- Written by: Kathryn Van Kuyk
- Category: Business Tips, Media, Messaging, Story telling, Training
- Published: July 26, 2019
Media-Wize recently conducted a media training workshop. It was a great session that was well attended by founders, comms professionals and leaders of fast-growth businesses looking for tips on improving their media profile. Here’s a short package of highlights from that session.
On a typical day, journalists receive dozens, if not hundreds, of press releases and story pitches. With publishing timelines contracting and the news cycle moving faster than ever before, journalists are looking for stories that can be turned around quickly and free up their time so they can focus on long-form stories and research. That’s a tough balancing act. And one thing that simply doesn’t help is an embargo.
Public relations professionals who have provided ethics counsel to senior management are at least as fervent about serving the public interest—sometimes even more so—as they are about their duty to their organizations, according to a Baylor University researcher.
Congratulations to all the outstanding finalists in the 2019 Samsung IT Journalism Awards.
Media-Wize’s CEO Anthony Caruana is nominated for Best Security Journalist, Best Technology Issues Journalist and Best Corporate Content.
Doing your homework for interviews and preparing your facts are critically important for a media spokesperson.
This is why media training, conducted every two years is so critical as it will help you learn what facts you need to check, obtain, create and use to tell your story in the most compelling way.
There are many facts that you’ll need to be armed with and ready to use if required in a media interview, depending on the topic. These may be technical facts about your products or about turnover, growth plans, staff numbers, customer numbers etc. Some of these facts may be in constant flux, so you need to be aware of what you’ve said previously and what you’re saying now.
Google indexes news and makes it easy for anyone at anytime to Google your name, company name or product and read news reports going back years. If you said in 2017 that you had 10,000 customers in Australia, but the number is still 10,000 in 2019 reporting, then that’s easily noted.
It’s important that you know your most up-to-date stats at any time (check with your team regularly) and are consistently building on your message. If in fact, you only had 9,700 customers in 2017, but by the end of that year expected to have 10,000, then say you have 9,700 customers to the journalist – don’t round up numbers. Be accurate and build a truthful account of your business.
This is crucial for many reasons and for startups hoping to achieve coverage in major publications be aware you’ll be asked for your turnover. Why? Because your claims will be verified – if you say you’re the largest in Australia, but in fact haven’t made any money yet, then the reporter will wait till you’ve proven your idea is recognised by customers and investors. If you do secure coverage, your turnover will be on the record so if you’re on track to become the next Atlassian, Canva or unicorn it will be touted.
Many media groups also run startup and fast growth awards so make sure you’re always operating with full disclosure. If you apply for these awards, the reporters will check your facts and if they find that they don’t match what you said in the past, you can be assured of not only failing to win but failing to be trusted again.
Reputation is crucial – it’s better to wait till you have a great story to tell, than jeopardise it.
The bridging technique is a crucial part of media training and an essential tool to master to control an interview. It is the ability for the interviewee to steer the conversation from any question that takes them away from their goal during the interview. This could be a negative or unhelpful question, or simply a question that doesn’t enable the interviewee to share information that may be more valuable to the reporter.
It’s important to understand that journalists don’t always know what questions they need to ask to get the best story from you. So, by helping bring their attention to an interesting fact they can hone in on what might be a better story. And if they don’t, at least you know you gave it your best shot.
Once you know what the bridging technique is, you’ll be able to spot it done badly often. Politicians are often a great example of how not to do it.
The key to bridging successfully is to acknowledge the question, answer it matter of factly and then build a bridge to where you want to go. For example, “That’s interesting, BUT what’s most important to remember here is that…” or “Yes, I’ve heard that, BUT what we’re noticing at the moment is …”. Then reinstate your key message(s) or shift to a topic the journalist isn’t yet focused on and share your knowledge/insights.
But, don’t forget the most important aspect of the technique is to make sure you acknowledge or succinctly answer the question FIRST before you build a bridge to where you want to go.
Media training is more an art rather than a science and therefore different tactics work for different people, which is why it’s important to practice mock interviews before you enter a real one.
The benefit of media training with an experienced practicing journalist and PR expert is that real world scenarios you’ll likely encounter can be rehearsed and messages refined to ensure you’re prepared to maximise the potential of every interview secured.
If there’s one question I’m constantly asked it’s “How do we pitch so that our client/product/story gets coverage?”
Start by looking at what the journalist you want to pitch to writes, who they write for and make your pitch relevant.
As my friend Simon puts it:
READ THE PUBLICATIONS YOU PITCH TO BEFORE YOU PITCH TO THEM!
MY CLIENT PARTICIPATES IN THE MARKET YOU ARE WRITING ABOUTî IS NOT A PITCH
Secondly, you can structure your pitch in a way that makes it easy for me/another reporter to make a decision.
Here’s what doesn’t work: an email with a one liner that says something like “attached is the latest press release from Client X who has a new product/service” and all the information is buried in an attached PDF or Word document.
Here’s what will work.
1 – Use the term “Press release” or “Media Release” in the subject line of the email. That makes it easier for the reporter (or me personally) to find your message.
2 – Make sure the subject line says who the company and product/service is.
These first two tips are incredibly important. I get over 100 messages on a quiet day so I don’t often get to read much beyond the subject. It’s like “Jerry Maguire” – you have to get me at “Hello”.
3 – A single paragraph (less than 100 words) explaining why whatever you’re bringing to my attention is special. For example, a release telling me that Client X has a new SaaS product is not useful – lots of companies have a SaaS product. Telling me that Company X’s new SaaS product offers a cheaper pricing model that can flexibly change as a client grows might be more interesting. The other benefit of this is is that I might not need that release for a couple of months. Having good content in the body of the email makes it easier to find.
4 – Think of the headline and lead. For something to be a story it needs a headline and a lead (a short, 10-15 word opening line). If you can’t come up with one then you may need to rethink your pitch.
5 – Have images available. Better yet, provide a link to high-res images (don’t attach 20MB images!) using services like WeTransfer or folder sharing using Dropbox, Box.net, OneDrive or Google Drive.
6 – Make sure your email can be easily read on a mobile device. If I have to zoom or scroll to read it, you’ve made it too hard. Many journalists catch up on email during odd moments, like when standing in line or grabbing some lunch. That means reading on a smartphone.
7 – If you have a press release, don’t send an email saying “See attached release” or similar. If your client insists on sending a nicely formatted PDF press release, copy and paste the text into the body of the email. If I need the “pretty stuff” I’ll open it. But if all you send is an attachment with a “please read” – i’ll ignore it.
8 – Email is reliable. Please don’t feel compelled to call me to check if the email arrived.
9 – Check my LinkedIn profile. I’m pretty good at keeping it up to date with what publications I’m currently writing for. I get a lot of pitches for magazines I stopped writing for years ago. Pitching me ideas and stories for publications I don’t write for is a waste of all our time.
10 – Make sure spokespeople are actually available and that the URLs in your release are correct.