There are conversations that we find ourselves having with clients very often.
You, a valued client, come to us with i) something you consider exciting and ii) an expectation this will naturally garner ‘front-page’ coverage across major financial papers.
It’s almost universally not exciting (in the eyes of the media) and not going to get that coverage. And yet, many feel that merely putting the information out there deserves and guarantees column inches.
As facilitators between the two sides, we witness the disconnect between what you expect in terms of headlines, and what the media wants and needs to give their audience.
If you want media coverage, just like in most other instances where you want something from someone else, your best bet is to practise an exercise of empathetic imagination and picture yourself in their place.
Day in the life
Bear in mind, the next time you want to speak to a journalist, that their team is shrinking and might increasingly have less experienced staff across a wider beat, and that their output levels nonetheless have to be higher and faster than ever. In fact, Cision’s 2019 State of the Media Report identified staffing and resources as the second biggest challenge for journalism over the last 12 months, and found that more than 1 in 3 journalists now publish over seven articles a week.
What does this mean in practice? Journalists are on short deadlines, often 24 hours or less, and the news cycles – during which a topic is of interest, and then peaks and dies without new information – are shorter too. They are in a competitive environment: not only to cover stories before and better than competitor outlets, but they themselves often have to pitch their stories – they need a business case for their editor to give them the column inches to cover one topic over another.
That means that in today’s environment if you want to make the news, your best chance is to stand in a journalist’s shoes.
Walking a mile
If you want to make headlines, you have to think like a journalist and speak like one. It’s just good sense: instead of going in with a mindset of “this is big news for my organisation, we need to get coverage because it matters to me / my clients/ my investors”, reverse the viewpoint and ask yourself, “Is this news for consumers of media? Is it well-suited to earned coverage? Why does it matter to journalists and their readers?”
This is not about how to pitch – your communications agency partner or marketing team already have the expertise to optimise that part of the process. And it’s not about doing a journalist’s job and spoon-feeding them. This is about the step before all that: considering what to take to the media, how, and when.
If you are confused by advice you are getting from your PR firm or your in-house team regarding what news you put out – or worse, you find yourself in conflict with them – the reason likely stems from this. They know, and hear directly from journos, what the media does and does not want from you.
When thinking about PR and media coverage, consider the following fundamentals – and if you don’t feel you can meet these criteria, your content might be better suited to owned or paid channels. Are you allowed to be bold enough or interesting enough? Will you be able to be quick enough? Can you be helpful to them? These are questions that should be asked before seeking to earn media coverage.
In Part II, we will explain in more detail the three guiding principles of offering news or commentary to the media, based on the realities of journalists’ roles today.
Straight from the horse’s mouth
We asked journalists to give it to us straight, and this is what they had to say on what makes news:
“Recognising “news” is one of the most important lessons for any journalist and for communications teams as well. I always tell junior journalists ‘A summary of a press briefing isn't news: you need to find a point of interest for your audience and build your story from there. The more you know about a topic or industry the easier this gets’.”
“I'm looking for content that can be described as market intelligence. People read industry publications to get a sense of what their competitors/peers are doing, to get ideas on how to improve their processes, to be challenged in their thinking, and to keep an eye on risks. So things that interest me are: new research, whitepapers (real ones, not explanations of new products), opinions that challenge the status quo or that are reflected in real trades and academic research.”
“For most news organisations, the pressure to come up with original news stories on a daily basis is huge, especially in newspapers: so I would say to people ‘don't take every article personally. Sometimes getting exposure is enough.’”
“In the end, we are telling stories. Someone who has worked out a comprehensive narrative of how they view the world is always easier to write about than someone who goes slide-by-slide: they don't have to be great performers or even speakers, but passion for their topic always helps.”