Friday Guest Column: Reaching the Media
Kristen Plemon, C. Blohm & Associates, Inc.
The main rule of communication is: know your audience. This rule applies whether you are speaking with potential customers or with the media. When you take the time to learn the interests and needs of your audience members, you can craft a message with the right information and capture their attention.
Journalists are a key audience for most organizations because they are “gatekeepers” of information, charged with deciding what news is worthy of dissemination. They provide a third-party viewpoint, which can influence people’s buying decisions, and enhance or tarnish a company’s reputation. To communicate effectively with journalists, you need to understand their language, the method they prefer to receive information, their work environment, and their readers.
A common mistake is to use the same language and style with journalists that you use with customers. The media are not your customers, so you must adjust your message to address journalists’ information needs. Eliminate “advertisingese” from press releases, emails and other communications with the media. Talking about your product and its features is not enough; you need to provide a novel “angle” for a story.
Journalists seek newsworthy stories that appeal to their readers. There are five factors journalists consider when deciding if a story is newsworthy.
• Timeliness – current topics or emerging trends
• Significance – affects many people
• Proximity – what is happening locally
• Prominence – well-known people, places and things
• Human interest – appeals to emotions.
Not every journalist is looking for the same information. Read the publications your customers read to familiarize yourself with what particular journalists cover. Tailor your communications not only to meet the guidelines of what is newsworthy, but also to match journalists’ interest areas. For example, education editors and reporters want “interesting stories about interesting educators and students doing interesting things in the classroom.” On the other hand, business reporters typically want information about major company partnerships, acquisitions, trends in the market, and innovative business ideas.
If you target the appropriate publications, you already know the publications’ readers - they should be your customers, potential customers and influential people in the industry. You know their needs, interests, attitudes and beliefs. You can share this expertise and knowledge with journalists to provide them with insight into significant trends and interesting stories of your customers’ challenges and successes.
But, your newsworthy story may never reach the media if your message is not captivating, or not well written.
• State the most important and newsworthy information within the first paragraph.
• Write succinctly; streamline your sentences. Journalists work under tight deadlines, so get to the point quickly and provide just enough information to support the story.
• Remove jargon, business-speak and terms that are not familiar to the media and the majority of their readers. A reporter at a local newspaper may not know what “differentiated instruction” means, nor would the parents and community members who read the publication.
• Don’t use inflated language. A ninth-grader should understand the story.
• Headlines, or email subject lines, should state the most newsworthy story angle, the product or service benefit, or use a creative attention-getter.
• Eliminate superlatives. Don’t say your product is unique; illustrate how and why it is unique.