2. The daily life of a journalist – and the unwritten rules of engagement

Journalists are busy people. If you would like to develop a relationship with one or more journalists to share your expertise with an external audience through their outlets, be ready to work on their terms. Being aware of their work conditions and what makes for good news content are essential components to a good source/reporter relationship.

Many stories with different origins

Many journalists must deliver several stories each day. These stories originate from a variety of sources: They might write up a local angle on a global news story, report on reoccurring topics such as an annual report or new legislation. They may decide to immerse themselves in a more detailed, less time-sensitive topic. That is, if they are not told specifically what to cover by an editor – most likely, some of their work will be requested in this manner.

Press releases are an option, often not a must Their inbox will often be filled to the brim with press releases sent to them by companies and press agencies as well as invitations to briefings and product demos. They may – or may not – decide to look at these to see if anything sparks their interest. Often, their attention is diverted before they do.

Sources vying for attention – and a deadline in the end

Because at the same time, the phone may be ringing with people trying to get the journalist’s attention to their specific topic (perhaps that press release they did not react to yesterday).

The journalist will also be trying to follow up on leads and have scheduled interview subjects for phone or personal meetings. In between, he or she is hammering out short and long articles. At some point, these are handed to an editor for review and since published.

Make it easy to work with you

If you want to do have a chance at being an expert source in media, more than once, you need to try to work in ways that fits the journalist. Becoming a desirable source of course has to do with the relevance of your knowledge. But it also has to do with making a journalists’ life easier in the constant din of deadlines and attention stealers.

Be available – and quotable

Having a strong storyline and being ready to deliver with clarity is key to succeeding with media relations – so is adhering to the unwritten rules of engagement can help you get coverage.

Most often, journalists need speed. Their deadline is looming. You need to be easy to reach – probably you want the journalist to have your personal phone number. If you get called or make the call yourself. Here are some pointers:

Six rules of engagement when you are in contact with a journalist

  • Be ready to speak when you get the call – or schedule an interview as soon as possible
  • Think and speak in headlines – make it easy for the journalist to visualize the final article
  • Be quotable: Think of ways to sum up your key points in memorable, short statements
  • Do not waffle or seem inconsistent – journalists like clarity
  • Be ready to find more information or other relevant sources for a story
  • Act fast if you have been permitted read-through of an article or need to clear quotes with your communications department.

Being available, quotable and relatable may be just as important as your main expertise and earn you a call ahead of other experts in your field: Make sure to earn that reputation if you are given the change to deliver your message to media.

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