What’s the best way to attract a journalist?
Updated: Feb 18
It’s a myth you win a journalist’s attention by ‘hooking’ them with a snappy header or headline. That’s not true. There’s a step before the ‘hook’. When I sifted thousands of emails and media releases, on the main planning desk for all the BBC’s national and global news outlets, my eye went straight to the bottom of any email or release first. To the short description of the sender’s organisation. The ‘About Us’. Often called a ‘boilerplate’. Engagement is a chosen action and people only choose to take actions when they believe they will be efficient. My first question was, is this source a ‘knowledge expert’ on the story they are pitching? Is there a strong match between the story of the business and the story in the press release? For example, the findings of a survey on student mental health carried out by an organisation whose key work is treating student mental health issues is a strong match. But the same survey from a business indirectly connected to this, such as a student accommodation provider, is a weaker match. Too often I saw releases missing boilerplates altogether! Or extremely vague and aspirational or long, contradictory, and out of date business descriptions. Journalists want to see around 50 words which answer who, what, where, when and how. Together this answers their ultimate question, ‘why should I work with this source?’ In the last 11 years, at time of writing, I’ve worked with multiple businesses on troubleshooting their media relations and the single reason which underpins every communication failure is that the business cannot put into concise and clear words what it offers the world. It’s the reason pitches fail, why story ideas get taken by feature your competitor, why you get national and even global media coverage of your business BUT for something you don’t actually do which has all kind of knock-on problems with customer and stakeholder expectations and relations. It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Describe the core thing your business actually does in 50 human-friendly words. Put it on the bottom of every press release. Pitch stories which directly match it. Yet for businesses with 35+ years of takeovers and strategy relaunches and multiple points of view on the focus of the business it’s hard. For early-stage companies seeking product market fit it’s hard. But if you don’t get this foundation fixed you are effectively throwing the wrong end of a dart (your press release) in the direction of a dartboard (the media) with your eyes shut. Would you pay time and money to do that? Or to get somebody else to do that for you? No. Get your business story clear first, get the dart pointing the right way around, then study the media options in front of you and then aim your release exactly where you want it to land, fully aware of what you want to gain.