8 top tips for dealing with journalists for online PR


James Armstrong

Content Marketing

An SEO Guide to Dealing with Journalists for Online PR

Journalists are busy people. I know; I was one. With the modern pressures on budgets for both the BBC and commercial news outlets, journalists are now expected to be all things to all men – researchers, writers, broadcasters, legal experts, web-savvy bloggers, technical wizards, social media gurus, front of all current affairs and sporting knowledge etc. And after all that, they still have to find the time to be one of the most (unfairly) reviled professions in the country.

Bearing that in mind, it’s understandable that sometimes an innocuous request from someone in SEO receives a rather curt response – they often just don’t have time to deal with us.
This is unfortunate, because journalists and news outlets are immensely valuable to SEO and PR campaigns; they’re major influencers and their content is practically guaranteed to generate social media interest, not to mention they have some of the top ranking, most trusted sites with some of the highest traffic on the web.

So how do you handle a journalist?

1 | Make personal contact with an individual journalist – general news-room email inboxes can go unread for weeks, and are often deleted en-mass to make room for more emails that will never get read.

2 | Contact the right person – if you’re working on a fashion client, contact a fashion journalist, not a news editor! Databases of journalist’s interests and contact details, like Gorkana, are very useful for this.

3 | Offer them something news-worthy – 90% of emails received by journalists are rubbish, therefore anything not interesting, new, local, shocking, funny or relevant that you send to them, will likely just consign any future emails of yours to their trash folder.

4 | Be patient – remember journalists = busy, so don’t be too pushy.

5 | Advertising – no broadcast news organisation is allowed to have anything that could be construed as commercial advertising in their news content. If they did Ofcom would crucify them. Printed news organisations make their money (or at least reduce their losses) by selling advertising space, so they won’t be in any rush to give it away for free. This means you have to be clever about how you write your press release/content; make it clear why your event/activity is news-worthy and that mentioning your client is necessary and relevant. Make sure you’re not just writing an extended advert.

6 | Get them out of the office – if you’re having an event or doing something as part of a campaign, invite journalists (it’s much easier to write an article from being present at an event rather than trying to piece together what happened from a press-release).

7 | Give them someone to interview – journalists love to interview people, it’s what they do. If you can’t persuade your client to put someone up for interview, ask them for a statement, or even if they’d be happy for you to be interviewed on their behalf (if someone is going to be interviewed, be prepared for any potentially difficult questions, maybe even take some media relations training).

8 | Cultivate your contact – forge a personal relationship with your journalist. This will be difficult. Journalists tend to be cantankerous. But persevere; gaining the reputation of being a good contact/source is worth its weight in gold.

Now that I’ve said all that, let me finish on an entirely contradictory note: journalists need you more than you need them!

Journalism is a very prestigious profession; people listen to what you have to say, they trust you to ask questions on their behalf and being a journalist gives you the power to influence how the public interpret the world around them. But ultimately, without the stories and the hard work provided by those of us in PR and SEO, journalists wouldn’t be able to keep up with the demands placed on them by the modern world of 24 hour rolling news.

So if you’re getting nowhere with a specific journalist who’s too busy to take any notice of your news-worthy content, move on a find someone who’s going to be grateful for an exclusive that their colleague has missed.