Think like a journalist

Think like a journalist

In the first of a new series of blogs, content and communications lead Matthew D’Arcy reflects on what makes healthcare PR campaigns successful.

“Think about your audience” is a pretty basic rule for any piece of content. In health tech communications, it might mean thinking about what you want to say to nurses, doctors, or other decision makers.

But when it comes to producing PR content, it’s important to think about the one person in your audience who stands between you and these targets – the journalist.

Once a carefully crafted press release has navigated the sometimes choppy waters of drafts and approvals, it must still be compelling enough to attract the attention of a busy media professional. A reporter or broadcaster who will, in turn, need to be able to persuade a news editor or broadcaster that your story should be put in front of readers or viewers.

In this blog, and subsequent posts in our new series, I will reflect on a few issues that may help you to grab the attention of that journalist. I’m not going to tell you ‘keep it to a side of A4’, or ‘include your logo at the top’. Rather, I will explore ideas I have found to be key in virtually every successful PR campaign I’ve worked on.

1. Don’t bury the real story

Simply put, news outlets need stories. But it can be surprising how many press releases that land in a typical journalist’s inbox contain little in the way of newsworthy content.

Whether you are telling a customer success story, or making a significant announcement, you need to think about what your target publications and their readers will consider new and significant. You need to find something that could affect them, the sector in which they work, or the market directly.

You need to harness your inquisitive skillset to draw out exciting content and use your contacts to find the right people to talk to. Then, you need to ask the right questions to bring out the key points; and back them up with interesting quotes.

2. It’s probably not about you

You’re a commercial supplier and you have just won a contract with an NHS trust and you want to tell the world about it? Unless you are big player like Google, this is unlikely to be seen as news. If you are a company trying to sell products, then winning business is what you are expected to do.

Instead, focus the story from your customer’s perspective. Interview relevant stakeholders. Identify what your project means to them, what they have achieved with your product or service, and how that relates to market drivers and the needs of your prospects.

When I researched PR advice columns, I was surprised to hear one professional start their very well-received vlog with the advice to “put your logo at the top of the page” and then run your elevator pitch. A press release isn’t a corporate pitch.

Instead, weave your organisation into the release subtly. A quote from your chief executive or managing director should demonstrate senior appreciation for your customer’s work, but it is likely to be far less significant to the journalist than the customer’s own view and needs to come further down the page.

3. Make the journalist’s life easy

Don’t force journalists to work to understand your story – the don’t have time, and if your release doesn’t grab them there will be lots more in their inboxes that will.

Instead, present all the information a journalist may need in an easily digestible format. Some of the most successful campaigns I have worked on have required very little chasing for coverage, because they have put-in the time upfront to get the detail that journalists want to write their stories.

Also make sure that you have back up material and interviewees on standby in case a reporter wants more information or a broadcast package. There’s nothing more frustrating for a journalist than to get a great story – only to be told that the person who can back it up is on holiday for two weeks.

4. Know specific targets

What will fuel the journalist’s agenda? Read up on what they are writing about. This can be extremely valuable when pitching a story, because you can show how your proposed piece builds on their areas of interest. As in any business negotiation, relationships are key when you are bargaining for media space.

5. How compelling is your headline?

You have very few seconds to make your press release stand out. The headline is the most crucial tool for making sure that it does – a challenge that many journalists and sub-editors grapple with on a day to day basis, when they are trying to hook in their own readers or viewers.

Ask yourself: does your headline tell the journalist what they will find out by reading on? Does it tell them why they should be interested? Those few words might be the most important component of your entire campaign. Don’t waste them with dates, where you’re mailing from, corporate messaging or product trademarks.

6. Get the facts straight

Credible journalists will scrutinise the claims you make. If they don’t stack up, at best you won’t get the coverage, and at worst you will damage your credibility.

You need evidence, and you need to check your facts. If you are conducting a survey – challenge yourself on the quality of your sample and the conclusions you have drawn.

If you are taking evidence from others involved in a project, don’t just take for granted what an interviewee tells you, find a way to substantiate it. If there has been a problem that is in the public domain, then be upfront about how you overcame it.

Getting a really good press release together means thinking like a journalist; and employing their research, interviewing, and copywriting skills. In the next blog in this series, I will discuss how to find your most compelling story in more detail.
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