Improving Marketer-Journalist Relationships | SEJ

Marketers and journalists have a long and not-always happy history. A marketer is always trying to make his or her story interesting and compelling enough to spark the interest of a journalist. The journalist, on the other hand, is always trying to separate the wheat from the chaff; only writing stories that have some intrinsic value, bring page views, or some other form of audience reaction. Journalists view it as an unfortunate part of their jobs that they must constantly poke holes in marketing or PR pitches in order to avoid unwanted puff pieces for individuals, products, or organizations.

This tension between the two sides has led to an energetic, and some would say outrageous, relationship between marketing and journalism. Still, marketers and PR folks know they must develop their relationships with journalists on a fairly constant basis in order to be successful at their work. If you are an online marketer who usually has the cyber door slammed in your face by journalists, here are a few things to consider:

1.) Do You Look Crass?

Journalists often view marketers, and their campaigns, as crass and insensitive. Sometimes they are. Always be aware of your media surroundings and keep an eye out for breaking news that can negatively impact the presentation of your story.

2.) Show Some Respect

A journalist often works hard to earn a degree in their field and pays his or her dues as an intern or some other lower-level job prior to becoming a full-fledged professional. It is a difficult and powerful job to influence information that is distributed to the world. You don’t need to kiss their feet, but a smart marketer will show some respect to the reporters he or she deals with.

3.) Solid Content Marketing Principles Can Help Your Cause

The number of newspaper journalists is declining. But online journalism is growing. For better or for worse, the drive for page views has led to an environment that tends to encourage what one might call clickbait. If your subject heading reads “News Release,” an online journalist may give it a pass. Instead, give them an interesting headline they could use if they post your story. Charles Ryder, CEO of White Chalk Road says, “If you are familiar with solid content marketing principles you will know, coming up with an eye-catching click-bait title for your article can substantially increase click-through rate. The same goes for your subject line when reaching out to journalists. They receive hundreds of story-pitch emails each day, so you need to draft your subject line with the same craftsmanship you would apply to your headlines to grab their attention. A shocking statistic, a controversial statement or a topical hook make for highly clickable subject lines.”

4.) Know Your Journalist’s Beat

Why would you approach a food journalist with a story on stamp collecting? You wouldn’t — unless you also knew that particular journalist collected stamps as a hobby. Know the lay of the land. Know which journalists work where and what they write about primarily. In essence, get to know journalists as people so you can play to their personal interests as well as their professional ones.

5.) Get Contact Info Right

What do you do with emails that don’t use your name, misspell it, or have the name of someone who used to have your position? If you’re like many people, you delete them. Editors are the same way. Know who you’re sending stories to.

6.) Deadlines Mean Something

Journalists have deadlines. They hate to get a good tip 15 minutes before the event. Always give them plenty of advance notice. If you have to, postpone or repeat. Communicate with them about what their deadlines look like.

7.) Source Your Info

Journalists back up their stories with facts and figures. Don’t think for a minute you can dress up a story with language and visuals but leave out credible sources, and then expect to see it posted.

8.) Photographers Can Be an Ally

Don’t ignore photographers. If you’re dealing with newspapers or television, the person behind the camera is not just a stooge. They usually have input into story selection and editing. After working with TV videographers for many years, I can tell you that they usually do the actual video editing. Their editorial input is highly valued by the reporter they’re matched with any given day. If you can grab them with a compelling visual image that relates to your client, you may have a strong ally on your side.

9.) Be Available

How easy are you to contact? You wouldn’t believe how many PR “professionals” don’t have this part down. Many journalists despise having to hunt down a source like a detective. Make things easy for them by having your contact information always up to date and comprehensive. Don’t go on vacation in the middle of a marketing campaign without leaving some way for journalists to contact you if they need an update. Also, make sure whoever is in charge while you’re gone is fully informed and also has updated contact information.

10.) See What Works and Integrate It

When a journalist clicks with a marketer, and finds his or her pitch material to be appropriate or newsworthy often enough, it is not usually a case of gross favoritism. It doesn’t happen all that often, and the marketer most likely just struck the right chord with that journalist. Instead of begrudging a successful PR effort, see it as a chance to educate yourself on what works, and consider emulating them. Of course, don’t copy anything exactly. Adapt successful ideas to your own approach.

11.) Try Robust Visual Media

Believe it or not, journalists get tired of words. If all you’re sending them are words, words, words, you’re not making a smart move. Spice up your story with infographics for more interest.

12.) Know Writing/Style Fundamentals

Journalists have a set of composition rules they follow, such as the AP stylebook. They will almost always completely rewrite much of what you send them, but you can make it easier on them by learning at least the fundamentals of news writing.

For you marketers, what have your experiences with journalists been like? Do you have any tips for making your interactions with them more optimal? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.