Securing newspaper coverage: How to make journalists sit up and listen
By Laurna Woods
Monday, 13 March 2017
Your job involves getting clients into the news. So how do you do it?
The relationship between a journalist and a PR is fraught with potential conflict. But there is no doubt they need each other.
One is in a busy newsroom and has little time to hear about a brand’s latest publicity stunt. But he/she has pages to fill and is therefore open to a good story.
The other is representing clients who want to see column inches in the press. But it’s a fact that more than 80% of news releases never get used. So an impact needs to be made – and fast.
As a PR, there are two things you are going to need to achieve your goal:
- A thorough understanding of newspapers and how they work
- The ability to create headline-grabbing press releases
Understanding newspapers is vital in knowing who you are pitching to, and the tone to take when writing press releases to a particular publication.
Follow these simple pointers, and any journalist or editor you contact will know you are a professional who has done the right groundwork.
Style as well as substance
You’re sure there’s a good story to offer. But write a long-winded, wordy press release when approaching a tabloid journalist and he’s likely to fall asleep after the first couple of paragraphs.
Newspapers can be either tabloid or broadsheet, denoting their page size and style of reporting.
Take a look at the publication you are aiming at. If the stories are short and punchy then make your pitch the same. If they are longer and more detailed, then follow suit.
Note which kind of stories are getting press coverage, particularly those which make the front half of the paper. Are they human interest (people’s personal lives), political, economy-driven, quirky, etc? This should dictate what aspect of your release is highlighted in the first couple of paragraphs.
Time it right
There are daily papers, weeklies, Sundays and evening papers.
The biggest mistake a PR can make is to approach a journalist without any knowledge of how often their newspaper comes out. Deadlines in particular reveal the best time to drop a press release to the newsdesk.
If deadlines are missed, sales are lost, so they are the Holy Grail of print journalism.
Every publication has different deadlines and it’s essential for PR professionals to know them. So how do you find out? Just ask.
The paper’s deadline is invariably the day before it comes out. Journalists on a Sunday paper, for example, will keep writing until a set time on Saturday, when the pages go to print. A daily newspaper will have a deadline to hit every single day, for the following day’s edition.
But don’t be afraid to contact the publication and ask for the exact time of the deadline. Likewise enquire whether there’s a set day or time when stories are pitched to the editor.
Make sure you keep a note of this, and get your release out promptly so your story has time to be considered for the next edition. That's how to get a story in the newspaper.
Know the area
As well as national papers, there are locals and regionals. There is nothing less professional than to pitch to a journalist – then realise the story or subject is outside of their catchment area.
Your story may be happening in a small village just outside of Manchester. But don’t assume it falls into the circulation of the Manchester Evening News.
Do your homework. Get a copy of the paper or look at its website. Check with the client that this paper covers their area or has a link to the story you are pitching.
If all else fails, don’t be afraid to put in a quick call to the publication and ask “Do you cover…….?”
Get the pecking order
Pitching to more than one desk will just cause confusion and ultimately upset the publication. You need to target the right person, and the right desk, or you’ve wasted an opportunity.
A newspaper’s hierarchy starts at the editor and works down to the deputy/assistant editor(s), then the head of each desk – the news editor, the features editor, the sports editor. Then you have specialist reporters (in areas such as education, politics, health, showbiz), senior reporters and junior reporters.
The newsdesk is the nerve centre of every editorial department. So if in doubt, put in a call to this desk and give a brief outline of what you are pitching – asking if there’s a specific person you should be dealing with.
If a release is going out to other publications, tell the journalist.
Freelance journalists and press agencies can be a PR’s best friend – with the ability to sell in your news release under the radar as a news story, enhancing its chances of being published. Check out the National Association of Press Agencies website to identify useful contacts.
Do the work
Send your news releases by email, and for the writer’s convenience embed the release into your covering email as well as including it as an attachment.
Sell in your news release, as 20% of them never get looked at.
Never ask the journalist to tell you if/when the release is being used. They have no control over that.
Don’t take it personally if your stuff doesn’t appear. The best news release in the world could be bumped off the page if a celebrity exclusive comes in or there’s a major story breaking.
Chalk it up to experience and keep trying.
A press release which gets column inches consists of four main ingredients
- It’s newsworthy
- It’s factual
- It’s brief
- It contains vibrant quotes which give life to the story
Avoid purple prose
Journalists can have up to 50 news releases drop into their inbox every day – and they will have moments to scan them for interesting stories. So get straight to the point.
You’re not in court, addressing a judge. You’re pitching a story to a journalist who has been trained to cut through the mumbo jumbo. The best examples of good press releases will do the same.
“in order to” = to
“at the present time” = now
“in view of the fact” = because
“despite the fact that” = even though
Give good quotes
Journalists will often look for their hook in what is said – so give them the quotes to hang their story on.
Wherever possible, make them sound like the ordinary person in the street is talking – not some stuffy businessman spouting company policy. Want to know how to write a great press release? Avoid jargon at all costs.
The Good: “It’s pretty obscene that major retailers making billions every year expect producers to subsidise them. It’s an insult really.”
The Bad: “I will continue in my current role as chief executive working with the team to develop our strategy which recognises the importance of providing good service and good value for money.”
The Ugly: “We will unlock the potential of our company through our passion for growth, customer intimacy and profitable differentiated innovation, world class manufacturing with integrated supply chains and high performing people and culture.”
Keep it clear
Choose quality over quantity, making your point as quickly and succinctly as you can.
A strong headline is essential. It should summarise the main point of your story.
Just like the purple prose, use shorter words instead of longer ones (e.g. approximately = about, demonstrate = show).
Keep your sentences short with minimal sub-clauses. Journalists don’t have time to re-read press releases. If it doesn’t make sense to them immediately, they will press ‘delete’ – they won’t ask you to clarify.
Include relevant website links and optimise the release with important keywords.
Put them in the picture
Try to include a photograph. An image will hugely enhance your chances of getting coverage.
But beware of giving a bad image. Just like using the wrong words, the wrong picture will make an impact that falls far short of professional.
Make sure it’s relevant. For example, if your story is about a hero schoolteacher who saved kids from a fire, then a picture of the school where she works is not enough. The press will want to see her.
Send the picture high resolution and in an easily usable format.
Using a photographer who works regularly with the press is always a good investment. He/she will know what newspapers are looking for.
State the location
For the local/regional press in particular, identify early on how the press release falls into their catchment area.
If it’s unemployment statistics, for example, don’t give countrywide figures up front. Show them first how their town/city compares to the national picture.
Whatever you do, avoid sending out a blanket press release with a note at the bottom stating “local examples available on request” or “contact us for local case studies”. This is not how to get press coverage.
You’re making the journalist work for it. That won’t go down well, and it’s lazy PR.
If you don’t have time to tailor a press release to each area, add an attachment with a list of figures/case studies outlined region by region, or town by town – so it’s easy for each publication to find the information relevant to them.
For help getting media coverage for your brand, contact us on 0800 612 9890.