Pitch your way to better coverage
Gorkana rounds up key learnings from our journalist interviews and briefings over the last six months to help you get the coverage of your dreams
Know the essentials
Being familiar with what we publish online and in print is essential, says The Telegraph’s music editor, Bernadette McNulty.
The Times’ fashion director, Anna Murphy, says PRs need to know and read her pages, so they understand her journalistic sensibilities and audience.
Lucy Rock, news editor at The Observer, believes it is a huge help to have an understanding of both The Observer and Sunday newspapers in general. There are some misconceptions about The Observer and the types of stories and issues the paper covers.
PRs who understand how The Independent on Sunday’s New Review and its regular features work, and can suggest where their idea could fit best, are invaluable, says editor Mike Higgins.
If PRs appreciate that Ars Technica UK is not just another tech site, then there’s every chance we’ll have a long, happy relationship, says senior editor Sebastian Anthony.
PRs should make sure they know why their story should be covered, says Gareth Beavis, phone and tablet editor for Future Technology brands TechRadar and T3. Look at what he covers and then come up with an angle.
It’s essential for PRs to know the site well and be aware of what it doesn’t cover before pitching, says TrustedReviews editor Evan Kypreos.
Think about the tangible benefit your story offers to the publication’s readers, says Nursing Times editor Jenni Middleton. Simply tell the team what you did and why you did it.
Get to the point
Pete Picton, editorial director for Mirror.co.uk, says the team wants the main point of the story in the subject line. They often don’t have time to read the email, so the subject line needs to engage them. If they do open an email, their attention needs to be grabbed within the first three sentences.
Sky News reporter Richard Suchet says it is harder and harder for PRs to make a story stand out as he is bombarded with emails. Sometimes less can be more when it comes to grabbing his attention.
“Unless you have a big exclusive story for me, I am afraid I probably don’t have ages and ages to talk,” says the Daily Mirror’s showbiz editor, Mark Jefferies. PRs need to be brief on the phone. If a pitch requires lots of detail, send it in an email, don’t explain it over the phone.
PRs need to get straight to the point when it comes to emails, and the subject line is crucial, says Independent on Sunday editor Lisa Markwell. The team is constantly inundated with emails trying to grab their attention, so a pitch email needs to stand out.
It’s always helpful when PRs go beyond “stage one” of pitching with a generic press release, and provide a tailored offer for Time Out, says editor-in-chief Caroline McGinn.
Nursing Times news editor Steve Ford knows that some PRs have no choice but to call him, but he’s looking for a strong angle and a PR that is armed with information.
Be ready at a moment’s notice
PRs need to be ready to offer what the team needs at a moment’s notice, says Sky News senior producer Ruth Gold. It’s all about making life easy. A PR may be representing a company CEO who is only available at a certain time, but her advice is to be more flexible or risk losing coverage.
Put yourself in the shoes of the person you’re pitching to, says Mirror.co.uk’s Pete Picton. Digital moves so quickly and often someone on the team may only have 10 minutes to work on a story.
Yahoo! UK news editor Simon Garner likes the way PRs are starting to think about how newsrooms work. If a PR can stay on what’s trending and use what they’re pitching to identify what the leading stories are that particular week, they’re onto a winner.
Honesty is key
The Pool’s co-founder, Sam Baker, wants total honesty from PRs. Selling everything as if it’s the best can be a turnoff. If you have a good relationship, tell her that while what you’re pitching may not be the greatest thing ever, asking for a favour can often prove fruitful. It doesn’t always work, but it does build trust.
Everyone wants exclusive content, but if a PR approaches The New Review’s Mike Higgins honestly about where else a story is going and how it’s being covered (if they know), he’s happy to have a conversation about what angle the magazine could take.
Ars Technica UK’s Sebastian Anthony wants all the juicy details up front. Tell him straight up why you think this development should be part of the greater technological story.
Time Out’s Caroline McGinn says the magazine is honourable and will very rarely pull something if they have committed to it. She expects the same treatment from PRs. If a PR pitches an idea that they subsequently can’t deliver, it will result in a big black mark against their name and who they work for.
Cut the puff
“Obviously, we’re not interested in running pure puff pieces for brands or particular products”, says The Observer’s Lucy Rock. A story should be exclusive and relevant to the paper’s readers.
PRs shouldn’t expect the Daily Mirror’s social team to simply regurgitate content, says head of social content Alex Hudson. “If it’s puff or just wishy washy then there really isn’t any point in sending it to us.”
PRs need to remember that Time Out is independent, says Caroline McGinn. So if the team is pitched something that has a corporate spin, it’s not going to work. If a PR is pitching interview time with an artist who is linked to a corporate project, the team is unlikely to take it.
The Daily Mirror’s Mark Jefferies knows that PRs need to balance the needs of clients with the needs of journalists. If the content, story or quotes are good, their requests can normally be accommodated in print or online. The worst thing is poor press releases or quotes which are just blatant attempts at advertorial.
Online means opportunity
PRs often seem split into print and online, says The Telegraph’s Bernadette McNulty. “There is a focus on when things are running in print and less interest in what original material we can run online or how we can present the story differently.
“Increasingly, online audiences at The Telegraph have started thinking about digital formats differently and not letting print dictate commissioning. It’s good for everyone as there are more readers for any review or interview, so it would be great if PRs came with that broader view.”
Yahoo! UK’s mix of content is quite vast and often a story will be purely picture-based, says Julia White. She is constantly looking for video opportunities and for key news line and tries to lead socially when it comes to interview techniques.
Channel Mum sees its role as facilitating a big collaboration between brands, YouTube creators and audiences, says founder Siobhan Freegard. “We’re really keen to hear from PRs who are looking to deliver messaging to mums in a really friendly, authentic way. There really is a broad range of opportunities for PRs.”
If the story is good enough for the Daily Mirror’s Mark Jefferies, it doesn’t matter when you call him, he’ll get it in the paper. And if it is the middle of the night he would break it online. “These days showbiz never sleeps.”
Manners cost nothing
PRs sometimes need to take no for an answer, says The Times’ Anna Murphy. “If I say it won’t work for me, it’s because it won’t. PRs who try to persuade you they are right and you are wrong aren’t doing themselves any favours long-term. As a former magazine editor, if there is one thing I am good at it is making the correct decision for my reader.”
Future Technology’s Gareth Beavis appreciates that PRs are busy, but don’t call up and read out the press release or ask if he has received it. Try looking at what he covers and then come up with a suitable angle instead.
Time Out deputy editor Jonny Ensall says his strongest relationships come from PRs who aren’t pushy, but rather are immediately available and able to make things happen quickly – especially when he has a slot that suddenly needs to be filled. PRs who have a willingness to help and get information over quickly are invaluable.
PRs should ask, not tell, according to Nursing Times’ Jenni Middleton. She is often told in pitches that her readers will love a story – if there’s anyone who’s going to know what Nursing Times readers like and don’t like, it’s her. Equally, calling 30 seconds after sending a release is annoying – how can the team have read it yet?
Journalists hate to be badgered about something, especially when it’s not even a big story, says the Daily Mirror’s Mark Jefferies. The best thing a PR can do is make a release and quote as user friendly as possible.
Build your little black book…
The Pool’s co-founder, Lauren Laverne, says it’s about having a good experience when a PR first makes contact; and coming to her with the right brand or person that works.
The New Review’s Mike Higgins likes to meet with PRs and finds the best stories come out of face-to-face conversations. Trying to find out what drives a journalist is a big help when pitching, but if they’re trying to sell in something that bores him, it goes straight in the bin.
“Invite us out for a coffee as it’s so easy to forget an email from a person we’ve never met with a “Dear [algorithm]” top”, says the Daily Mirror’s Alex Hudson. Meet us before you pitch anything specific so we can give you a better idea of the things we’re after.
Time Out’s Caroline McGinn believes relationships work best when they are brought together by a shared passion for experiencing the best of London and showcasing the new things the capital has to offer. PRs and journalists often get into their careers for the same motivations – both are inspired by curiosity.
Sky News’ Richard Suchet has built good relationships with PRs. There are some PRs who send him emails that he will always read because he knows they are worth reading – even if he won’t be able to use the story at that time. If he knows he’s receiving something from a trusted PR, who doesn’t email that often, he is more likely to sit up and take notice.
Yahoo! UK’s Julia White is often won over by pretty images and lots of stats. Sending products to the team, rather than just a press release about it, can also draw attention. Everyone on the team is also a big fan of cake!
One of Simon Garner’s (Yahoo! UK) favourite pieces of content was a partnership with the Sony World Photography Awards after Sony approached the team and gave them exclusive access to its entire library of pictures. The team ended up running several galleries over consecutive weeks.
….because journalists can’t do without PRs
The Times’ Anna Murphy says: “There is no one better than a great PR. When I come across a PR who understands my reader and my editorial product, and can help me as much as I can help them, I am delighted.
“There are a few people I know I can call who will get me thinking, and give me ideas. And, it goes without saying, they are the people I will always be happy to talk to when they call me.”
“PRs are our life and soul,” says TrustedReviews’ gaming editor, Samantha Loveridge. “We don’t exist without them and vice versa I guess.”
Christian Guiltenane, editor of aTEEN, Attitude’s new digital magazine for young gay men, says: “For a magazine that is so new, PRs I have approached have been very helpful indeed.”
TheChicGeek’s creative director, Marcus Jaye, describes his relationship with PRs as: “ great”. “I think everybody knows me!”
“I have good relationships with a number of PRs and press officers working in a variety of fields”, says The Observer’s Lucy Rock. “I welcome approaches from any organisations with story ideas/interview opportunities which would appeal to our readership.”
The Yahoo! UK team all have great relationships with PRs and rely on them for help with content.
“I’d never realised how hard PRs work and how difficult it can be, especially in the entry positions,” says Future Publishing’s Gareth Beavis. “We work really hard to maintain friendships with PRs and try to understand what their clients want.