Hayley Stansfield, public relations manager of media agency Blueclaw, explains how building journalist relationships with a tailored and relevant approach will always lead to trust and success.
According to the 2018 PR and Communications Census, there are over 86,000 people working in PR and communications in the UK alone, many of whom are employed by agencies.
A huge 42% of UK-based businesses also outsource their marketing needs, providing insight into just how many public relations professionals are reaching out to journalists on behalf of multiple brands each day.
However, not all journalists are convinced when they hear from a public relations professional calling on behalf of a client, and some can be suspicious when they see that you’re getting in touch with them using a different email address to the brand you’re promoting. In fact, many journalists even make a note within their media database profiles that they specifically don’t want to hear from PRs.
I wanted to find out why this is the case, and why some journalists would much rather source a story themselves, so I asked a few of my journalist contacts to talk about their experiences of being approached by agency PRs.
Will Jackson, a former multimedia sports journalist at PA Media, said: “About 90% of the emails that would land in my inbox every day would have no relevance to me. It was very rare that I would follow up on an opportunity and the harsh reality is that we would often placate any PR people without having any intention of following through with something.”
Darren Burke, a digital journalist for Doncaster Free Press and Sheffield Star, also commented: “I think the problem of many PRs is they are too pushy with too many steps of the process. Quite often, you will get a call asking if they can send an email, then you get the email and then follow up calls asking if you are using it.
“I always say you don’t have to ask to send it (especially if you have my email address, which nine times out of ten, you do) just send it and if we’re interested or need more, we’ll get back to you.”
He added: “What can also be annoying is when PRs will try and sell you a whole ten-minute pitch (about a dull subject) when you’re on deadline or busy, rather than just whizzing the details through. Over-friendliness can be annoying.
“If a story is good, a journalist will use it in their own time. maybe not straight away, but when they get round to it. They have to remember that often there’s a lot of stories jostling for space and we will use it – just not that second!”
With this in mind, it’s clear why some journalists are quick to ignore PR emails, making it our job to appease them as much as we can to guarantee high response rates.
To do this, an agency needs to provide the right stories at the right time to the right people.
Use added insight
Finding journalists’ specialisms is key and, as discussed above, as long as your story is relevant to them they’re never going to resent you getting in touch. To really see the added benefit it’s important to take time out to analyse the style of a target journalist’s writing and the specific subjects they write about. If you get a good feeling that your content fits within their interests, then go for it.
Don’t be afraid to reference a journalist’s previous work and use this to justify why your piece is of interest to them, or that your content could strengthen some of their existing research. This is only going to prove your efforts towards personalisation and won’t go unnoticed.
If you feel like the story doesn’t quite fit the bill, try to tailor your approach a little more or ask whether the journalist will even want to feature it at all. To support this theory, Brian Lindar, former senior editor at IGN and Fandom and now Fandom’s director of partnerships for movies and TV, said: “A clear line of communication is key for agency PRs to maintain good media relations.”
He commented: “I have third-party contacts that I’ve worked with for years across multiple jobs and I’m always happy to work with them. That said, I think it’s helpful for businesses to understand what journalists want to feel is the authentic connection that comes from having direct access to the subject they’re covering, and that’s where an in-house contact can mean a lot. That kind of access can be a motivator, and having a direct line of communication is going to lead to better coverage overall.”
Aside from coverage, increasingly the goal of many PR professionals is to help improve a client’s overall SEO visibility and brand presence online, which means trying to secure a link from the journalist or publication back to the client’s website where possible. However, a journalist doesn’t need to know that this is one of your primary goals in the first instance.
A journalist’s main interest is always going to be about the news hook, the data or story behind your content – and PR experts should therefore always lead with this. Once journalists decide to use your content, you can then politely and patiently ask for a link to be included – but only if there’s a good reason for them to do so (such as offering their readers more information).
If a journalist informs you that the publication has a no link policy, my advice would be not to push back on this in any way. The chances are it just won’t happen and you could risk damaging your relationship with them.
Get to the point
It’s no secret that journalists simply don’t have time to sift through thousands of PR emails each day and for that reason powerful subject lines are crucial. Following this, it’s the information that comes after the subject line that will determine if a journalist is going to use your story or not.
Outreach emails should always be kept short and sweet, using your best ‘hook’ to introduce the story. The hook may not always need to read like a news headline, either. Your hook could be that your data or content is exclusive, new or groundbreaking, leaving you the opportunity to present the facts.
Most of the time journalists like to (and will) put their own spin or opinion on the content regardless, so this is your chance to briefly explain why your story is important, relevant, newsworthy or topical.
These are just some of the tactics you need to use to approach journalists, there are many more which you can apply to make your media outreach more effective.