This post, Think Like a Journalist: Tips for Marketers, was written by nDash writer Jon Lister.
In marketing and public relations, you can easily become single-minded: your company or product is fantastic, and it’s your job to tell everyone about it. The first step to working with journalists is to remember that their goals, motivations, and responsibilities are not the same as your own. Their concern is filing accurate, engaging articles on time so that they attract readers and keep their editors happy. Never forget that your brand getting favorable exposure is, at best, a by-product of this process.
Let’s explore a few other ways to boost your publicity by thinking like a journalist.
A Nose For News
There’s no bigger waste of time for a journalist than a press release or pitch that has no news value for their readers. The fact you’ve hired a new finance director, opened a new store, or launched your flagship car in yellow is news to you, but why does it matter to the journalist’s readers?
There’s no single definition of newsworthy, but ask yourself the following before pitching a story:
- Does it affect the reader’s life?
- Is it an unusual event that breaks the norm?
- Would somebody reading about this be likely to tell somebody else?
- Will a reader have a strong emotional response?
Remember that newsworthiness can depend on the journalist’s audience, whose defining characteristics could be their age, location, work or interests. Opening your 50th widget factory in Anytown, Somestate has different news meanings for different publications:
- Somestate Business Journal: “Anytown International Airport Access And State Tax Breaks Prove A Winner”
- Widget Tech Monthly: “Twin-Widget Packing System Trialled At New Factory”
- Anytown Evening News: “5,000 Jobs Created At Widget Plant”
It’s a journalist’s job to filter promotional material and turn it into relevant news, but you can certainly kick-start that process by pitching stories with their audience in mind.
A Helping Hand
The concept of quid pro quo is a strong negative for ethical journalists: freebies, access, or plain bribery in return for coverage are all major no-nos. However, it’s an unspoken fact that if you make a reporter’s life easier, they’ll see and remember you in a favorable light.
For journalists, particularly on daily titles or websites with near-constant deadlines, time is a precious commodity. Every moment they don’t need to spend tracking down a high-quality image in a compatible format, checking up on the correct spelling of your CEO’s name, or deciphering a piece of industry jargon is a welcome gift. It’s well worth being helpful to journalists and anticipating their needs, even when it doesn’t directly benefit you.
Bonus tip: Do a little detective work to find out pitching deadlines and story conference timetables for target publications. A journalist who is about to face an editor with no story ideas is a journalist much more receptive to a relevant press release that arrives right on time.
The Time Travelling Writer
Most normal people don’t think much about Christmas until after Hallowe’en or even after Thanksgiving. Many magazine writers’ thoughts turn to the festive season when the rest of us are slapping on the sun tan lotion.
When thinking about pitching seasonal ideas, you need to know the production timetable of your targets. It’s often much further ahead than you’d imagine. The deadline for articles for a monthly publication can often be three months or more before the issue gets to readers, and writers may have pitched the idea a couple of months before that.
Promote seasonal stories at the right time by asking publications for a copy of their production calendar.
Don’t worry: this isn’t about unethical mind control but more about remembering to think about human needs and emotions. For example, if a journalist asks you for a piece of information you need to check up on, promising to phone them back when you have it leaves them feeling they don’t have control of the situation. Tell them they can call you in 20 minutes, and they no longer have to expend mental energy worrying about if and when you’ll respond, leaving them free to concentrate on other tasks in the meantime.
Don’t underestimate a journalist’s ego, either. When writing a press release or pitching a story, you may think of a killer headline or simply a perfect pun for the intro. Don’t use it. If it’s that good, then chances are the journalist or their colleagues will have the same idea, and they won’t be happy if they realize it’s not an original thought or that it looks like they copied it from you.
There’s never a sure-fire guarantee of getting media coverage of your brand, product, or event. But think about the journalist’s perspective and situation before pitching them, and it’s far easier to wind up with publicity that benefits you both.