Imagine the scenario:
It is 4.30pm.
You have three stories to write, three deadlines looming, less than an hour to churn out 1,500 words on three different topics. Calls to make, facts to check, images to source. And an angry news editor standing over you demanding copy.
Then the phone rings.
“Hello, can I speak to Miranda please?”
“Yup, this is Miranda,” comes the curt reply as I try and balance the phone on my shoulder and continue typing.
“Oh, hello Miranda! How are you?” The unnervingly cheery voice from the other end asks.
I don’t have time for niceties right now. “Fine thanks.”
“Oh, great, I am glad to hear that! My name is XXXX, I am ringing from XXXXXXXX and I just wanted to get in touch because have a story I wanted to tell you about.”
“Okay.” (‘GET ON WITH IT!’ I am screaming in my head as I watch the clock hands on my watch tick by.)
Whatever the story is, by this stage I am so desperate to get on with my more urgent work I will not be listening. At the end of the conversation I will simply ask the chirpy voice at the other end of the phone to email me the details with no idea of whether it is something of interest or not.
The email will land in my inbox alongside a dozen others and, with nothing to make it stand out the next morning when I finally get the chance to catch up on my emails, runs a high risk of being forgotten.
No one is a winner here.
I, as the journalist, may be missing out on a great news line which could win me an elusive “well done” from the newsdesk, while the chirpy voice at the other end of the phone’s release will never see the light of day, consigned to the ever growing pile of abandoned stories.
It is an all too familiar scenario.
But people should not get downhearted at the lack of enthusiasm emanating from my less than chirpy voice at the other end of the phone. It is nothing personal. The next morning, when hunting around for new stories to pitch to the newsdesk, I might be incredibly grateful for such a phone call. Like many things in life, it is all about timing.
So, as someone who recently made that perilous leap from journalism to PR, I thought it might be helpful to share a few basic tips about how best to “sell-in” a story.
1. Don’t call close to deadline. Ringing a reporter at 5pm when their daily print deadline is at 5.30pm is probably going to get you a very short shrift. The stress levels at any publication whether daily, weekly or monthly will rise exponentially the closer you get to deadline. Obviously all newspapers and magazines have different timetables but common sense can be applied – on a daily morning paper try and call early in the day, on a daily evening paper avoid calling in the morning, on a weekend paper try calling at the start of the week and so on. Journalists do want stories so if they have the time, they will listen.
2. Don’t spend five minutes introducing yourself and being excessively polite, just get on with it. Unless you have developed a close ongoing relationship with a particular journalist, they are not going to care who you are. What they will care about is if you have anything of interest to tell them so don’t bother with the small talk, just get straight in there with your pitch.
3. Make sure you are contacting the correct person. There is no point pitching a great idea to a reporter or journalist who covers a completely different subject area and will take no interest in what you have to say. You can access journalists’ position and contact details using specialist directories but media companies have a quick turnover with staff regularly moving positions and often these directories are not kept up to date. It is worth taking the time to check you are getting in touch the relevant individuals or if you discover you are not, making the effort to hunt down contact details for the correct person – otherwise everyone’s time is being wasted and you will not get the coverage you were hoping for.
4. Ring don’t just email. Most journalists receive a flood of emails every day from colleagues, PR agencies, press officers, readers and other contacts. It is all too easy for these missives to slip through the net so make sure you ring before sending a release. By speaking to the journalist, outlining the release you are about to send, you help ensure it stands out and catches their attention when it lands in their inbox. If it is a story they are interested in, they will be keeping a look out for the release by the time it arrives.
5. Persevere. We have all done it: There is something which you hear about and think is a great idea but fail to write it down on your ‘To do’ list and before you know it, ten other more pressing tasks have been sent your way and the great idea has been forgotten. This happens with stories all the time, particularly now that most newspapers have cut their editorial staff to a level where reporters are writing several stories each day. Often a journalist will be interested in a press release but get waylaid by numerous other jobs. It is always worth a few follow up phone calls to place that release back at the forefront of their consciousness. They may be very grateful for the reminder.