Marketing podcast: 'Don't tell journalists to drop a story'

What is the best way to work with the media? That is arguably one of the biggest challenges for brands and PR professionals. In an age where content is king, PR professionals often find themselves thinking of ways to make brand stories stand out in the crowd and catch the attention of the media. Some may also feel uncertain when speaking to the media, especially when it comes to sensitive topics. In this episode of Marketing Connected, MARKETING-INTERACTIVE speaks with Sri Jegarajah, senior correspondent at CNBC as well as Timothy Go, former Channel NewsAsia news anchor, Tech360.tv founder, and MONEY FM 89.3 host about the working relationships between journalists and PR professionals during a fireside chat at PR Asia 2020.

Jegarajah is a Singapore-based anchor and regional correspondent, and has been with CNBC for over 15 years. Prior to that, he was a business correspondent at Bloomberg, where he is the lead newswire reporter for Bloomberg's flagship oil market report. Meanwhile, Go is also not a stranger when it comes to journalism, with over 14 years experience as a news anchor with Channel NewsAsia under his belt. Go then took on the role of a radio talk host at 938Now, where he hosted its evening drive time show, "Your Evening Escape", and is currently with MONEY FM 89.3. 

Are you ready to get into the mind of journalists? Listen to the episode here.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: Is there such a thing as “off the record”?

Go: There is no such thing as “off the record”. Whatever you tell us off the record may not be part of the broadcast or the story, but it provides context to what we are talking about. We might not directly quote whatever is off the record, because that is what we used to say back in the day “a gentlemen’s agreement”. We might not quote you on that one, we might not even refer to as a source close to the matter, but it provides a context so we can build a better story and a better understanding of what’s happening. Then we will tiptoe around your off the record comment and try to give the best information that is available at that time.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: What is the best way to convince you to drop a story?

Jegarajah: Don’t tell us to drop the story. If you tell us to drop the story, then obviously there is no smoke without fire, so we are going to keep sniffing around. Typically when we have CEO interviews, which we do a lot on CNBC, the company is suddenly thrusted into the news because of some scandal or whatever it could be - something that is breaking that could affected them or their sector.

Then a good PR professional would say to that CEO or executive: “Look, there is a very real possibility that these anchors and reporters are going to be in a scrum asking you about this." And you cannot ignore that. That organisation and whoever is representing the organisation, there’s no easy way out of it. If there is an issue when it comes to the stock market because of confidentiality, then you should say so.

I think evading the question is unprofessional and it doesn’t help anyone’s cause, least of all the company from a public perception point of view.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How can PR professionals craft stories to get people to pay attention to them?

Go: By trying to find something that has never been told before. One story that we have been trying to speak about, at least on a personal level, because we were getting a lot of work-from-home, and the stress that came with it and all these things. We needed something that was not being told. What about those people who are actually not stressed about working from home and are actually enjoying the flexibility of the time? I’m sure there are still a handful of people out there who actually enjoy doing things at home because they felt they can do more. So pitch stories that are not there.

I think what needs to be done, for PR practitioners, is to look at what is being told, what is being over told, and flip it to the other side, think outside the box and try to put it back in again, and then pitch that to us. I think to this day, we haven’t been getting any pitches about that kind of narrative of a flexible lifestyle that people enjoy and things like that. The danger, however, is that everyone gets into the bandwagon because it’s the trend, and we are going to try to fit our brand into the narrative, which doesn’t always work.

MARKETING-INTERACTIVE: How can PR professionals build the same relationship with you if they haven’t already, given the restrictions in place?

Jegarajah: The restrictions may make it hard for people to get around and have face-to-face contact, but it shouldn’t stop anyone from keeping in contact. Obviously this should be done without breaking the law, and maintaining social distancing and wearing your mask is important, but you keep in touch with your contacts in the PR industry through thick and thin. Not just because you might get a story out of it, but it goes to the heart the importance of having your network and personal contacts.

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