Having spent more than a decade in newsrooms, I know it can be tough to get a journalist’s attention. Thanks to social media, the news cycle moves quicker than ever before and newsrooms ask more of their journalists than they did 15 years ago — and even five years ago. Each publication and news outlet also has its own criteria for what they deem “newsworthy.” What is important to a local TV news station in Washington, D.C. is going to be a lot different than the L.A. Times and much different than the Wall Street Journal.
Every newsroom I’ve worked in puts priority on enterprise stories and investigative content. ThoughtCo defines enterprise stories well:
“Enterprise reporting involves stories not based on press releases or news conferences. Instead, enterprise reporting is all about the stories a reporter digs up on his or her own, what many people call ‘scoops.’ Enterprise reporting goes beyond merely covering events. It explores the forces shaping those events.”
How do you find enterprise stories? Think about the things no one is covering or ask “why” after observing something. Journalist and Columbia University professor Tony Rogers advises to look at changes and trends. Why isn’t the city filling the pot holes around town? Why is the cost of almonds going up?
PR professionals should look for the “why” with any application from a client. Why is this pitch or press release important? How is it connected to a current topic in the news? Why would the audience for this media outlet be interested? How can it help that audience make informed decisions?
Once you have a good story, it’s all about timing and delivery. There is no secret to getting the media’s attention, but here are my do’s and don’ts:
- Do: Call first to see if your story idea is of interest. If it’s not, respect that it isn’t and don’t keep trying to push it. But, ask the editor or journalist what kinds of stories they are interested in.
- Do: Ask if it’s a good time. If it’s not a good time for a call, ask when a good time for call back is. As a producer, it was frustrating to get a call from someone who did not respect that I was on a deadline.
- Don’t: Pitch a story about how great your client or their product is. Rather, connect those to a bigger theme / idea / current topic, or explain what they are doing to solve a specific problem.
- Don’t: Assume everyone you send an email to is going to open it. Journalists get dozens, maybe even hundreds, of emails a day from people who want their attention. Think about ways to make your pitch and your emails stand out. Also, call first. It gives you a chance to establish yourself, your client and your pitch.
- Do: Develop a relationship with editors and reporters. Schedule a tour and informational session with a media outlet to see how its newsroom works and find out what types of stories its audience is interested in.
While PR professionals and journalists don’t always have the same goals in mind, the two often need to work together to do their jobs. And, knowing what newsrooms are looking for will make it easier for everyone.