5 things an ex-journalist wants you to know about the media
Before joining the team at Gregory FCA, I spent 10 years in journalism as a reporter and managing editor at a number of publications, including USA Today. I juggled deadlines for magazines planned months in advance, kept a gimlet eye on a 24-hour online news service and made sure a team of reporters and freelancers all sang from the same page. I spent less time screaming for pictures of Spider-Man than you might expect. Nevertheless, my career had one constant: I had to judge, every day, what was worth sharing with my readers.
When I was in the newsroom, people tried to get my attention with bribes, spray-and-pray releases sent in bulk, and in one case, a photo of a news release someone had typed up and printed out. (That one still hurts to think about.) The pitches that had the most success knew my needs and my audience. Here are a few newsroom insights that can help you get the most out of your campaign:
Reporters need your help. There is no such thing as a newsroom with enough time or resources. As ad revenue models fail, news media goes through painful layoffs, cutbacks and “pivots” in an effort to find sustainability. There has never been a better time for firms to show reporters how they’re changing the world, because many newsrooms barely have the resources to do more than tread water. If you can show reporters you are real, reliable and insightful, they’ll come to rely on you as they work in the ever-shifting 24-hour news cycle and the vagaries of the stock market.
You can’t control them. A news organization draws its credibility from its independence. After your interview ends, you have very little control over what the reporter chooses to do with it. If you share a compelling story, the reporter will share it as accurately as they can and from their perspective, often including other voices to build a more complete picture. If a reporter gets something flat-out wrong, they’re amenable to correction. But they’re unlikely to budge if you’re unhappy a competitor got more column inches or didn’t include your prepared statements verbatim. The best you can do is emphasize what you want them to take away from your interview and make sure they understand what you’re telling them.
Don’t sweat the “dumb” questions. The recent contortions of the news industry mean higher turnover and fractured institutional memory. A reporter may not have heard of you, or they may be new to their beat and need help filling gaps in their subject matter knowledge. If they don’t know what financial life management means, or the difference between tech stacks for RIAs, don’t take it personally. Instead, view their inexperience as a golden opportunity to help them and build a connection. They’ll appreciate the lifeline. It’s worth noting, too, that many seasoned reporters will ask what may sound like basic questions with self-evident answers. Your answers will help them set the stage for the articles they want to write.
Facts and figures are worth their weight in gold. Your reliability and charisma as a subject matter expert will keep reporters coming back to you, but studies and statistics can often get your foot in the door. I can’t count the number of times an eye-catching study formed the kernel of a finance writing assignment from my editors. If you have the numbers and institutional data to back up the thought leadership you wish to project, don’t keep them to yourself!
The early bird gets the worm. Reporters live and die on deadlines, no matter if it’s a quarterly trade publication or a 24/7 online outlet. It’s rare for journalists to reach out to thought leaders on a convenient schedule – as a reporter, I had a rare talent for calling the people I needed right when they happened to be in meetings. But your subject matter expertise and charm won’t matter if you don’t respond to a reporter’s interest by their deadline. And don’t take longer deadlines for granted! The reporter may say their work is due in two weeks, but in practice, a reporter will stop gathering sources when they feel they have enough to start their stories. The sooner you respond to opportunities, the more essential your perspective will be.
For those in the financial services industry, it’s important to take a step back and consider the value journalists can offer your credibility, as well. The news industry is always in flux, and today’s trends quickly become tomorrow’s dead ends. If you understand a journalist’s priorities, you can improve your odds of a successful public relations campaign.