How to get on the right side of a journalist

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10th December 2013, 5 minute read

I spent 20 years as a journalist, working for a variety of publications, from financial journals to a magazine for the duty free trade.  During that time, I was sent thousands of press releases and was approached by numerous companies wanting me to write about them.

Based on my experiences, I have pulled together 10 tips for dealing with journalists while, at the same time, increasing your chances of them using your story.

  1. Offer them a story
    Journalists are short of time and will respond more favourably to a solid story, rather than a bland request to ‘write about us'.
  2. Know the publication you are approaching
    When I worked on the Kent and Sussex Courier, I'd occasionally get people based in Surrey/London/Scotland wanting me to cover their story.  Know the publication you are talking to and send them stories which relate to their sector/location.  Also, try to send any information to the appropriate journalist.  Establish a process for keeping your records up-to-date, so you don't send press releases through to journalists who moved on five years ago.
  3. Send press releases through with as little formatting as possible
    If your news piece is interesting then journalists will want to cut and paste the copy.  For this reason, make their lives easier.  Don't make every other word italics and the others bold or upper case.  And, don't send the news piece formatted in columns - thinking it looks more like a newspaper... Also, never never send a press release as a PDF...a simple Word document will do.
  4. Don't call the journalist up unless you have to
    Most journalists do not like being bothered.  If they are interested, they will call you.  Send some friendly emails through with useful information and only call if you really need to do so.
  5. Send eye-catching images and supporting content
    Really good photographs will enhance your news story.  If you do send an image with people in, ALWAYS caption it left to right.  Also, give the photo file a sensible name, so it can be found easily: John Smith MD at ABC Ltd, for example.

    Journalists are also interested in other images and, increasingly, infographics, which provide a useful way of organising information or explaining a story or process.  If you are sending a piece to an online news portal or journal, then also consider supplying video content.
  6. Always try to answer any questions a journalist might have. Be polite and helpful
    Journalists will get in touch if they need to.  Try to answer any questions they might have as quickly and efficiency as possible - they are probably on a deadline.
  7. Work to any deadlines and word counts
    If a journalist is interested in your story and or needs a comment from you for a piece they are writing, then make a note of their deadline requirements - and hit them.  I can't tell you how annoying it is, as a journalist, to submit copy to the editor, only to have some interesting comments arrive half an hour after the story has been filed.

    Also, make a note of word counts.  If the journalist asks for 100 words on a topical theme - don't send them a 2000-word essay, thinking it'll be even more helpful... This will just waste their time having to edit it or, simply, they won't bother and your comments won't be used.
  8. Send a full set of notes to editors
    Journalists only want the story in the body of the press release.  They don't want to know the company's full history in that piece as well.  So, write down all the key facts about the business in the notes to editors.  Stick to the facts and you'll probably find some of the information making its way into the finished piece.
  9. Make it well written and concise
    Don't leave the journalist wondering what the press release is about; so get whole story into the first sentence.  If they have to read to the second page before you reveal what the story is about, the chances are they've hit ‘delete' already.

    The credibility of the story you are offering the journalist is key - but it also needs to be well written and concise.  If the first paragraph is peppered with typos, then the journalist will be left wondering how credible the story is.
  10. Finally, don't expect journalists to be telepathic!
    Occasionally I hear companies or organisations saying ‘nobody from xx journal turned up to my event/covered my launch'.  Invite a journalist along or send them a press release!  Engage with them - they want your news, just make sure you tell them in the right way.

For help with writing and distributing your press release, please contact us.

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