- by Joanna
How To Contact A Journalist
As a former journalist with over 10 years’ experience in TV, radio, online and newspapers, it was always a huge bugbear of mine to receive a press release which was untargeted, badly written and contained no news value.
The number of times I pressed the ‘delete’ button was endless. Or worse, when we got a follow-up call on said press release, and another, and another. Persistence is great but it could mean you end up being blocked by a journalist (or the whole organisation!).
Ever since I left the world of journalism for Digital PR, I vowed never to be ‘that’ press officer I used to groan about. I’ve recently read several articles with tips on how best to engage with journalists. Many have just frustrated me, offering poor advice about subject lines, press releases and some even insisting you should keep chasing up a journalist, no matter what in order to get your story covered.
So, I’ve created a downloadable guide on how to formulate a press release and contact a journalist. I hope it helps!
I’ve also asked three journalists for their personal opinions on how to pitch a story to them for maximum impact.
Natasha Harding, Journalist at The Sun
- Personally, I always prefer a targeted email - it shows that the person sending it has thought about who they're writing to and what they want to say.
- Some PR emails are too long. Get to the point and be as concise as possible. Also, lose the excessive punctuation marks. We're not 12 years old.
- Most journalists I speak to would rather NOT be phoned by a press officer to see if they've received a release. If they've received it and like the look of it, they'll get in touch. If you ring to chase it up, some journalists are really rude I don't condone that, but it's probably because you've interrupted them while they're doing something important.
- If the journalist asks you a question, make sure you reply promptly as there are usually deadlines involved. Often, even the next day is too long.
- If I email with a question, it's usually because I'm writing the piece at that moment so need the information quickly.
- It's better to send the press release within the email rather than as a separate attachment (or as well as).
- Make sure that you know the product/service really well.
Nicola Everett, kmfm news, Editor
- Make sure you have a spokesperson available on the day and days after sending out a press release. It's very frustrating to receive a release with a lovely quote included, only to be told no one from the company is available. Statements don't work very well on radio and are normally pretty bland. Generally, your story will get more coverage if you put someone forward to talk about it.
- Ensure technology works - don't promise a studio or ISDN interview if you're actually just patching someone through on a phone line. Radio newsrooms want 'quality' audio so ending up with phono is very frustrating and could result in the story getting dropped.
- Embrace new technology - if you don't have an ISDN line and the reporter can't get to you (and you can't get to them), consider using a smartphone to record your answers and then email them to the reporter. Most people are happy to give it a try and it's really not difficult!
- Don't promise an interviewee then never come up with the goods - we were recently offered an interview with a footy player and expert about the World Cup. The PR person said she would chase them and arrange a time then disappeared off the face of the earth!
- Don't assume we know about your company and don't waffle! Make sure the main point of your press release is in the top line and be clear about any press events taking place - time, date, who'll be there etc.
Josh Coupe, Newsreader, Global Newsroom
- Know the outlet - we got sent a press release a few weeks ago with the 10 most popular BBC programmes this year (bizarrely, not from the BBC and a waste of time)
- If you're sending stuff to a radio station or TV newsroom, have someone on standby for interviews that day, or put a clear note saying interviews are not available.
- Try to avoid company or industry jargon - lots of people reading the press release won't understand it.
- When there are stats, try to get them as local as possible. By county or city is good whereas region (i.e. South East) makes it really difficult to use on local radio.
- If you can offer an interview, prefer a real person affected by the story over a spokesperson.