A journalist is only as good as their contacts book. And a news story is only as good as the quotes it has in it; from people who are directly involved in what has happened and from people who are asked to comment as experts.
It stands to reason then that journalists love to make new contacts who they can call upon when they need these expert comments. As a small business or charity looking for ongoing coverage for your organisation, it’s really important that you get yourself on their go-to list.
When I say experts, I don’t just mean academics sitting in high places. You’re an expert in what you do – running a business or charity in a particular field.
Don’t wait until you have something specific to share
Of course, when you have something newsworthy to tell journalists about your work, you’ll proactively do your press release or get on the phone to let them know anyway, and hopefully this will result in some great publicity.
But if you are known to journalists and have an ongoing relationship, and they know you are up for commenting on stories, they will come to you even if you haven’t got anything that you’re particularly promoting at that time. Don’t worry about having to think of exactly what sort of stories they should come to you with. If you give them a clear introduction of who you are and what you do, they will know when it is appropriate to get in touch.
Quite often it could be a journalist looking to make a local connection to a national story. For example, a massive airline goes into administration leaving passengers stranded around the world, and you’re the independent travel agent in town. Or a new cancer drug is licensed for use and you run a local cancer support group.
You might find in such situations that journalists contact you anyway as they see you as the most relevant person to ask. But what if you’re one of three independent travel agents in the area? Or what if it is a story that could relate to hundreds of businesses in your area? If you have that existing relationship, you’re much more likely to be at the forefront of their mind when they pick up the phone.
Not only that, as you become even more familiar to them, when you do have something you want to promote, you might find they are more keen to help squeeze in a story here or there.
Making important local connections
There are exceptions to the rule, but generally if you’re a small business or charity limited to working in one geographical area, your local newspaper, magazine, radio, TV and online journalists should be your focus.
If your work is particularly specialist, there could be opportunities with national media as you’ll be in a much smaller pool of potential commentators. Depending on the nature of your work, it may also be important to contact trade journalists in your particular field.
But for the majority of you, having those local contacts will make all the difference.
Top tips for making contact
- Find out who your most appropriate journalist contacts will be. Bigger outlets have specialist reporters for different topics – if your business is food-related, then the property correspondent isn’t going to help you. If they don’t have specialities, you can research who has covered stories of particular relevance to you in the past. Quite often, general news reporters will have personal interests which influence the sorts of stories they like to cover.
- As well as looking at or listening to their actual work to get a contact, the outlet’s website may have a list of which reporters cover what. Twitter and LinkedIn are great for getting up-to-date contact details as people usually keep their accounts current. If all else fails, you could just make a call or send an email to the news desk or reception to find out who is best to contact directly.
- Most journalists’ email inboxes are the stuff of nightmares. For every useful email which leads to a story, there’ll be 10 or 20 more which get discarded as spam. On the whole though, at least in my experience, they will look at every email that comes in, and they will follow-up on ones which appear to be of interest. As they are incredibly busy, it’s not likely to be within 10 minutes of receiving the email, and maybe not even that week. And the worst thing you can do to a journalist, or indeed anyone really who is just trying to get a job done, is to harass them with follow-up emails and phone calls. If you don’t hear back within a couple of weeks, by all means send a polite email or put a call in just to check they got your initial message. Just don’t ring them when they are on deadline!
- Speaking of deadlines, it’s good to know when journalists will be more receptive to hearing from you. This is most likely to be when a deadline has just passed and they have a small breathing space. It’s going to be different for different journalists, depending on if they are working for a daily or weekly newspaper, produce hourly bulletins for broadcast, or are continuously uploading content online. Picking the right moment can make all the difference to the response you receive.
- If the moment you decide you want to be proactive with a journalist is when you see a story come out that is relevant to your work, don’t assume you have missed the boat this time. Printed stories are usually duplicated online, which can be edited to add further comments. What you have to say might even give the journalist an opportunity for a follow-up story.
- Remember the whole point is to promote your work, so if you do get the opportunity to comment in a story, make sure you talk about, and specifically name, your business or charity. If it is online, ask the journalist to add a direct link to your website.
By Hannah Upton
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