How to engage with UK journalists

Journalist Raj Gill shares her insights on the UK media landscape and how to best engage with UK journalists to ensure the best results:

Over the course of my 30-year career, I have worked across print, online and broadcast media, for a variety of high-profile publications including national and international publications such as The Times, The Telegraph, The Daily Mail, Forbes.com, and magazines such as Glamour, and Upscale Living, amongst others. Here’s my advice on how to best navigate the UK media landscape and how to engage with media to ensure the best chance of success.

The ever-evolving UK media landscape 

The pandemic has affected all areas of our lives, including how we consume and engage with media.

Technology has also been a major disruptor, with the use of traditional media declining due to changes in buying behaviour, the fragmentation of audiences, shifting media patterns and the emergence of new technologies.

The UK media landscape has gone from broadcast and print to digital, and the advent and growth of influencers have all contributed to how consumers are consuming and engaging with content. Digital natives rushed to change the news, while publishers and broadcasters started to build online audiences producing video-rich new channels that are accessible across the world at the touch of a button.

All of this is worth bearing in mind as it will help inform how you decide to engage with your target audience. For example, it’s pointless making Tik Tok videos if your target audience is the elderly, which is why you need to consider the readership/viewership in everything that you do.

How to build a strong relationship with a journalist 

Building a strong relationship with key influential journalists that are relevant to your brand / industry is crucial for getting cut through. One of the most important things you must register about a journalist / editor is that they are time poor. Their email inboxes are inundated on a daily basis with stories from brands/companies who are hoping to get their story covered, making it hard to get share of voice.

I receive 80-100 press releases a week, of which I open less than 10%, and tend to only open those that are from a PR or a PR agency I recognise / have worked with before if it has a gripping title in the subject box or its subject box states a topic on which I am currently working.

Do your homework

It’s essential that you get to know the media you’re pitching to, to ensure optimal success. If possible, meet the journalist you wish to target. If you aren’t able to meet, do your homework to find out the best way to engage their interest:

  • Get clipping – For any publications that you are targeting, study the publication and save the articles (whether it be saving a hard copy of the story or saving links if online). Take note of which journalist has written a particular article or who regularly writes for any sections you are targeting, so you can target them at a later date. Bear in mind that the journalist could be a staff journalist or a freelancer (which you’ll be able to see on the Contributors list).
  • Investigate the journalist’s social media platforms – discover their likes/dislikes, subjects they are passionate about. For example, it’s pointless to target a tee-total journalist with a new champagne brand!
  • Timing is everything – A story needs a hook. Without a hook there is no story. For example, for Pride month in June, tie your story to Pride and your pitch ahead of the date, so the journalist has all the relevant information well in advance.
  • Be mindful of lead times and learn the pattern of publication dates. For example, the UK media start working on Christmas in June/July (yes that far ahead!) So, if you send your pitch in November there is no chance that your brand will be featured.
  • Ensure you provide enough relevant information and be ready for follow up questions– Anticipate what the journalist may need and have it ready. For example, have your case studies lined up ready to be interviewed, ensure your samples are ready to be sent out, etc.

Things to keep in mind

  • Brands all think they have come up with the next new genius idea. However, only a very small number of brands manage to achieve the status of becoming household names.
  • Human interest is a big seller. The consumer wants to know who the man/woman behind the brand is, it really helps to bring your story to life. Have a designated spokesperson. And I cannot emphasize enough how necessary it is to have relevant case studies, who can act as brand champions to demonstrate the ability of your product/brand.
  • Good reputation isn’t built in a day. Building a relationship with a journalist takes time to build and nurture. Once you become a trusted and reliable source, I’m more likely to cover your stories or approach you in the future with opportunities.
  • Deliver hyper relevant content that’s interesting and engaging – it will put your company in good stead and shows that you are credible, helping build your reputation.
  • Warm up the media – Don’t expect me to engage with you on your biggest piece of news if I’ve never spoken with you before.
  • Deliver what you promise. If you promise to connect me with your CEO or a case study, be sure that you have this lined up now, not next week, by next week your story will have lost relevance.
  • Network, network, network: When things ease up, journalists like me will be desperate to get out and network, pick up the phone, fire over an email, invite us for coffee, tell us your stories, we need to network to find content to fill our publications. However, before you do this, research the journalist you wish to target, e.g. if you see on their Twitter feed that they are feeling anxious about being out and about again, perhaps it isn’t the best idea to then invite them out for coffee.

Why a good PR is essential for helping navigate the UK media landscape 

While you can of course pitch your stories to media without a PR representative’s assistance, there are a variety of reasons why it is beneficial to work with a good PR.

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that get missed that can create a bad impression with a journalist, such as pitching a fantastic, relevant story and then not being able to supply high- res images – a rookie mistake but nevertheless a mistake that is repeated too often!

I have engaged with PRs both good and bad and while I prefer to work with PRs that I know, I’m willing to give new PRs a chance – as long as they are efficient and can give me what I need when I need it.

A good PR is an extension of your business that can help shape your messaging and positioning, while helping to establish you as a thought leader and work with you to deliver results that impact your bottom line. They can also help you to build and maintain relationships and get a foot in the door more quickly and easily than if you were to go it alone. Oftentimes, a journalist is more candid with a PR re: why they do or do not like a story than they would if you were to approach them direct, which can provide interesting insights.

Lastly, a good PR has their finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the UK market and will keep you abreast of trends / topics that you can piggyback on to help ensure that you maximise any opportunities while helping your brand to get noticed and your stories to get heard. At the end of the day your ROI and the relationships they have built with the media are what is of the most importance to them.