How many of these things have you done this week?
Researched a publication/programme you’d like to get coverage in
Written a press release or pitch to a journalist
Sent a press release or pitch to a journalist
Quite possibly all three.
But how many conversations have you had with journalists this week? I mean ‘real life’ conversations - where you can see the expression on their face or hear the intonation in their voice?
I’m guessing it’s very few.
Maybe it’s none at all.
While social media makes it easier to network with journalists, there’s still no substitute for meeting them in person.
People love to do business with people they like. So when you meet a journalist in person, not only can you pick up those insider tips you can’t get from Twitter or email (like no-go topics or the worst time of day to pitch, for example), you can also build rapport – which makes it so much easier when you have a story to pitch.
In a time when overstretched journalists rarely reply to emails or answer their phones, it’s easy to tell yourself there’s no point in even trying to meet journalists in person. But that doesn’t mean you should give up on the idea. You just need to think creatively.
So in the spirit of creative thinking, here are my best tips to meet journalists:
Forget about the big guns
Meeting editors can be great, but less experienced journalists are often just as well-placed to give you the inside track on how things work at a particular publications and programmes, including things like lead times (the time between a story being commissioned and published/broadcast) and how/when to pitch.
Freelance journalists can be brilliant too. Not only do they have insight into how things work on multiple publications/programmes, they often have established relationships with journalists/editors on their patch.And because their livelihood depends on selling stories (it’s how they pay their bills), they’re often more open to meeting up to discuss ideas. If they love your story, some will even pitch your ideas to journalists they already have relationships with, on your behalf.
In fact, talking to any journalist – regardless of whether they work on your target publications/programmes – can be invaluable, as the more you know about how journalists think, the better.
When I first started selling stories into the national media, 15 years ago, I was willing to meet up with anyone who was a journalist. And I mean anyone. Many of those people I met all those years ago (mostly friends of friends of friends) were on specialist/regional publications and happy to share a few tips in exchange for a coffee. Some are now on nationals and leading consumer magazines. So when I’m looking for an ‘in’ on a particular publication, there’s usually someone in my network who can help (or at least point me in the right direction).
Invite them to an event (the right way)
People are always asking me whether they should invite journalists along to their events. While this is a great idea in principle, you need to ask yourself why a journalist would give up an afternoon (or evening) of their time to hang out at your event.
And the truth is: unless you can give them a really good incentive, they probably won’t.
So what makes a great incentive? Usually access to other people they really want to meet (and I don’t mean your CEO - unless he/she happens to be super famous/influential).
One of the best attended events I was went to as an education correspondent was a ‘meet and greet’ with the (then) new education minister Tristram Hunt. Every national and industry education correspondent was there - crammed into a room hardly bigger than a broom cupboard - drinking warm beer and eating soggy crisps. Why? Because we all wanted the chance to talk to the new ‘broom’ (if you excuse the pun).
So what's the lesson in that? If you want to get a journalist along to your event, make sure there are other people there they’ll be keen to meet.
Go to events they’re speaking at
Most journalists are invited to speak at events from time to time and there’s usually an opportunity to ask questions/and meet them face-to-face afterwards - giving you the chance to . get some feedback on your ideas and make a personal connection (both vital for pitching success).
While there are many ways to network with journalists these days, there really is no substitute for the face-to-face meeting.
That's exactly what I started running What Journalists Want five years ago - live events where I get all the key journalists from a specific sector (well, as many as I can get my hands on) in the same place, on the same day, to share their thoughts on:
- What they’re looking for in a story
- How/when to pitch to journalists
And all those tricky questions, like: ‘should I pitch the same idea to different publications?’ ‘should I offer exclusives?’ ‘what should I do if journalists are ignoring my emails?’ ‘should I pitch by phone/email?’ ‘can I pitch on social media?’ ‘do journalists actually read press releases?’
And so on...
If you want to meet all the key journalists in the education sector, all in one place, on the same day, get yourself along to What Journalists Want on Monday November 2 in London.
If you book by Friday September 11 at 5pm, you’ll get a FREE video of the event (in MP4 format) along with your ticket for just £199 plus VAT. To find out more and book your ticket, click here.
If you’re reading this and don’t work in education but totally see the value of meeting journalists in person, I have three lovely Soulful PR sessions for you.
My SoulfulPR sessions are a chance to meet journalists in an informal setting (maximum numbers 25) and ask them anything you want about developing story ideas, pitching & more.
October 1, Charlie Lindlar, deputy blogs editor, Huffington Post. Book here.
Oct 26, Harriet Minter, Women in Leadership editor, Guardian. Book here.
Jan 21, Lauren Hadden, deputy editor, Psychologies. Book here.
Hope to see you at one of these events!