How can businesses make friends with journalists, build good media relations and achieve media coverage that works?
As a former journalist myself, I had to laugh out loud at that sentence (the first bit, at least).
As the recent PA Media online session made clear, journalists are not your friend – but neither are they your enemy!
But why do many businesses perceive journalists as the enemy? Ben Monro-Davies of Sky News explained: “We want to speak to organisations normally when things are going badly and PR [people want to speak] when things are going well. Those things rarely coincide.”
So, the famous quote from newspaper publisher Lord Northcliffe that “news is what someone, somewhere wants to suppress. All the rest is advertising” remains the journalist view of what is newsworthy today. And most businesses feel that’s not good news. Still, it needn’t be so bad if you get your media relations right.
Journalists and businesses – a relationship you’ve got to work at
The antagonistic relationship between the media and professional communicators or bosses in businesses is certainly overstated. However, as in any relationship, you can’t take things for granted.
Matt Brown, director of news and external relations at Transport for London (Tfl) said: “There is a symbiotic relationship between the media and PRs – both parties need each other. It’s always nice to have a good news story covered but most of the time the interest is in things organizations find difficult to deal with.”
This is why cultivating good media relations is essential for successful, enduring communications – even when your business is on the back foot and has some explaining to do. Brown added: “A journalist is for life and not just for Christmas. You need long-term relationships based on trust so, when times are bad, your view is more likely to be reflected.”
As Brown noted, when things do go wrong in organizations and the media is knocking at the virtual door, it’s about having “honest conversations, acknowledging it and giving as much information as you can.”
Getting your story heard by the media
What gets your story noticed among the hundreds that fill journalist inboxes every week?
The advice from Kerri-Ann Roper, PA Media entertainment editor, could apply to any branch of the media: ‘It’s about doing your homework and knowing the person you’re pitching to and why they should be interested. Make sure what you’re selling at that moment has news value – a solid news line makes us want to cover it.”
Transport for London’s annual research with key transport journalists finds that relevance, timing and good relationships come top as the best ways to get a fair hearing from the media.
Presenting your story
To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports that the press release is dead have been exaggerated.
Moreover, what you do with your press release can’t be lazy, half-hearted or amateur. As Roper said: “The press release is your brand – what is the sell and make sure it’s really clear.
How relevant is it? What’s the news value? What will make people want to read and consume it?”
Also, an eye for detail matters. Roper added that accuracy and fact checking is vital: “If there’s a typo or someone’s name not spelt correctly, or I’m not sure what I’m reading it’s an immediate turn-off.”
And if your aspirations are for broadcast media coverage, Sky’s Monro-Davies is clear: access to filming is essential, as pictures are “almost more important than the story” for a television producer. Equally having spokespeople who can “front stories” and are engaging is a must.
Also, a new dimension in TV news has been created by Covid-19: the increased use of mobile filming and Zoom interviews means the London/studio dominance of guests is “under assault”, which can play well for companies around the UK.
Back to the press release, Monro-Davies insists: “Get to the point quickly with something new, [needing] as little of the journalist as possible to get the story quickly in a busy world.”
Adding value to your media pitch
How else can a business build on a news story to make its offer to the media even more compelling?
As Tfl’s Brown said, anyone working for a big organisation (and even smaller ones) is probably sitting on some really interesting things happening in its “dark reaches” or in reports. He highlighted a project involving Tfl’s police teaming up with school children to operate speed guns, stop motorists and put across the message about speeding.
Equally, Tfl offering case studies involving victims of road trauma to encourage better road safety takes sensitivity to create, but they “bring the story to life and have an impact”.
Having your ear to the ground about high-profile, public domain reports – such as the BBC annual report – offers an opportunity to piggy-back on topical issues, such as the gender pay gap. In essence, be a step ahead and think: “Do we have someone who can comment on that?”
A fellow media trainer I work with once described the typical media relations as like the FTSE 100 share index: it will inevitably go up and down, but the right investment gives an overall positive return over time.
Do you want to improve your B2B business’ media relations activity? Contact Metamorphic PR.