I have worked as a journalist and editor for a decade now, and I have spoken with countless people over that time. Between a couple of dozen phone conversations each week and upwards of 100 emails every day, not to mention attending events, it’s likely to be in the tens of thousands – possibly more.
Some have been private individuals; most have been in business – whether as employees, directors of companies of all shapes and sizes, or public relations professionals.
A common thread among all of these people that I, and the many colleagues I have worked with, meet boils down to this: people forget that journalists are people too. We are busy professionals with jobs to do. We have private lives. We have ethics. We have feelings.
It’s surprising how many people from all walks of life seem to forget this point. From the PR professional who calls for no other reason than to say “I just sent you an email” to the business operator who is unapologetically rude when dismissing our enquiry on behalf of a concerned customer.
Speaking for myself, if not for journalists everywhere, I can say that being treated as a living, breathing person goes a long way. You treat your customers this way. You (hopefully) treat your employees, suppliers, partners, etc this way. And so too should you treat anyone from the media.
Follow this simple rule and I can practically guarantee you a successful relationship with the press, which can go a long way to helping you build your business and connect with new customers.
‘How?’, you may ask. Here are a few tips to get you started. You never know, some of them may even be useful beyond the media and help you relate better with everyone you deal with:
• Set up a Google news feed. This is a really valuable tool for businesses, as it allows you to keep track of who is talking about you, what they are saying, who is responding and potentially even how many people have viewed it. It also saves both you and the journalist a great deal of time by avoiding the phone calls or emails along the lines of “Did you get my story? When will it appear? Can you send me the link?” (journalists field these calls ALL the time).
• Stand out from the crowd. Treat your approach to the media as you would a new customer. You know you’re great at what you do, but how do you get that across? A journalist isn’t interested in speaking with you just because you’re there. You need to sell them on what you’re doing that is new, innovative, interesting, historic, clever or useful. Think how and why, not what and who.
• Be respectful. As mentioned already, it amazes me how many people are rude to journalists, whether it be yelling and swearing, outright ignoring, or standing us up for a meeting. This behaviour never leaves a good impression, and will make a journalist less interested in seeking comment from you in future. Some journalists will even blacklist a person with whom they have a particularly bad experience.
• Say what you mean, and mean what you say. People who are articulate, honest and reliable, who speak with conviction, are knowledgeable and are true to their word are what customers look for when parting with their money. It’s exactly the same for journalists parting with their column inches. Be honest and considered in your responses to deliver results.
• Build relationships. Many businesses go to great lengths to build lasting relationships with customers. The same is possible with journalists. If you develop a solid working relationship, you will naturally be front of mind every time they need a quick comment for a story.
• Secrets always come out. Think about recent scandals in business, politics and sport – the truth always seems to find its way out, regardless of how much people try to avoid this. But you can skip a lot of bad press by getting on the front foot. Firstly, and quite obviously, if you have no secrets, then they can’t get out. Have transparency in business and you will have nothing to hide. Secondly, if news does break that you feel is detrimental to your business, don’t bury your head in the sand. Take charge – if you have something to apologise for, do so unreservedly and explain how you plan to fix things. If you don’t, explain your case as to why you feel hard done by. Journalists want truth, and by providing it up front, you’ll minimise any negative press to your brand.
• Know who you are targeting. You don’t approach a baker for accounting advice, nor do you seek out a cafe owner to develop a website for you. In business, you carefully target who you approach to meet your needs and deliver the desired result. The same goes with the media. Don’t contact a sports journalist with a business story. Don’t contact an interior design magazine with your tips on breeding alpacas. It’s a waste of time for everyone involved, so spend your time where you are most likely to achieve a good return on investment.
• A journalist may be a prospective customer. I cannot emphasise this point enough. Surprisingly often, people don’t realise that they could be losing a customer by treating a journalist poorly. I have businesses that I actively boycott personally because of a poor experience I had in a professional capacity: if I’m treated badly in a work context, why should I believe it would be any different as a customer? There aren’t many businesses out there that can afford to lose customers, so steer clear of doing so in such an easily avoidable manner.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business.