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How to Work with a Journalist

Chloe Hutchinson and Olivia Martin, Outreach Managers at iProspect UK, provide some tips on working with journalists. 

The key to working with journalists is remembering that they’re just people, too. Like us, they’re trying to the best job and deliver the top stories. Ultimately, their aim is to keep readers coming back. We need to make sure we’re delivering something relevant, new and exciting for them to write about.

Media lists and outreach

When considering who to outreach to, always do your research. Check that you’ve got the right person, that they’ve written about similar topics or the topic you’re outreaching with, and that your story will resonate with the readers.

Tailored e-mails are generally the preferred method of contact over phone calls. But journalists receive hundreds of e-mails every day, so you need to ensure yours stands out. This starts with a newsworthy campaign. Then, make sure your e-mails are friendly (though don’t feign familiarity) and get to the point – who, what, where, when, why and how need to be in the first paragraph, as this might be the only bit they read. Try to mirror their headlines and tone in your outreach to show how perfect your story is.

Linkable assets

Links are the aim of the game in Digital PR, so highlight the linkable assets and explain the added value. Always offer the journalist something that makes the story work for them, whether that’s more images, video, quotes or an interview. Think of extra assets that could add value and find out if you can provide it.

Testing

Test subject lines, formats and distribution times to see what works best. Open- and reply-rates can be very telling metrics that help future outreach efforts, but keep in mind: something that sparks interest in one person might not work for everyone. There’s no universal rule for the best time to pitch. Take note of what catches the attention of each journalist and when, especially if they’re a relevant contact for your client. This will help you understand what works for them in future – the more outreach you do, the more you can analyse and measure and make the next campaign an even bigger hit.

Build relationships

Building relationships with journalists can be beneficial when it comes to securing coverage. But not all journalists have time to head out for a coffee if you don’t have a current, live campaign of interest. In a recent interview with award-winning technology journalist, Holly Brockwell, we learnt face-to-face meetings were particularly difficult for freelancers. Holly said:

When I was a salaried full-time reporter, I would go for coffee meetings, because I was still being paid. I really enjoyed meeting people and having a chat, but I didn't get anything out of them that I couldn't have got through email. Now that I'm freelance, I don't tend to meet up with PRs anymore because I could be using that time to earn. Choosing to spend three hours chatting over lunch or coffee doesn't make economic sense when I could have knocked out a commission or two in that time. I still get to chat to PRs at industry events and on social media. Coffee meetings were a lovely break in the day, and I do think they help relationship-wise – but there are too many things competing for my time, and the first thing to go are unpaid ‘nice-to-haves’.”

It's worth keeping this in mind when approaching freelancers for a coffee, but it doesn’t mean it’s not worth trying. Meetings needn’t be formal – it’s all about putting faces to names, strengthening relationships and ultimately having a chat. We tend to go with a 70/30 approach; 70% work talk and 30% getting to know one another. We’ve been told by many contacts that they’re more likely to spot an e-mail from someone they 'know' in the masses of e-mails they receive daily.

Starting these relationships can feel forced and awkward. The key pointers are, don’t suck up or appear too rehearsed and familiar – just be natural. Remember they’re just people too. Think about how you’d like to be approached.

Let’s talk about exclusives

Every journalist wants to be the first to scoop a hot story, so exclusives are obviously preferred. Consider offering one of your contacts the opportunity to break a story first. Can you give them half a day or even a couple of hours of exclusivity? Offering this first up (and showing you acknowledge this is what they want) can really help to strengthen relationships too.

Make the most of a conversation

Has a journalist published your story, or taken the time to give feedback on why it wasn’t right for them? Thank them! A brief acknowledgement email should do the trick – you can always use this opportunity to pitch in another relevant campaign, or ask what they're working on, if you can, use this intel to help shape your next campaign.

Keep moving forward

Rejected stories can be disheartening and making the first move to strike up a professional relationship is challenging. But we promise, it’s not as difficult as it seems and it soon becomes natural – after all, you’re just speaking to them like any other colleague or friend, and helping them by providing interesting, relevant, and emotion-provoking stories for their readers.

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