The news is everywhere. It’s on TV, in newspapers and magazines, playing on the radio, on your mobile phone and blasting out of your Amazon Alexa – it’s inescapable. Today, news is consumed globally across a variety of different mediums with hundreds of thousands of articles published every day with the mass public, in their millions, ingesting it. That is a lot of noise and really quite overwhelming if we’re honest.
So, how do you cut through this noise and get in front of the right journalist?
When speaking to clients who are new to media engagement, no matter the industry they are in, it can seem like a complicated process. However, if we break it down, it’s really quite simple and straightforward. Journalist are looking for whatever is newsworthy. What do I mean by this? Well…
Consider the audience. If you would like to appear in the likes of The Times and the Guardian, ask yourself who reads these newspapers? What is the publication’s demographic and what does the potential story or commentary mean to people at large? At the end of the day, a journalist will ask whether the angle or news story chimes with its readership – if it doesn’t, they won’t be writing an article or commissioning anything from you. A common mistake is pitching an idea to a journalist without knowing enough about their “beat” (i.e. what stories they cover) and the lack of understanding when it comes to a publication’s focus and target audience.
An important factor is often timeliness – is what you want to talk about relevant to the current news agenda? If the news broke a week ago and there has already been substantial coverage across the national and trade press, before putting yourself forward to speak on the topic, you need to ask yourself whether you’re adding anything new to the conversation. If the answer is no, then it’s highly unlikely that a journalist will be receptive to your commentary.
Side note: However, this should not discourage you from commenting on a topic that is of interest to you. There are always other avenues to explore. For example, you could share a short comment on social media (such as Twitter and LinkedIn), or perhaps consider a blog post for your firm’s website. While a journalist might not want to commission an article or include your comments for a news piece, there’s value in sharing your insights to the end audiences you reach through other channels.
Utilise statistics and case studies to add colour. Journalists are receptive to both as they want to base their news stories on what is going on in the world at a given moment in time. They want their articles to be factual so they will want to support any statements and comments, where possible, with facts and statistics. Case studies provide a human element which allows readers to relate to a story, if others have experienced something then this could be relevant to a wider audience.
Offer a business perspective, if relevant. Along with statistics and case studies, journalists will want to understand and illustrate the impact the news will have on their readers, many of whom will be involved in business. Your comment will be newsworthy if you can explain the business impact on the reader because this adds value and provides a takeaway from the article. Take COVID-19 as a timely example, lawyers who are advising their clients facing a range of legal and regulatory issues arising from the pandemic are at the coalface and therefore well placed to provide practical advice on how businesses should act. Remember, you are the expert with the relevant knowledge. If you have something interesting to say, journalists will be open to a conversation.
Conflict and bipolarity are often tricky hurdles to overcome. As I work with lawyers, I’m going to utilise this context. By their profession, lawyers are cautious individuals, rightly so because of their line of work and having to be mindful of a range of issues, from client conflict through to confidentiality. Lawyers don’t want to cause offence and want to be factually correct in their statements. Journalists will often tell us PRs that they want a strong comment – something that goes against the grain and brings something extra to the narrative. If there are ten people saying the same thing, and one saying something different – who do you think the journalist will go for when publishing a quote? Often the best comments are strong and pithy, and they don’t sit on the fence.
In addition to the above, the real secret is to build a relationship with journalists. If you’re able to provide clear and reliable quotable insights in a timely manner on one occasion, then great, you’ll get a name check, one time. But I urge you to think about the of the long game. By investing some time and effort, you could instead enter a mutually beneficial relationship with journalists. Create and nurture a relationship where journalists will come to you with repeat opportunities to comment. Journalists are people like you and me, take an interest in their work and lives, regularly engage in conversation without having a motive. See where it leads you.