Using our experience as former journalists and through years of working with this sector; we have outlined our trialled and tested list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to dealing with the media.
Media outlets are fantastic platforms to help communicate with your audiences. Whether you have a breaking news story, human interest news, or a brilliant idea for a feature; it’s always good to have the media on your side.
The world of journalism and news is so fast paced, and you cannot guarantee that your email or phone call that day is going to be top of the priority list. Depending on the outlet, journalists receive dozens of pitches daily even hourly! But if you want to keep on their good side and increase your chances of coverage – there are a few etiquette tips to stick to.
Using our experience as past journalists and through years of working with this sector; we have outlined our trialled and tested list of do’s and don’ts when it comes to dealing with the media.
1. Start on the right foot
Treat your email, DM, or phone call a little bit like a job application. You want your tone to be formal yet demonstrate an element of your personality to grab attention. Be accurate with your information, ensuring your spelling and grammar is correct. It may sound basic, but it is a pet hate for journalists if you get it wrong.
If your intention is to send the pitch or idea to multiple people, its fine to copy & paste but edit the content to make it personalised. Include the person’s name and outlet and avoid being overly familiar if this is your first time engaging with them.
2. Grab attention in the subject line
It might be a tough pill to swallow, but this could be the only line that is read. There is no point putting all the effort into the pitch of the subject is not right. If you put yourself in the journalist, producer, or editor’s shoes, they will have pretty full inboxes most days, therefore the subject line could impact whether they decide to open your message. Make it punching and informative, with a sense of urgency.
3. Get the Context Right
Quite often journalists or the media outlets have a certain area of expertise. So, think about what it is you want to share and if the platform is the right fit for the content and audience. For example, if you want to share news about a significant financial investment made in your business, you are not going to share content with a fashion journalist at the same newspaper or magazine. Familiarise yourself with media outlets and get to know who specialises in different areas. You will find that journalists pen their names to articles, so you know who the right person to contact is. Twitter and LinkedIn are also great platforms to get contact details or research into who is best suited to target. Don’t waste people’s time, get to the right source, which may take a little bit of research, but it will be worth it in the long run.
If you do want to target a number of people with the same information, personalise it to suit each person and address them appropriately so your message doesn’t look like a spam email.
4. Be Flexible
If you have received a response from the journalist or production team, great! Their schedules in meeting deadlines are hectic, so you must be flexible. If you have inquired about a possible interview opportunity but you aren’t actually available, chances are you have missed your opportunity. You have to remember that news is time dependent, and stories are ever evolving, so if the journalist needs you ‘now’, that is most likely the case.
Make the effort to change your schedule or have a spokesperson available, as to get the opportunity to share your story or news, could be invaluable to your brand. You just don’t know if or when an opportunity will arise again. Be as accommodating as you can, as this one opportunity could lead to many more if you prove you are flexible and easy to work with.
Once you have contributed the information required, supplied images or footage if needed leave them to work their magic. Editorial calendars are planned well in advance so your story may not be rushed out as soon as you think. Often there are longer lead times for the likes of magazines and print media, whereas digital and broadcast can often be a much quicker turnaround. Also, the nature of news means that content is fluid and can change last minute, so do not lose patience too soon.
It is fine to have a polite follow up call or email to check in on status if you have not seen or heard any of your content within a reasonable time frame. Just don’t be too pushy or aggressive as this could hinder your chances of the content being used or you are approached to be used for future coverage.
6. Print vs Online vs Broadcast
Each of these mediums are different and must be treated as such. Sometimes a full press release on its own, won’t be appropriate for TV or Radio. In fact, take your story and create a series of content pieces that is made specifically for that platform. Print is ideal for a release and images; a short bitesize piece with vox pox no longer than 20 secs is perfect for radio; and for TV ensuring you have strong visuals, interviewees and flexibility, plus an understanding of the current national/local news landscape will help you get your story on screen.
Here are a few key pointers to keep in mind when you do get that all important interview opportunity:
- Respond to all questions – If you are unable to answer a question because you don’t know the answer, avoid replying with ‘no comment’. It comes across like you are covering something up. Instead say something like, “I am unable to answer that as it is against our policy to comment on this issue.” Avoid any reason for speculation.
- Don’t be afraid to clarify the questions – if you are privy to questions ahead of an interview, great. You have time to prepare answers, but this is not always the case. During the interview, if you aren’t sure of the question, clarify it before answering.
- Prepare with Facts & Be Accurate – You are speaking as an expert on a subject or as a representative for a business/organisation. Therefore, understand all facts and if there are areas of sensitivity that you are likely to be asked about, familiarise yourself with a pre-prepared statement.
- Be aware of negatively phrased questions – Don’t get sucked in to responding with a negative answer. Turn it into a positive and answer with something you want to be quoted about.
- Avail of media training – Media training can be useful to refresh your skill and knowledge for any level. It helps build confidence and gain control when dealing with the media.
If you require media training as a newbie to speaking with the press or would like to refresh your skills and experience, Rumour Mill Creative Communications has training course to suit all abilities. To find out more contact us as firstname.lastname@example.org