Thought Leadership Elite: How Do You Engage with Journalists?

Public Relations Engaging with Journalists

Become a Refreshing Resource for Story Ideas

Being a journalist in today’s media world is a little like being the only person with a glass of lemonade on a 100-degree day.

Everybody wants what the journalist has, and there is simply not enough to go around. 

So how does your company, with a perfectly solid news story idea, engage with a journalist so it makes sense for them to offer you a refreshing sip of that high-demand commodity known as media coverage?

Being a journalist in today’s media world is a little like being the only person with a glass of lemonade on a 100-degree day.

From "Give Me" to "How Can I Help?"

Most importantly, shift your priorities from a “give me coverage” perspective to one of partnership.  Focus on your role in creating news writer can use, and you’ll see your position shift from one of the nameless masses cluttering inboxes and social channels, to a that of trusted, and accessible, feature article resource.

The Three R’s of Public Relations Relevancy

To be an asset for a journalist, it’s vital to understand their one, over-riding prime directive:  the need to cover their beat. 

What’s a beat?  It’s the topic area they’ve been assigned to cover.  Whether it’s breaking news, insightful commentary or a predictive look at an emerging trend, they’re job is to cover the topic they are assigned to.  If it’s not on their beat, don’t bother.

So, to successfully engage with a journalist, you need to understand, and work with, each journalist’s prime directive.  Which means you need to be able to offer them news and story ideas that support, not distract, from their mission.  Don’t ask a fashion writer for coverage on your company’s technology.  And don’t ask a film reviewer to write about your latest camera.  You’ll both be so much happier if you keep this first and foremost in your mind.

Now,  on to the three “R’s” of public relations and earned media coverage:

The Three R’s


Your news or story idea must be relevant to the journalist and their reading (or viewing, or listening) communities.  If the journalist’s focus on data and cloud storage, don’t send them an advisory on your latest desktop software update.  If they write about footwear, don’t pitch them a story idea on your company’s newest wrinkle cream.  Be.  Relevant.  Refer to the section about “beats.”

Which takes us to the next Big R:


Read the journalist’s writing.  Read their community’s comments on his or her reporting.  Read the publication they write for, and their competitors.  The only way to be relevant to the journalist is to understand what they are doing.  And this requires taking in the news they produce.


Oh, this is perhaps the most broken rule of all.  “No” means no.  If a journalist is not interested, respect that.  Don’t ask for them to reconsider, don’t ask “why not.”  DON’T point out they covered a competitor or similar topic at another point.  They have a larger news agenda to consider, and if they don’t see your story as being a fit, then respect that.

There are some things you can do however…respectfully.  It is ok to ask them if they had feedback.  If they give you feedback, thank them and don’t argue, by the way.  If you haven’t gotten any response, it’s ok for a polite follow-up.  Follow-ups are better if you can add information to your previous story offer.  Expanding a story idea beats nagging anyd ay.  Pitch a different, better story more tuned to their needs.  Or, simply accept that this is not the story for them, and move on to greener media pastures.

Third Party Research:  The Backbone of the Pitch

It’s not that journalists don’t trust you; it’s just that their credibility is on the line with every story they write.  So, don’t just ask them to take your word for it when you offer them a story.  Back up your pitch with third party research whenever possible.

What is third party research?  It’s buttressing your claim about the importance of your company’s exercise tracking technology offering with data from the American Heart Association citing the importance of daily exercise.  Or augmenting your story on consumer interest in small-batch beer with data from the American Beverage Institute.

Don’t just say your company’s software solution drives productivity, cite customer case studies detailing the percentage gain in performance.

Make your media pitch matter by offering proven, credible news points.  Your journalist will thank you, and may even give your pitch, possibly the 100th one received before lunch, that critical second look.

Make It Easy

Journalists have it pretty hard:  intense deadlines, interview subject no-shows, demanding editors, diminished administrative support and vastly expanded requirements for social presence and interaction.  How they have time to actually write a story is anyone’s guess.

So, make it easy for them.  Create a simple, compelling headline.  Summarize your story in one paragraph (or less).  Create easy bullets outlining key pitch premises.  Include the credentials of the interview subject, or information about the company.  Offer URLs for quick source-checking.  Let them know you have graphics and photos.  PS – send them a link to the materials, or offer to send separately. 

Never send large, unsolicited file attachments to an editor.  It will be about as welcome as someone leaving a large pile of their laundry on your doorstep.

There’s so much more to share on this topic, and, of course, there’s art and science to writing a pitch a journalist will read (even after you’ve done your research, and all of the steps above).  But that’s a post for another day.

To Wrap Things Up:

·       Have a “how can I help” attitude, not a “what can you give me”

·       Remember the Three R’s:  Relevancy, Reading & Respect

·       Include credible, third-party research to support your story idea

·       Make it easy with concise story ideas, credited sources, background info & legally-usable graphics and photos

Questions or comments?  Please feel free to contact me at:, or call: 1.503.298.9749.