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Tips From SCMP: What Journalists Want From PR Folks

Tips From SCMP: What Journalists Want From PR Folks

Journalists and PR practitioners often have a love-hate relationship. In the new media era, how should PR practitioners engage with the media? Furthermore, once the relationship has been established, how should they manage and foster that relationship? George Chen, managing editor and columnist for the International Edition of the South China Morning Post, a media professional with many years of experience, shared his insights with PR communicators at the 2015 PR Newswire New Communication Annual Summit.

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What is news?

Tips From SCMP: What Journalists Want From PR Folks

In Chen’s opinion, news falls into two categories – “what” and “so what“. “What” is easy to understand – meaning “what happened?” and “so what” is the element that is easily ignored.

When distributing press releases, most businesses are prone to just telling the stories from their own point of view. Many of them often miss the mark on understanding what makes a story newsworthy: the “so what” — why is this piece of news important to your readers and the media? Chen emphasized that PR professionals need to focus on the “so what” element of their story before picking up the phone to contact the media. 

When it comes to news releases, pick quality over quantity.

1. Leave out the unimportant matters

As a media professional, Chen receives more than 200 emails from companies per day, with more than half being press releases and media invitations. For example, a company can send out a news release every time its CEO participates in an event or has a photo opportunity with notable business leaders. That’s totally cool, of course, but you can’t expect the media to publish that kind of news every time. Sure, it makes good sense to feature this kind of news on the company’s website, but it’s not necessary to blast that news to all media outlets.

Of course, it doesn’t mean that PR professionals shouldn’t write anything about their companies. If each press release was to be about product launches or event announcements, then a company may have very few stories to tell over the course of a year, as most companies may only launch one or two products per year. PR communicators should ponder what types of news deserve more attention, what their audiences care about the most, what the media lacks in terms of what they should know, and how to effectively tell their brand stories. For example, Chen said the human element is an essential part to be highlighted when doing your storytelling — people behind the news are usually more interesting than the news event itself.

2. Avoid jargon

Make sure you know who your target readers are when issuing a press release or pitching your story to your target journalists. “Many journalists (myself included) often forget about this key mantra when we write a news article,” Chen said. “In particularly, when people have worked in a field for a long time, they may assume their readers will understand what they have written. Chen said, “For example, I was working on a few technology news articles recently, and I basically assumed everyone knew what O2O and B2B was, so I didn’t bother to explain it.”

When Chen worked at Reuters, an editor once told him that a good article is one that your grandmother would be able to understand, even if she has no prior knowledge of the topic at hand. “For example, let’s say if it’s a complicated news release that talks about stocks and investment. As a journalist, you should have the capability to describe it well enough in one or two sentences, so that even your grandma who might not know what asset allocation is can get the general idea.”

The same rule also applies to PR communicators. You need to know who your audience is before you write a press release. Otherwise, you don’t really know whom you are reaching – whether they are the general public, or the insiders who are more knowledgeable of the subject matter.

3. Avoid empty talk

According the Chen, content with no real meat in it is bound to lead to disappointment in the relationship between the media and PR communicators. “Just like the boy who cried wolf, if you distribute 10 press releases and the first nine have no newsworthy content, when I see the 10th in my email folder, I will already conclude that it is as meaningless as the first nine, and ignore it completely. However if you include some newsworthy elements in every news release you send me, I will quickly learn to appreciate your judgment for news,” Chen said.

Does being able to talk to the editor-in-chief mean your news is going to get the attention you think it deserves?

A frequent question asked by many PR practitioners is this: to whom should I address the press release? According to Chen, “if you are personally acquainted with the editor-in-chief of a newspaper, it is quite possible that you may get things done by going directly to him or her. If the relationship is a strong one, sure, go ahead and leverage it, however, you must be aware that there are a few potential disadvantages if you want to get things done through your personal relationship with the person at the top.”

  • The journalist will be the one who writes about you. Not the editor-in-chief.
    It is the journalist who ends up doing the real work. If the journalist feels that the work has been pushed onto him or her, the final article may not necessarily be what you want nor produce the desired communication impact.
  • The rise of social media has greatly increased journalists’ influence. In addition to the different media organizations they work for, most journalists also maintain their own presence and increase their influences on various social media channels, such as Twitter and Weibo. If you don’t establish a good working relationship with the journalists, they may share your news on their own social channels along with some negative comments.

How do you make press releases worthwhile and worthy of distribution?

1. Identify the right journalists and cater to their interests.

Even if you have selected the right media outlet, different journalists working at the same media organization may have different focuses of topic. Chen said, “As media professionals, we receive hundreds of press releases a day. The worst case scenario is when a PR professional sent out the same news release to more than 100 journalists in our editorial team – which is a very typical situation that happens in our office. Before you send a group blast, please find out the journalist who covers the relevant beat. The worst result is when the journalists pass the release back and forth, and nobody wants to handle it.” Therefore, make sure you know who is responsible for the type of news you are pitching and identify the right journalists.

2. Choose your media channels wisely. 

One of the most important features of wire services and news websites is their speed. Companies should think carefully when they engage with a wire service or news site: Anything that is said in an interview becomes water spilled on the ground – you just can’t take it back.

When talked about how traditional media such as newspapers are facing challenges from emerging media, Chen said, “I think all newspapers have an increasingly shorter deadline now. If the cut-off time for print is at 8 pm, but you’re just sending me a press release an hour later, it will be difficult for me to give you any good coverage even if you had a compelling story.”

“Furthermore, the same applies to TV, especially for live broadcast. In fact, I would recommend it is better to take a pass, if a company or its executives are not well prepared or have no experience or training in TV. Because TV is still the most influential media channel. If the live broadcast does not go well, it may do more harm than good.”

Six tips to keep in mind:

  1. Frequent communication should be maintained. Even if a company doesn’t have any important news to distribute, it should keep in touch with the media and give updates on the progress of product releases and new business developments in a timely manner. Don’t wait until the last minute when you have a piece of news that needs to be published or when a PR crisis occurs before you think of turning to journalists for help.
  2. Don’t say “no comment”. Especially in the event of a PR crisis, that’s probably the last thing a media professional would want to hear from you. Can you proactively give some background information and give an approximate time on when the media can come back to you for more information? You should at least let the media know that the company is making an effort to sort things out and be responsive.
  3. Don’t put “innovative” – if you are not that “innovative”. Before you say anything about innovation, be sure the things that you are pitching is truly ground breaking. Whether it is about an event, an exclusive interview or you have some new data to share, you also need to provide something valuable for the media to cover your “innovative” piece of news.
  4. Identify the right platform to reach your audiences. Keep in mind that mainstream media is not necessarily a must. If the right platform is sought and the most desired target audience is reached, the result may be way better than a small article published in the mainstream media.
  5. Don’t rely solely on external PR agencies. A PR agency could have hundreds of clients. We often encounter some embarrassing situations where some PR agencies distribute news about company A while referring to company B.
  6. The media and PR pros are in the same boat, but they may have different end goals. Nonetheless, there is always room for that relationship to be fostered and improved. If PR communicators can consistently offer more useful insights in their respective industries, it can help establish a stronger professional relationship between the two sides.

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Editor’s note: PR Newswire has rolled out a new online survey, titled “2016 Journalists’ Working Status and News Gathering Habits in Asia-Pacific”, to explore how the new era of digital communication has impacted the professional lives of journalists. The short survey welcomes input from the media community in six major markets – Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan, and is open for participation until May 16, 2016. Stand a chance to win an iPad Air by taking part in the survey

Source: PR Newswire

This article is based on George Chen’s speech at PR Newswire’s 2015 New Communication Annual Forum.

This article is translated and adapted from the original Chinese article written by Stella Shi, Marketing Executive at PR Newswire. Please indicate the source and provide a link should you wish to reprint it.