When even NASA has released footage containing a possible alien craft, is it finally time to ask the question we have all been debating secretly for years - are journalists human? (And if they aren't - what do they want from us?)
Firstly let me just say that I have worked as a freelance journalist and in public relations. I realise already your suspicions are rising, but let me reassure you that I simply dabbled in the twilight world of the hack. I found it to be stimulating, even pleasant. I also count among my close friends many journalists - again a bright, even caring, lot. So my mission today is simply to debunk the myth that these journalistic creatures are terribly scary. They are key to your success, and you don't have to live in perpetual fear of contacting them to let them know about your great products, stories and projects.
Here are 5 key pointers on the species that will help you interact more effectively and make their lives easier too:
1. They are often working under very tight deadlines – journalists have to pull together papers, magazines, programmes and sites with up to the minute news every month, week or day. News and events change quickly and this all needs to be created, edited and sent to print with a very fast turnaround. There is no room for error in a competitive profession and each daily newspaper has hundreds of contributors submitting pieces from around the globe. And they get it all sorted, then there’s a disaster or a political scandal or Kim Kardashian decides to get a new haircut. You get the point. They are under pressure. So don’t take it personally if they respond abruptly to communications. Always ask them if they have time to talk before launching in, if you are calling. It is best to call at about 10-11am in the morning, although they may have the editor conference then so be sensitive to that. Send emails last thing at night so it is there when they come in and don’t launch a big story on a Friday as you really don’t want to miss the Sundays which mostly go to print earlier. Remember lead times on all publications - it used to drive me mad to get Christmas products a month before Christmas. Glossy magazines work to a 3-month lead time in most instances. So get information to them well in advance – but do not completely despair if you’re too late, it might still be possible that they upload something to their website. Don’t expect too much from journalists. Don’t hold an event solely for them. They probably won’t come. Hold it for customers, associates and friends and then invite them too. Be resilient. It’s not personal. They are not rejecting you. They just have a publication or programme to complete and sell too. Top tip: Send stories at the right time – check lead times.
2. Make sure your information is relevant to the media. They operate on what story sells their publication, programme or blog. Think what works for them. It is really annoying when someone tries to pitch you a story that is irrelevant to your publication’s content. So be targeted in your choices of publication and ideally read them regularly to make sure you are pitching something they are interested in. You could also follow the publication and journalist on social media to glean what they are interested in. Top tip: Build a contact by respect for what they do.
3. Journalists are not often out to get you, unless you have been very naughty. Although we are used to the image of the investigative hack, tapping phones and generally harassing relatives, this is rare. Most journalists are personable and bright – they have to be to make and keep their contacts. They don’t mind people being shy or tentative. A journalist may possibly become abrupt if you time-waste, haven’t sent something at the right time, have not replied promptly with requested information or have offered them content that is completely wrong for their publication. If they are annoyed always apologise and don’t get defensive. If you are personable, upfront and don’t make the same mistake too often, they almost always respond in a friendly way. A bit of humour can help too and can even ensure you create a valuable contact, and possibly a friend. Top tip: Be honest, to the point and friendly, and apologise if a mistake has been made.
4. Most journalists tend to respect embargoes (when you tell them a piece of information can’t come out until a certain time). It’s often in their interest to wait to make a big hit with a story too. However, in general treat anything you say or write to a journalist as being in the public domain. None of my journalist contacts or friends have ever betrayed my confidence, but it doesn’t hurt to be circumspect. With social media now, it pays to be the same with clients and customers too. Top tip: Don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t want to see in the public domain.
5. Now here is the revelation… they want to hear from you. Journalists rely on their contacts for their bread and butter. If you are succinct and relevant, they want to hear from you and will actually help you develop stories and point you towards the right contacts. They like to hear direct from source (so long as you are brief and don’t overestimate your own importance) as they often have to jump through hoops (i.e. professional PRs) to get to a spokesperson or business owner. They need contacts in the arena they write about. You save them time and effort and can even supply them with a scoop. And don’t forget, journalists are always fiercely independent, but free offerings are still appreciated. Top tip: Be confident – they want to hear your stories if they are relevant to them.
So hopefully I have helped make you feel a bit more at ease to send those emails or pick up that phone because these guys are key to your success and, the truth is, it doesn't really matter what they or anyone 'is' so long as we understand each other and can help each other out. Right, beam me up…
All the best
The RelevantNow Team