Monday, 30 July 2012

Most effective ways to annoy a journalist - Part 1

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Ever asked yourself why reporters sometimes do not cover or publish news from your organisation?

Is it because the reporters you contact are too proud of themselves? Do you think they don’t like you personally? Or they dislike your organisation?

When I was with Zodiak Radio, sometimes, as Chief Reporter, I would be required to help assign reporters to cover events organised by different organisations or companies. We never covered events of every organisation that sent us an invitation. Of course covering every organisation around is  just practically impossible. There are factors that influence decisions about who to cover.

In this series, Most effective ways to annoy a journalist, I will be sharing with you my thoughts on how you can avoid some Media Relations blunders that drive the media away from you and your organisation.

So we go but before anything, let’s get three things clear here:

1. A reporter can attend an event that you have organised and publish a news story from that. 

2. A reporter can attend your event but decide not to publish a story. 

3. A reporter can choose not to attend your event despite your invitation. The last two sound harsh, right? Realities of Media Relations.

When you pitch a story to a reporter, know that there are scores of other PR people hunting the same journalist.

So how do you convince that one journalist that of all the news pitches on their desk or in their inbox, yours deserves their attention? Obviously, one reporter cannot attend twenty news conferences or events at the same time. And no media house in Malawi, at least as of now, can afford to dispatch all its reporters to events. So there are bound to be ‘loser’ organisations, those whose pitches will end up in the editor’s or reporter’s dust bin.

So a key question to consider before even entertaining the idea of which reporter or media house to contact for news coverage is: do we have news to tell?

Don’t say it’s the job of journalists to find news. Make it easier for them to cover your organisation by taking the time to identify real news about what your organisation is doing, rather than simply telling a reporter ‘ we have a news conference’ or ‘ we are donating blankets to XYZ hospital.

Instead of sending such empty pitches, dig into the news conference or the event that you have organised to find NEWS. What do you have that can excite a journalist?

Let’s take the story about a donation of blankets to a hospital. Instead of focusing on the donation itself, why don’t you hook a reporter’s/an editor’s interest by highlighting how many patients don’t have blankets at the hospital and how that is a problem. That will lure a reporter into writing about the 20 blankets and your organisation.

Human interest stories touch lives. It is therefore usually difficult for a reporter to ignore such stories. Attaching some human interest to your news pitch leverages your chances of media coverage.

The thing is: Though they know they can be used as channels for PR messages from organisations, journalists don’t like you to show that that’s your goal. Journalists feel good about you when you demonstrate that you have what they want – news! Interesting news!

Remember, the relationship between PR practitioners and the media is mutually beneficial. It operates on a win-win basis – a journalist finds news, which helps him remain on the payroll, and you get media coverage – free publicity. Who loses when a journalist feels he just can’t write about a donation of 20 blankets? I hope you got it. It’s you and your organisation that are the loser. The journalist can find news elsewhere.

When you are known to have the tendency of pitching stories with no news value, journalists stick a red label on  your forehead so they can easily identify you next time even before they open your pitch. Let me know if you don't know what that means.

If you care about your own reputation as a PR practitioner and the reputation of your organisation, try to work on the most basic aspect of Media Relations – have interesting news to tell before pitching. You will be amazed at the results. But if you are looking for the first tip on how to annoy a journalist, well, here I freely offer it:  

                                   Send pitches with no news in them

In part 2 of the series Most effective ways to annoy a journalist, I will be discussing the best way to irritate a journalist even when you have real news.

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