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Top tips for engaging with the media in 2021

In this blog our senior account exec, Beth, gives her top tips on engaging with the media to secure quality coverage.

Arguably, one of the most important elements of working in PR is engaging with the media. As many client KPIs are based on not only the amount of media coverage secured, but also ensuring that this coverage lands in quality outlets, it is absolutely essential that PRs build strong relationships with the media and journalists.

However, the current media landscape is tough. Recent stats conducted by Brands2Life and Media Measurement revealed that the number of overall articles in the UK’s top media outlets has shrunk by 21% and that ‘big issues’ are increasingly dominating media output, now accounting for 44% of all articles. This contracting of media space and focus on harder hitting stories means having strong relationships with the media, as well as pitching a great story, is more important than ever. Here we will share with you our best practices for engaging with the media to gain results.

Do your research                            

There are so many different ways to engage with the media, but probably the most common  is through selling in a piece of news. In order to successfully sell in a story, it is important you take the time before you reach out to make sure you have properly researched who you are sending it to. So, make sure you ensure their responsibilities align with the story you want them to cover. Condider asking yourself the following questions: will the publication's audience be interested in the story you are telling? Has that publication/journalist covered stories of a similar nature before? It is also important to make sure the timing of the story is correct and that the hook of the story is compelling.

Importantly, ensure all stories you send to the media are newsworthy. One thing you should always ask yourself is if your press release is a news story, or simply an advert for your business – you must always make sure you are leading with a newsworthy hook. A great way to do this is to make sure you are informing the reader of something that they did not know before reading it and including valuable content that they can take away for example an expert opinion or some new research. If you send the media purely advertorial content, they will either ignore you, ask you to pay for it, or worse, not see you as a valuable source which hampers future opportunities.

Pitching your story

Since the pandemic, more and more journalists and news desks are working from home and therefore, often the quickest way to reach them is via email. We all know journalists are more stretched than ever before, and often receive hundreds of stories a day, so it is important you lead with a short, snappy and attention-grabbing subject line. Another great way to build your relationship with the journalist is to have done some prior reading around what they have written previously and mention in your email how it links to your story. This shows you have taken your time to really understand what they cover and how your story can be of interest. For broadcast specifically, you need to package the whole story for them, rather than just pitching an angle to run with – instead, include information on exactly how you forsee the slot you’re pitching for looking, what they can film (for TV) and the different sources / experts they can interview for soundbites (TV and radio).

While email can be faster, engaging with media outlets over the phone is a really great way to build relationships with them and also give them the chance to ask any questions they may have on the story or campaign you are sharing. When pitching a story on the phone, always mention why you have called them and the reason you thought they would be interested. If they are not interested, it is important to ask for a reason why and to always have a second angle in your back pocket to pitch in case it is something they feel is more relevant to them. It is also important to incorporate questions into your pitch, as it is a great way to involve the journalist in the conversation and also allows a chance to interact with them, and most importantly, build relationships.

Always consider the best time of day to pitch your story depending on what type of outlet you are trying to secure coverage in. For example, for national newsdesks pitching before 8.30am is the optimal time as they often plan for the day and know which stories they are covering before 9am. For print regionals, its worth familiarising yourself with their print deadline, as they all differ, to ensure you are providing content ahead of them.



Pitching for features and reactive comments

Another great way to engage with the media is through feature pitching and reactive commentary. Going to an outlet with an exclusive feature often lands fantastic coverage whilst also showing the outlet you are willing to create a unique piece of content that won’t be featured by other outlets. When pitching a feature, it is important your synopsis isn’t too commercial, it’s impartial and your spokesperson is a trusted voice on the topic. This is the same for reactive commentary off the back of a recent article a journalist has done or a story that is just breaking in the news. A top tip here is to get your comment in ASAP after the news has broken – leave it more than a couple of hours and the opportunity is gone. The end game here is for the media to start coming to you directly for comments on relevant topics as they know you are a specialist in the area.

The new normal for engaging F2F

As the media is becoming more stretched than ever before, the chance of attending a traditional lunch between a PR and journalist is becoming less and less common. Throw in the recent covid pandemic and the fact more people are still working from home, building that vital face-to-face contact can be really difficult. However, there are ways around this. With the rise of video calling platforms, a great way to engage with a journalist is to ask them for a quick ‘virtual coffee’ to discuss any specific areas of interest they have coming up. This eliminates the need for travel and saves a lot of time and money, whilst allowing journalists to put a face to your name which will often set you apart from the hundreds of other names they see in their inbox every day, a win-win!

Another route to getting face to face contact with journalists is through key industry events. As events such as trade shows begin to start back up again, these can be a great place to grab a quick 5-minute chat with a journalist and build that all important contact. Multiple key journalists often attend these events, so you may be able to have a few catch-ups in one day!

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail

In summary, the best way to engage with the media and build positive and long-standing relationships is all down to preparation, as well as the amount of research and thought you have put into the process. It is no longer enough to just blast out a mass email pitch to as many outlets as you can and hope for the best, it is important to show the media you have put in the time and energy to create a newsworthy angle that they will be interested in, and that you are not just here to waste their time!


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