A while back I was interviewed on the Creative Reboot podcast. While we were chatting about PR and media relations, we started talking about how overwhelming it can feel to contact a journalist. This is a really common feeling for many people so, based on my expertise as a PR professional and marine conservation writer, I wanted to break down our chat about the basics of PR and why it's not as scary as you think.
Journalists aren't that scary
Most freelancers and small business owners have done bits of marketing or PR, perhaps without even realising it. They'll happily put themselves out there and promote their business through a range of marketing tools. But, as soon as you say the words 'PR' or 'journalist', it suddenly feels scary. It's funny, as a PR professional, I've definitely felt nervous of approaching journalists even though I know they're just people (because I'm one too and I don't bite - l promise!).
Journalists aren't trying to trip you up
For big organisations, PR may involve an element of crisis management. But, on the whole, journalists aren't trying to trip you up. We've all seen those car crash interviews where a hard headed journalist takes some CEO to task about a particular issue. That does happen but it's not the full story - especially not for small business owners.
If you're not the head of an oil and gas company in the middle of the energy crisis or a politician who has just set an unpopular or disastrous policy (cough mini budget cough cough...), there's a much lower chance you'll face a tough interview like that.
Of course, with any external comms, you've got to be aware of what you're putting out there. But being honest, transparent and following our moral code and ethics is what most of us would do anyway. We shouldn't let our worry of potential disaster put us off contacting journalists or getting ourselves out there. Usually, journalists aren't looking to trick you. They're just trying to do their job and find a good story. They're interested in you as an expert source.
What is the journalist looking for?
One thing that can help is to reframe your thinking. Instead of worrying about how the journalist might be trying to trick you, think about what they need to get their job done and how you can help them with that. For example, if they're writing a feature that your target audience are going to be reading, do you have interesting insights or stats that will add value to the piece?
If you're thinking about it in this way and trying to help journalists get their job done in a timely and efficient manner (rather than just thinking "I want you to write about me and here is my key message"), you're going to have a much more productive relationship. This can be a long-term relationship too.
Once people know you're a good, reliable source who is good to work with, they'll remember you and come back to you. It's like any business relationship.
But it can take time. You might approach a journalist a few times before they feature you (or even respond, frankly - most journalists have inboxes overflowing with pitches and can't get back to everyone). But, over time, you might stick in their mind as a great expert for a particular topic and they'll start coming to you. It's all about building relationships.
Remember they're a human
Pitching feels much less scary when you realise the person at the other end is just another human trying to do their job, like you. Yes, your pitch might be rejected. But you're building a relationship and that takes time.
What should I say?
Sometimes people are put off from putting themselves forward for media opportunities because they don't know what to say. And while having a copywriter is beneficial for lots of people, it's not always necessary. (Although if you think it is for you, get in touch and let's chat).
If you're the type of person who thinks "Do I actually have anything worthwhile to say?", remember you're not alone. It's so common to feel that way. Most of us have a bit of imposter syndrome and think someone else could speak better or more eloquently.
But there will be so many elements of your journey or expertise that other people will find useful and interesting. for me, I've been in PR and copywriting for so long that I really don't think it's that interesting a topic of conversation. But when you speak to other business owners in a different field, you realise they find your work fascinating and have lots of questions.
Take a look at your skill set and think about how you add value to your clients or your network. That's going to be a good starting point. You're the expert in what you do so you might not see it as newsworthy. But for other people, this might not be the case. There's going to be someone out there who wants to learn more about it. Combining that knowledge with the topics you're passionate about is going to help you shine in media interviews.
Which topics to talk about
Speak to other people outside your sector to see your business through fresh eyes. This might help you decide which stories will be most engaging for your audience. You can also look into which topics journalists are writing about. Read the publications your audience reads. Learn about what key journalists specialise in by reading their articles. And follow them on social media to be notified when they're looking for a specific source or bit of information for an article. The hashtag #JournoRequest is helpful.
Journalists aren't that scary but media relations does take time and you may need to persevere. Hopefully, taking the fear away gives you the courage to keep trying until you start generating press coverage. Good luck!
How can I help?
I hope you found these useful and feel a bit more confident about generating your own press coverage. Here are a few more links that might be helpful:
- My handy guide with tips on getting media coverage for your startup, charity or organisation
- A range of other resources to help you with your comms
Thanks and good luck with your media outreach!