20 ways to stop annoying journalists
From our journalist friends and acquaintances, we’ve heard it all from their pet peeves to their horror stories about PR agency pros – here’s what NOT to do.
Inevitably, there will be a situation where despite your counsel, you’re required to support an announcement that isn’t particularly newsworthy. While this can be incredibly frustrating, with a little strategy and a dose of creativity, you can still craft a story that benefits you and the journalist or blogger you’re pitching. Here’s how:
Organisations love to toot their horns about big customer wins, new partnerships, programme initiations and other such items that most journalists and bloggers don’t consider news. On their own, these announcements won’t get very far, but you may be able to craft a story that demonstrates meaningful progress or momentum against the backdrop of an industry trend if you bundle them together.
If you were a journalist would you cover a dozen press releases that read “Biotech Z’s Cancer Test Now Covered by ABC Insurer” or are you going be more interested in a press release with the headline, “Biotech Z’s Cancer Test Adopted by 75% of US Insurers and 50% of UK Private Hospitals in 2020 to Tackle Record Increase in Late-Stage Lung Cancer Diagnosis Rates?”
Let’s say your announcement can’t be bundled because it’s an incremental product launch or some other standalone milestone, then use the media’s own tools – editorial calendars – to pitch your announcement into a story they’re already planning to write.
Both top-tier and trade media provide editorial calendars to guide advertisers to issues that complement their products. With that said, you can use these tools to your advantage by pitching the appropriate editor as to how your recent announcement fits into an upcoming product round-up or trend story where you could offer an industry expert to provide a perspective. It’s a good rule of thumb to target topics slated for 6 months+ from the time you pitch.
Unless you’re an industry heavy-weight or have truly significant news, journalists and bloggers generally don’t profile a single organisation or product, they analyse what’s going on in an industry or product category in order to provide insight and perspective to their readers. If you do your research on the reporter’s style and the trend, you can craft a unique, hard-to-refuse story whilst favourably positioning your company / client.
With that said, during busy news cycles such as COVID-19, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, etc it will be more difficult to pitch into a trend unless you genuinely can tie into these stories as they are unfolding. It’s not recommended to try to hook into such a news cycle that has nothing to do with your organisation / client. It’s better to go to a trade that is still covering such industry news or if it can – wait until the next news cycle.
Nothing puts a finer point on a product or technology, like sharing how it’s helped someone overcome a tragedy or gargantuan challenge. The harder you tug on those heart strings, the more likely you are to get interest from a journalist. However, as with news, the story becomes less attractive if they see the anecdote you’re offering plastered all over the company’s website as a testimonial or previously published by another media outlet. You got to give them a fresh source.
Not getting national or international attention in your human-interest story? Pitch it to the TV, radio and newspaper outlets in the city closest to where the story originated. You can also turn this approach into its own campaign, if you have access to multiple human-interest stories that can be pitched locally. Sometimes, staggered stories reaching a regional audience is actually more effective in boosting sales than having a national story run once.
If you can’t bundle the news, the editorial calendars are a desert, there isn’t a relevant trend for you to hook into, all the journalists that you’ve targeted to pitch are still focused on coronavirus and you don’t have access to a human-interest story – what do you do?
Try to get journalists likely to write in the future invested in your company / client through a briefing with a charismatic executive who can offer a fresh or interesting industry perspective or forecast. Prior to the pandemic, it was best to have these types of meetings in-person, but with flexible work from home hours, it may actually be easier to align schedules of busy executives and journalists for an off-hours video chat.
When we do finally go back to in-person meetings, logistics can be really tricky, so try to secure a top-tier or key trade as the anchor interview to schedule the rest of the day around. If you land 4-6 bookings, you should definitely be giving yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
The briefing approach can be a lot of work and not produce stories immediately, but it is a tremendous investment in securing quality stories in the future. People gravitate toward who and what they know so the more familiar a journalist is with an organisation, the more likely s/he is to think of it for inclusion in a future story, to call for expert comment / perspective, or to cover its news.
If all earned placements fail and there’s pressure on you to get results, pay for an advertorial. Just make sure you get the most bang for your buck by negotiating the price down (and you always can), making the layout visually dynamic or better yet, multimedia. Also, make sure social media posts are included in the package and the piece runs in a relevant issue or during a relevant time such as an awareness month or to coincide with an industry conference.
If there’s a will, there’s a way – but you got to be up for putting in the time, research, effort and sometimes money, to land that story. Just make sure you don’t do these 20 things that will hinder earned media coverage.