What do journalists really want from us?
It seems like a throwback PR question, and one that has been banded around in our world for decades.
Still though, it seems PR people all-too-often fail to crack it. According to a PR Moment story last week about a recent survey, just six per cent of journalists believe that digital newsrooms – services that aim to serve most or all of their needs through curated online content and better unearth stories for them – actually meet their editorial needs.
It’s hardly a new problem. I started my career in journalism, in the days before email and with spikes – literally massive, sharp, metallic spikes in the centre of each pool of desks – for all the press releases and story pitches that didn’t make the newspaper. Which was the very vast majority of them. The mail was brought around several times a day via a huge pull-along cart, unwanted stories hurled across desks, hours wasted wading through dross.
Fast forward 20-odd years and it would be easy to conclude nothing much has changed, but of course media change in that time has been enormous. The communications professional today is far more focused on integrated, end-to-end storytelling, across owned, social and regular media, and with a much sharper focus on content and relationships rather than volume publicity.
Or at least, they should be. The reality is that amidst all the different requirements of a fragmented media environment, the needs of journalists, who are fundamental influencers, are still often misunderstood or under-served, and too often attempts to corral stories from within the business or brand fall short. Social community management, moderation, influencer engagement and even direct participation in a brand’s storytelling have evolved to meet the needs and potential of two-way digital media. Yet it seems ‘newsrooms’ that aim to serve up more sophisticated and appropriate content to journalists often remain out of kilter with practical requirements or don’t unearth the sharpest stories.
In fact, that end-to-end storytelling point is an important one here. The way in which content and information access are provided to journalists should be one seamless part of what the audience, reads, hears and experiences. There should be joined-up thinking applied to providing journalists with information, just as there should be to SEO considerations in the customer journey and content marketing that fuels a call to action. If media relations is the weak link, the whole chain can get compromised.
Have the needs of journalists even changed that much over the decades? A lot of fundamentals remain: accuracy, speed, access, attribution and copyright-assured images that are right for the medium in question. The main changes these days are for PRs to have a clear understanding of the pace at which news moves, of social conversation around topics, and of the commercial realities publications and broadcasters are facing, and need to live up to.
So it’s galling to see that after so much water under the bridge, journalists still aren’t getting what they want or need. Here are a few tips, things that we hold dear and put into practice for busy, newsy clients:
- Include contact details and make sure they’re the right ones. Sounds obvious, but..
- Think like journalists and source genuine stories from the business or brand – social media and closer engagement give many opportunities to do that, whether the sources be customers with something interesting to share or huge influencers who can be roped in on editorial
- Provide access to a pool of relevant images in multiple file formats: people, product and places shots, B-roll, infographics, video infographics and more
- Ensure content shared on social networks can be easily linked to or provided in standalone format to a journalist
- Have basic facts and figures accessible, or respond quickly to requests for them
- Retain the ability to provide product samples or background information rapidly
- Give out-of-hours and emergency contact details
- Be ready to provide third-party corroboration or statistics that are attributable to publicly-accessible information
- Provide links to relevant owned content for further reading/background information, and test that they work
- Above all, reinforce the content you provide with the media relationships you nurture.
And on point 2 specifically, here are a few examples of how we apply this for UK client McVitie’s:
- Amongst the noise, there just might be a gem. We spotted a tweet about a motorcyclist involved in an accident who claimed he was “saved by Jamaican Ginger Cake”. He had the product in his bag and said it helped to break his fall, cue much social sharing of the @McVities story. We seized on this, sent him a “get better soon” Jamaican Ginger Cake box and generated press coverage featuring him as the lucky hero
- Always keep a watch out for influential people who have mass social reach. Every time we see that a celebrity or influencer has done something with one of our products, we put them into our ‘Biscuit Club’. This programme gives them unlimited biscuits and a key to the McVitie’s factory, which helps drive ongoing advocacy
- An old ploy, but plan ahead by considering forthcoming news. We create content that’s relevant to the seasonal, topical or cultural news agenda. We tapped into the Oscars to create a news generation piece that uncovered people’s love of animal sidekicks and cute films – tying into McVitie’s advertising campaign – which generated national UK news coverage.