*4pm on a Friday afternoon – press office phone rings*
Journalist: “Hello, is this the press office? I’m writing a story about XX and would love to hear from YY about this – do you think I could get a comment from them or speak to someone about it?”
Me: “Possibly! I can see if there’s someone around. What’s your deadline?”
Journalist: “5pm this afternoon”
The news never stops, which means there’s always a journalist, out there somewhere, frantically typing away trying to get their copy submitted in time. Journalists have urgent deadlines they must meet, and while this has always been the case, it’s no secret that social media and its need for instant reaction has put a further strain on their timescales. The same information is still needed to write a good story, but there’s less time to gather it.
A QUICK RESPONSE
If a journalist is in the middle of writing a story and gets in touch looking for a comment to include in their article, you need to be clear what they want from you, while also getting your point across.
No one likes to be left hanging, so we need to be quick to respond. The more responsive you are, the more likely journalists are to get in touch. Our journalists friends have told us first hand they like reliability, and they want trusted sources who will say something engaging and get a reaction from their audience – because that’s what helps make a good story. So, take the time to consider:
What worked well in the past, and what didn’t. Keep track of comments or statements made, feedback received and what was actually used in the final copy.
What you want to get out of an interview, as well as what they will want to get out of it. What are the three key things you want them to understand? What are the most likely questions - both naughty and nice - that they will ask?
What's your overall positioning in this story? Who else are they speaking to? Everyone thinks they are the hero of their own story but, in the battle between good and evil, sometimes you might be painted as the pantomime villain!
The above is true too, if you’re trying to jump on a story by wading in with a reactive comment - something we like to call "news-jacking". If this is the case you'll need to be doubly clear on your role and why the journalist should be listening to what you have to say.
EYE CATCHING CONTENT
First and foremost, journos need a good hook – and preferably one that no one else has. I’ve lost count of the number of times a journalist has said “great, can you hold that story and give it to me as an exclusive?”
How solid is the information to support what you’re saying? Is it a survey with just 500 respondents, or one with 3,000 – because you’ll need credible evidence to be taken seriously. Journalists have to convince their editor that a story deserves space in the paper over the work of their colleagues; it’s a tough industry to work in and can be highly competitive - not just between the different news outlets, but within the individual news and editorial teams as well.
When you’re limited to just 30 pages or so in print, or a 30 minute news broadcast, you need to be able to fight your corner. This is why the pitch is so important. Before picking up the phone or writing that pitch email, you need to be sure why your story is the winner, why your story is worth their time. That means doing your research on their audience and their editorial agenda so make sure its a good fit.
DO MORE, WITH LESS (#YESEXACTLYYES)
Print news is limited to physical space, and broadcast journalists are also competing for time. Interviews on radio and TV can last from anything from two minutes to 10 minutes, but a lot can happen in that time.
Spokespeople are key to making a good story. Journalists want someone that’s punchy, controversial, personal or emotive. If possible, take the opportunity to call for change or illustrate your argument with empathy. This might not always be possible, but there are a couple of things you can do to help make the most of the exposure:
Giving a real-life example, or personal reference that might resonate with the audience.
Reiterate to the listeners, or audience directly why this issue might affect them.
Make a connection to something else that’s happening in the news that day, reaffirming that the debate is relevant and newsworthy.
Interesting copy, or punchy remarks, will undoubtedly be gratefully received and will be more likely to ask you to comment again on other stories.
Remember that journalists aren’t the enemy. They’re not all out to get you and destroy your reputation in a heartbeat. They see themselves as tellers of truth in the public interest. Their number one priority is their audience. They want content that will appeal to their readers, viewers or listeners and keep them engaged. You need to be confident that you are the person that can help them do that. And (*plug alert*) if you're struggling - with five front pages and counting in the last year - we reckon we might be able to help.