
Numbers can provide interesting and compelling visuals and can help set your story apart from the fluff that’s in many of the press releases reporters receive on a daily basis. Here are a few key tips from Gaillard for using numbers:
Try to find the most current statistics, ideally no more than three years old; compare numbers to something that people can identify with to give readers a frame of reference to which they can relate; and always attribute numbers to a credible source.
Put a face on your pitch
Journalists are trained to look for the human side of a story. It’s the human factor that makes your message more interesting and helps the audience to connect to your story on a personal level. So, any time you can put a ‘face’ to a story pitch, it is value-added to the reporter, says Gaillard. To that end, many times, ahead of a pitch, Gaillard will identify one or two individuals who can speak intelligently or expertly on a topic or who can share their personal stories to complement the topic.
Don’t just send a news release and expect a response. Reporters are inundated with emails, phone calls, texts, faxes and other distractions on a daily basis, says Gaillard. So, following up is important just to make sure your release doesn’t get lost in all the clutter or tossed out.
Gaillard warns, “Know their deadlines and don’t call during deadlines.”
Look for non-traditional avenues to present a story.
Build a case for a unique approach to a story and sell it to the reporter. For example, Gaillard had a client who headed up a professional association for florists and decided to try a non-traditional approach to media coverage. Instead of building her pitch around traditional holidays for sending flowers such as Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day, she focused her story on a holiday when people don’t customarily think of sending flowers – Thanksgiving.
“I pitched the story to the food editor (of a major daily newspaper) about how ambiance was an important part of Thanksgiving Day and a simple way is to decorate the table with flowers,” Gaillard said. “The editor ran the story on the front page of the food section. The association couldn’t have been more pleased.”
Do the legwork
Make it easy for reporters to cover your story. Give them credible sources (phone number, emails and describe what they can lend to the story). Set up the interviews once there is interest.
“Go that extra mile and serve as a liaison between reporter and client. Make it happen,” said Gaillard.
“Deliver what you say, not fluff,” says Gaillard. “Build your credibility with a reporter so he or she knows that when they come to you, you’re a reputable, solid source.”
In short, what journalists need and want is timely and compelling content. You’ll have a better chance of getting media coverage if you learn how a reporter’s mind operates.