by Heather-Ann Cody
May 10th, 2016

In today’s ever-changing media landscape, building solid relationships with journalists has never been more important. To secure top tier hits, understanding journalist’s needs is vital. Let’s face it; even the hardest to please clients can’t hide the smile that front-page news brings.

I’ve joined forces with a selection of top Australian journalists to discover what they really want, and the secrets of media success.

1. Research, research, research!

Before you lift a phone or hit send, make sure you know everything there is to know about the publication, the journalist you’re speaking to and the story you’re pitching in. It’s important to be able to add as much- and as relevant – value as possible, every time.

Stephen Brook, Features Editor at The Australian says, “Get to know the publication that you are targeting. Journalists receive hundreds of releases and pitches a day and it is astonishing how many are misdirected.”

2. Prepare your resources

What do you need to make a really great story?

According to a leading news journalist, “An interesting angle, a unique case study, direct access to talent and great photos go a long way to getting a story over the line.”

Beverley Head, Freelance Writer reveals, “News value, facts, figures, context and a good interview are what really make a story sing”.

3. Excellent images and video can really help

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. This is certainly true when it comes to a successful news story, particularly in today’s online-first world. Check out what one of Australia’s leading journalists said about the very specific needs of the online news environment;

“Photos in horizontal form rather than vertical form are needed for websites. Please send professionally shot horizontal photos taken by a photographer with news experience rather than the old vertical headshot used on a promotional website.

“Video is also increasingly important and can help get a story better placement on the website.”

4. Be pitch perfect

Whether it’s gardening, finance, lifestyle, travel or mainstream news you’re targeting, the fundamental pitching principles apply.

Sue Mitchell, Senior Companies Reporter at the Australian Financial Review says;

Email is best
“First contact by email, setting out the basic details of the story, why it may be of interest and whether any executives are available for interview.”

Follow up
- Follow up with a phone call after a decent interval – i.e. 24 hours, not 10 minutes, later!

Key points to remember;
- Don’t ring on deadline, i.e. anytime after 3pm
- Don’t promise exclusivity when other media have or will be approached
- Don’t try to tell the journalist how to write the story

5. Timing is everything!

The best time to pitch a story to media is between 9:30am and 11am. During this time journalists are attending pitch meetings and mapping out their day. Once you have pitched in your story, make sure you are available to take any calls and answer questions that journalists may have.

Stephen Brook, Features Editor at The Australian says, “I once received a press release from a large organisation and found out that every member of the press team was away that day on an off site and unavailable to return my call. Don’t do this.”

6. Build long-term solid relationships- it doesn’t end at the pitch!

A mutually trusted and respected relationship goes a long way in media relations.

“It is also good to form a relationship with reporters if you are sending them lots of story pitches in a certain area. It is definitely worth trying to arrange a coffee to meet each other face to face,” said an experienced journalist.

Just for fun, here are the top pet peeves of bad media relations:

  • Never ask for a PDF of an article- it’s unprofessional.
  • Don’t promise exclusivity when other media have been approached.
  • Don’t have unrealistic expectations about the value of a story.
  • Don’t send content that just doesn’t fit the publication- square peg, round hole….you get the idea!
  • Don’t ask when a story is going to appear without checking the newspaper or website first!

This article first appeared as a guest post by Weber Shandwick Australia’s Heather-Ann Cody on CommsCon.

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