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PRAsia2016 (471)

Tips for getting a grumpy journalist’s attention

We know our PR friends have it tough. Playing the middle man between clients and journalists is never easy. On top of that, in places like the US, there are nearly five PR people for every reporter. This is apparently double the rate from a decade ago. In the midst of hundreds of emails and phone calls, how does one successfully attract a journalist’s attention?

Well for one, knowing when to call your journalist and knowing their news cycles and beat is really important.

“Don’t pitch to an organisation if you do not know what they do,” said Leisha Chi, business correspondent BBC World News. Moreover, organisations such as BBC have been around for a really long time, and the Singapore office has been around for 15 years with numerous mediums such as TV, radio and online. As such, PR professionals need to be sure of which medium they want the interview to appear in.

“So as PR professionals, when you reach out, do understand what you want to pitch for be it an online interview, live television interview or a radio interview. You have to tailor your pitch accordingly,” she added.  Chi added that PR professionals must meet journalists to find out more about them and what interests the company. This goes in creating a better working relationship.

“I get really annoyed when I get WhatsApps or calls in the middle of the night. Therefore it is really important to know who you are dealing with and build that relationship,” she said.

Agreeing with her was Fiona Chan, managing editor of The Straits Times who said that it is important to know “when to call” and “what to pitch”. One this is achieved, it will be an easier ride. Chan highlighted three things to remember, whether the news is new, important and timely.

If the news does not fit into the above categories, the only other way to make a journalist sit up and listen is in making sure that the pitch is interesting. But that’s relatively difficult given that “interesting” is subjective, she added. What may seem interesting to a PR professional might not seem so to a journalist.

Chan added that every newsroom is different in their approach. For SPH, every desk has a person who filters through the emails and recommends the news to the editor. Like Chi, she said:

“Build the relationship. All our emails and phone numbers are on the site.”

While yes, all journalists love good content, with the fragmentation of media, PR professionals also need to realise that different types of content work for different mediums.  Bryan Choo, managing director, TheSmartLocal explained that relevance is key aspect while reaching out to the journalist.

“The angle of the story, the USP, has to be really clear. Journalists should not have to read through 5-6 paragraphs of the story only to get to the crux of the content,” he added.

Packaging your pitch

Choo added that packaging of emails matter as they should be short, concise and to the point as journalists are time starved individuals. However, a copy of the press release going into clear detail also needs to be added. This is to ensure that if the journalist is interested in picking up the news, he or she has the full story.

He said that with the digital disruption, PR professionals too have to realise that the way journalists consume content has completely changed.

There needs to be an update in the way press releases are sent to the media. When we sometimes check our emails on our phones, we don’t want a whole long text to scroll through. We want content that is really tight. And, it helps sometimes when there is a visual as well.

BBC’s Chi added that it is also really important for PR professionals to handle their pitches and understand what the client does. Seconding that was Rezwana Manjur, editor of Marketing magazine Singapore, who added that there is no point in reiterating to the journalist on the phone what is said over email.

“We can all read. What we need is for you to give us something more that will make us want to take up that pitch. Something a little more personalised for our audiences,” she added. As such, the delivery of the pitch and you knowing what your client does matters.

She added that with features such as Facebook Live and Periscope, now brands can often broadcast their own messaging and leave less room for ambiguity and error that has presented itself with the speed of digital. As such, more than ever, as journalists become time starved, PR professionals need to be that extended arm and leg for the journalist.

Chi however disagreed that brands can now be their own broadcast channels. She added that brands still have a long way to go in learning to simplify the message and making it relevant to audiences.

“We help make the story relevant and cut through the jargon,” she said adding:

If you call a journalist and they are really grumpy, don’t take it personally. We are generally under the gun fighting immense pressure.

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