From pitch to page: understanding the media before opening the doors to it

As we’ve been discussing this month on the Skout blog, a media presence can be the game changer for an organisation or spokesperson, sometimes for the right reasons and sometimes for the wrong ones. As a B2B PR agency, whose job it is to help shape our clients’ reputations, those interviews that go horribly wrong fill us with dread and we immediately think ‘were you media trained and if so, why aren’t why you putting it into action?’ Before anyone embarks on speaking to media either in a live interview situation or even to be quoted in a magazine article, it’s important to understand how the media landscape works so that you can adapt your approach to fit the varying needs of the media while at the same time, ensuring that you are able to get across what you want to say. Whether you’re giving an interview, writing an article, or commenting on a topical or business issue to a journalist, knowing how the media works can help ensure you get the most from the experience.

 

Knowing why you want to get into the media is the best place to start. Perhaps you haven’t thought about some of the ways in which the media can help your business. Right from being a start-up business, media coverage can help build awareness of your brand. And then whatever stage you’re at in your business journey, perhaps you have growth targets to meet; that’s where building on your brand presence in the media with key stakeholders and potential customers can help strengthen your reputation. And don’t underestimate the role PR can play in crisis management. If a disastrous event were to happen that puts your organisation in a negative light, you can work carefully with the media to limit damage and ultimately protect your reputation. Depending on what you aim to achieve from reaching out to the media, there are various aspects of a news outlet that you can use to your advantage.

 

A publication’s editorial mostly sits in one of two camps: news or features. News, as its name suggests should be ‘new’ and something that is likely to be of interest to your industry, your customers or the wider general public. It focuses on the ‘who, what, where, when, why.’ Negative headlines are commonplace in our media and you’re far more likely to see news stories reporting on bad news over good. Let’s take Brexit as an example: a news story informed us on the EU referendum result instantly. We knew the key facts, like the percentage that ‘leave’ won by, and it didn’t take long for subsequent media reports to focus on how it would lead to doom and gloom for our economy.

 

In contrast, a longer feature article doesn’t have to report on a recent event, but it does have to be based on a relevant issue or trend. It goes beyond the key facts and gives more detail, either through a case study or opinions from topic experts. For this reason, features are normally longer, and offer a more balanced view on a subject. Take Brexit again: it’s been almost a year since the referendum result was announced, but it’s still a relevant issue. This means there’s scope for features like ‘what Brexit means for the retail industry’ where various retail experts get to give their opinion on what it means for the industry. The feature may take various opposing views from retail experts and look at specific issues, such as what the government has been saying about trading laws and their likely impact on the retail sector. You get the key facts from the news, but a feature zooms into a specific aspect of the topic and gives you more balanced and considered information.

 

Whether it’s news, features or both you’re hoping to gain coverage from, you will need to adapt your approach according to whatever key message your putting out to the media. Getting your organisation into the media means either proactively pitching to a media outlet what you want to say or reactively piggy backing onto the news agenda. Proactively pitching involves contacting an editorial team without their request, but of course, you should only target journalists you feel might be interested. In this case it’s especially important to develop an attractive pitch that suits the feel of the publication. When your organisation makes an announcement, you need to proactively ‘sell in’ the news to get coverage. But pitching feature ideas may also involve proactive pitching – your organisation may have a take on a particular issue, and you want to pitch it to a particular media outlet as a feature story.

 

Being reactive means jumping on those opportunities and requests for information that the media puts out. PR professionals subscribe to feature request services where you can access requests from journalists who require comments, articles or news on a particular topic, and perhaps even an interview with somebody who can speak on it. This requires being quick though, as journalists have deadlines to meet and need your input within a particular timeframe. Once you’ve dealt with certain journalists on many occasions, you may find them come straight to you when they require input, though this can only happen once they trust you as an expert.

 

It’s easy to think that all journalists across a publication do the same job. In reality, there’s a complex structure that determines who does what, similar to any organisation. The editor, or the editor-in-chief is the person who looks after the publication as a whole, including the audiences it aims to target and its plans for the future. Then the publication’s news and features may be looked after by different teams. The news editor is in charge of all of the publication’s news, managing a team of reporters. Similarly, the features editor manages and commissions features to a team of writers. But there are other journalists working on the publication that may influence the article you get coverage in. For example, the features editor might interview you, but then when it gets to print, only three lines have been used or it’s not been included at all. This might be because the sub-editor, who checks the written text and format of the publication, has reduced or removed your input due to lack of page space.

 

As a B2B PR agency, we see reduced editorial teams and diminishing trade publications on a regular basis. Journalists’ time is precious, and that’s why they’ve developed structures and processes to help them get the information they need for their articles quickly. Organisations opening the doors to a PR programme should work with PR specialists to understand how the media works, and what takes place before the magazine hits the shelves. Only by knowing this can media relations be a tool to help drive press coverage for your organisation.

 

Alex Brown enjoys being one of the Skout blog’s most regular contributors.

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