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The do's and don'ts of working with journalists

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What are national journalists really looking for from PRs? How can you improve your chances of securing coverage and build a good relationship with a journo at the same time? A national journalist has kindly given us their best do's and don'ts on how to get in contact and pitch a story to the national press. Notebooks at the ready!


Working on a story with a PR who is a whizz at their job makes for an informed, compelling and accurate piece.

It also makes life so much easier. A plus for all.

Here are some do’s and don’ts of working with national journalists that can help make things work better.

They are not in order of importance…

DO - know your stuff

This sounds so obvious. But a huge downfall of the PR world lies where someone simply doesn’t understand the story.

Blagging one’s way through the odd piece of work is bound to happen every now and again - not everyone can be a walking encyclopedia.

But it’s so obvious when a PR hasn’t got a clue. If you don’t really have a grip on the subject matter, get someone to help you before you pick up the phone to a journalist.

DON’T read press releases down the phone

For any PR trying to engage a journalist with a story, it’s key to make it sound interesting if you want it to make tomorrow’s paper.

One of the biggest turn offs is when PRs call with a story and read a press release down the phone.

You know they’re reading because no-one in normal conversation would say “Brits are increasingly overlooking valuable equity locked up in their homes, with £2,589 worth of items they no longer need per household, equating to a whopping £70.4 billion nationally.”

Telling the story in your own words is far more engaging - and less like listening to a recording.

DO read the papers

Research the title you're targeting. Is yours the kind of story that journalist or section would run? Do they often use case studies? Do they use infographics? And don’t confuse daily and Sunday sections.

DON’T miss a deadline

Understanding deadlines is so crucial. Requests for information with a one-day turnaround, met with “I’m a bit busy today - but can get back to you next week” are not going to do much for your relationship with a national journalist who it’s safe to say will always be working to a tight deadline.

DO find hard news angles for surveys

Surveys land in a journalist’s inbox by the dozen every single day. Many say the same thing, year in, year out.

People aren’t saving enough/insuring their homes for the correct amount/engaging with finances etc.

If they don’t say anything new, it’s hard for a journalist to get an editor interested.

But with some thought and preparation it’s possible to add value and turn it into a topical story.

Find a news angle it fits with and mention it in the conversation. Also, have a case study ready - preferably attractive and already photographed.

DON’T ask for coverage

A blanket email to a directory of journalists containing a brief intro to a release ended with “Full release below, are you able to run this for Wednesday?” is…brave.

Most editors would probably be a little affronted by such a blatant request.

DO get someone to proof releases and emails

We all do it - but spelling mistakes or typos look bad. At least one extra fresh pair of eyes should help pick up any mistakes in copy. Check the spelling of names and company names. And don’t capitalise random words.

DON’T use ‘press release’ as the subject of an email

It is extremely unhelpful and looks dull. It happens more than you might think.

DO put contact details on emails

So many people don’t. If a journalist needs a query answering right away or wants to make a request for more information, having to find the number - probably through Google - is a pain and makes for an unnecessary delay.

DON’T hassle journalists

If every press release was followed up with the phone call: “Did you get my press release?” then newspapers would be full of blank pages as there would be no time to do anything other than field calls.

If you must chase, do it via email. If you don’t hear back, it is safe to assume that there is no interest.

DO fire off interesting stats

Well-crafted press releases crammed with information, quotes and infographics are great.

But sometimes a couple of bullet points is enough to grab the attention of a writer.

An example is from a couple of days into April’s mini heatwave. A PR from the Argos press office emailed:

“Just wanted to get in touch as Argos has seen sales of seasonal products rocket this week, with hammocks and swing seats up by 208% and garden chairs and sun loungers up by 150% year-on-year.”

No long-winded chat (although there was a lengthy press release attached should you wish to include quotes from Argos's finest).

Newspapers love a weather story. These numbers could be whipped up into a story for the news pages (consumers battle for the last parasol)…interiors sections (find your perfect garden look), or even in a business piece (Argos sees a boost).


DON’T use jargon

Technical language has no place in a release for national press. Use plain English, whatever the subject matter. If you absolutely have to use it, include an explanatory sentence.

DO get to the point quickly

Whether it’s on the phone or on email dive straight into the most interesting thing about the story. No need for ‘sorry to bother you’ or any other humble introduction. Get straight in there.

And there we have it! The best tips for PRs who find themselves scratching their heads over a lack of coverage.

Some brilliant advice that we'll definitely be taking on board here at Front Door HQ!

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