I frequently hear trained communicators lament to me the following: “Journalists don’t want to cover our subject anymore.”
Though this statement may be accurate, they’re also looking at it the wrong way. It’s true that old system of beats has been dissolving steadily for years now. There are still some beats still covered of course — government, tech, sports are some of the obvious ones — but more and more journalists have become generalists.
And you can sum up the type of information they’re looking for in one word: useful. Send them something useful and you are in business. Try to convince them that they have a duty or obligation to cover Topic X because they haven’t for a while, and you’ll get nowhere.
What’s useful to a journalist? Here are a few examples:
- Information that enables them to accomplish something they have to do regularly, like connecting them to a source who can comment on those government figures that get released the first Friday of every month.
- Information that’s useful to their audiences, something that helps their readers or viewers do something they couldn’t do before they knew about it.
- Information that comprises a good story, in the narrative sense of the word story. This means something with elements of surprise, conflict and interesting characters.
There are lots more ways to look at it. Here’s the key concept I’ve learned from observing people I call “Media Relations Masters” — the ones who consistently get more than their share of media coverage than everybody else:
They never blame the media for not covering them. They just go back to the drawing board and figure out ways to make themselves more useful to the media.
Like most aspects of media relations, knowing what journalists want seems like it’s about specialized knowledge. But it’s really about your mindset.
If your mindset has you trying to convince your media contacts that they are wrong and you’re right, then you’ll keep struggling. But if your mindset shifts to trying to provide pure service to your media contacts, everything gets easier.
Michael Smart teaches PR professionals how to dramatically increase their positive media placements. He’s engaged regularly by organizations like General Motors, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and Georgia Tech to help their media relations teams reach new levels of success. Get more media pitching knowledge from Michael Smart here.