Appearing in the press – whether it is a printed publication, an online outlet, or broadcast on radio or TV – is a great way to get in front of your target audience.
One way to do this is to pay for an advert, but it is obviously much better to get in for free, by giving journalists a story they want to use because they know it is interesting to their readers, listeners or viewers.
This doesn’t necessarily mean your story has to be ‘hard news’; it could be a feature, opinion or profile piece, or something which is relevant to the community you work in. If you get your timing right, it could be jumping on an existing breaking story, or providing commentary for a follow-up.
Press releases – simply a document outlining your story – are a standard tool for getting in front of a journalist. In some cases, the press release would prompt a further interview or request for information; it might even be pretty much copied and pasted by a publication.
But they aren’t the only way to let a journalist know what you’ve been up to. And, if you’re handling your own media relations, the thought of putting together the perfect press release (while it is perfectly possible!) might be daunting, so this post is about a couple of other possible ways you can still appear in the press.
An outline email
An outline email is a sort of halfway house to a press release – letting the journalist know the bare bones of the story – the who, what, when, where, why and how, and what further information they can get from you. It should be concise and quickly cover the main points of the story.
If you have them, you can attach one or two pictures (aim for good quality, around 1MB-3MB in size), and a link to further ones using a programme like Dropbox or WeTransfer – beware of programmes where the link expires in case the journalist doesn’t access the pictures in time.
If you send lots of pictures in an email, you risk clogging their inbox or the email not making it through at all. If you don’t have professional photographs, check out our guide to making sure your own are good enough to use.
You can then ask if the journalist would like you to send through further information, in the form of a press release, or if they would like to contact you directly.
What should I do if I don’t hear back?
If you’re sure you’ve given the journalist the basic information they would need to decide if a story is worth pursuing, a follow-up email or phone call after a few days or a week (depending how timely the story is and if it risks expiring) would be fine.
You’ll notice there’s not much mention of phone calls here. It is true that journalists love to talk, but usually on their own terms. I haven’t met or worked with many reporters who love to take unsolicited calls, particularly from people following up on story ideas that they have already emailed.
Journalists do receive lots of emails, and some of their inboxes may be the stuff of nightmares, but, in general, they will spot and respond to people where they can see a story worth looking at. Of course, things slip through the net, and that’s where a chaser email or call might help. But don’t keep hounding journalists for attention, because it will just put them off helping you even more.
Another great way to make contact with journalists is over social media, particularly through direct messages (DMs) on Twitter, if they seem to have an active account and have their profile set to receive DMs from anyone.
Replying to a #journorequest appeal
This one is primarily for Twitter, although the hashtag is used on other social media platforms too.
It is used by reporters and freelance writers when they are looking for people to be involved in stories they are writing. Following this hashtag (search for it in Twitter and then save the search by pressing the three vertical dots at the top right), means you can keep an eye out for requests that are relevant to your expertise.
By getting in touch at the time they are looking for someone like you, you can bypass the need to sell a story to them, and cut straight to offering your insight.
You might be thinking that responding to someone else’s request means they are setting the agenda instead of you. Firstly, appearing in a story is great exposure for you and your business or charity, regardless of whether or not it was the story that you initially wanted to tell.
Secondly, even if it is not a complete match, having the opportunity to comment on one story could give you the chance to shoehorn in another aspect. Our post on taking part in a media interview includes tips on getting in your key messages.
And, most importantly, once you’ve made that contact, you have a great stepping stone to keep in touch with the reporter and let them know about other stories you have.
Our post on making useful connections with journalists has more tips on fostering relationships with reporters to help you continue to promote your business or charity.
By Hannah Upton
If sharing your story with journalists still feels like a step too far, don’t hesitate to get in touch and see how we can help.