For people who ‘do’ communications for a living, journalists can be a pretty difficult to get hold of. They don’t pick up their phones, answer emails or respond to invites (not without a lot of prompting, anyway). Which can be sooo frustrating if you’re trying to pitch a story.
If you want to increase your chances of getting media coverage, you need to get your idea in front of the person who can make a decision about whether or not to run your story. But finding these kind of people - a section editor on an industry magazine or a specialist freelancer, for example - can be challenging. And when you do track the right journalists down, how do you build relationships without sounding like a creep? Read on and find out…
Twitter is where most journalists hang out, so making twitter lists of journalists you’re keen to connect with can be a smart move. Checking in daily to see what they’re talking about, not only helps you find out what topics they’re interested in, you may also spot them looking for help with stories they're currently working on.
Once you’ve found a journalist you want to connect with on Twitter, start building up the relationship by sharing and commenting on their posts. This way, when you pop up in their inbox with a story idea, they should recognise your name. Don’t overdo it though - there’s a fine line between looking interested and stalking.
It’s worth bearing in mind that many journalists use Twitter like a search engine, particularly when they’re looking for people to talk to for stories they’re working on. So having an up-to-date profile, sharing content that relates to your area of expertise and using hashtags - which group together posts on a similar topic - can be a good move. If there’s anything you’re particularly keen to raise awareness of (e.g. a new book), you might also want to add a pinned post at the top of your feed.
On a breaking news story, journalists may also use geotags to find people to talk to in a particular area - another reason why it’s worth being active on Twitter (and sharing your location, when it's safe for you to do so). Never turn down the opportunity to comment on a story - even if it doesn't have any obvious links to your business - as it's an opportunity to build a relationship with a journalist you might be able to work with in the future (unless it's bad for business, that is, and you can find out more about that here).
There’s no reason why you can’t pitch an idea over on Twitter, but just be aware that once your ideas is out there, it isn’t exclusive any more, which can be off-putting for journalists. Sending a tweet saying you have a story idea and asking if it’s ok to send a direct message (they’ll need to follow you back for you to do that) is usually better.
And don’t ‘spam’ journalists with story ideas. If a journalist can see you’ve pitched exactly the same idea to dozens of other journalists, they’re unlikely to be interested (particularly if you’re sharing it with competing programmes/titles).
Many journalists are listed on LinkedIn, so if you’re looking to find the name of someone in a particular role on a specific publication or programme e.g. deputy editor or producer, it can be a useful resource.
There’s no reason why you can’t message journalists with story ideas on LinkedIn, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a reply. Most seem to use it for job hunting - or to make themselves more easily found by prospective employers - so if you’re pitching story ideas, Twitter is probably a better bet.
Do bear in mind that journalists do look for people to talk to on Linkedin though, so having an up to date profile - ideally with examples of your work and/or a short video of clip of you talking or presenting is a good idea. If it’s immediately obvious that you know your subject - and are a good talker - journalists are much more likely to want to connect with you.
Take particular care with your ‘professional headline’ (the one-liner under your name). While it’s tempting to put your title e.g. ‘Director of leadership coaching company’ or ‘Employer engagement co-ordinator’ this will mean nothing to a busy journalist. Explaining how you help people e.g. ‘I help female CEOs get promoted’ or ‘I help make employers create happier workplaces’ is far better.
Creating content for LinkedIn Pulse - the platform where users can share their own content - can be another way get to noticed. Not only are posts search engine friendly (which means, thanks to the authority of LinkedIn itself, content gets ranked relatively quickly), it also boosts your authority and keeps you front-of-mind with your followers. This is not just useful for attracting journalists - it can also help you attract new business.
Posting regular content on your Facebook page can help journalists find you more easily.
On the flip side, do be aware that some journalists trawl Facebook groups - particularly community ‘noticeboards’ - for potential stories. So always be mindful of what you’re sharing in Facebook groups - you never know who might be reading.
Following journalists you’re keen to connect with on Instagram is a good idea. Checking in daily to see what they’re talking about, will help you get an idea of what topics they’re particularly interested in. Get yourself on their radar by liking and commenting on their content, but as with Twitter, remember there’s a fine line between looking interested and stalking.
Remember, also, that having a great Instagram feed can be newsworthy in itself. For example, the Gaybeards got tons of media coverage last Christmas for their Instagram campaign showing photographs of them, erm, covering their beards in glitter.
While there are aren't so many journalists hanging out on Snapchat at the moment, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact it means you’ll stand out more. Finding journalists who are hanging out on Snapchat (the Ghostcodes app can help) and following them can be a good way to build relationships.
And unlike some of the other social media platforms, it seems to be more socially acceptable to message new connections on Snapchat to say ‘hi’ - so you don’t need to worry so much about looking like a stalker. Go ahead and introduce yourself.
Finding journalists who are active on Periscope, watching their ‘scopes’ and sending messages can be a great way to connect.
If a big story is breaking, journalists may also use geotags to find people to talk to in a particular area - another reason why it’s worth being active on Periscope.
Make yourself visible
Lastly, do remember that being active on social media not just about finding journalists - it’s about being found. Having up-to-date social media profiles (ideally with a 24/7 contact number), posting regular content that shows your expertise (rather than telling people about it) and having your own blog will make you much more visible to journalists.
Did you find this post useful? You may also like: how to find journalists' contact details.