Lessons in media relations: becoming a jack of all trades
As you’ll know, Babel runs its very own podcast, usually released once a month, on which we invite guests from all across the communications world to speak with us, be it CMOs from exciting start-ups, journalists from tier 1 publications, or even our own team members to speak about their experience with us.
As a B2B tech PR agency, Babel services clients of all sizes, and we recognise that for some, tier 1 publications with newsrooms packed with reporters aren’t the main focus. Taking time to build relationships with key trade publications really puts our clients in front of the most relevant audiences, be they IT professionals, small business owners or telematics-using fleet managers!
Babel recently invited John Leonard, Research Director at Computing to the Digital Communicators podcast to have a wide-ranging conversation about his career and his reporting. Computing is by no means a small publication in terms of readership, but John is one of just 3 staff members working round the clock to provide news coverage and unique insights to his readers.
It got me thinking about trade publications, and how, as PR professionals, we can best work with journalists like John to help them find the stories they’re looking for….
Small headcount publications – how they run
As a result of the small team at Computing, they have relatively fluid beats. You won’t find a cybersecurity reporter, or a breaking news correspondent – each journalist takes what comes to them. When we spoke with John, every front page had Elon Musk’s face plastered on it in the midst of his tumultuous takeover of Twitter, and still now you’ll be hard-pressed to find a publication, national or trade, that hasn’t got at least one article about his activities. So, perhaps to much lament, John writes stories about him, as will the rest of computing if that’s the news of the day. With the rapid pace of the tech news cycle, and stories getting churned out interminably – can I really be sure John is a certified ‘musk-head’? Probably not, but I wouldn’t be able to tell if all I did was read his reporting – that’s why our job is more than just reading the news and shooting off emails to whichever addresses we can find, and Computing is an excellent microcosm to demonstrate a different approach.
Twitter, Linkedin, Mastodon if you fancy – getting a sense of the people behind the reporting is the most important part of the job, because we’re not just trying to get coverage where we can get it, we’re trying to connect a client with something interesting to say, to a journalist with a keen interest in them, who in turn can bring out unique insights to inform (and sometimes entertain – looking at you The Register) their readership. So for John, amidst a flurry of emails every day (over 100), it’s the ones he’s interested in that get his attention.
Bespoke is the name of the game
‘Hi, xx would you like to hear from z at y company about x product they not so subtly want to sell to your readers’ – wrong, wrong, wrong. What do they like? What issues are they passionate about, how can our client help push forward a conversation, highlight an issue, or connect two disparate stories into a wider narrative? These are the questions we ask ourselves when pitching journalists – what’s the story? How many of those 100 emails John gets every day answer those questions – probably not enough.
The quality of the pitch will be reflected in the quality of the audience the story goes in front of, and, as John noted on the podcast, with innovation in tech going at blazing speed, peeling back the layers on a client’s messaging pays unknowable dividends when reacting to the news of the day. A novel method of cyberattack is uncovered, why would a journalist write about a company’s security solution to it? Understanding how that solution works, speaking with the engineers behind it on the challenges they faced, gaining unique information on the ever-changing nature of cybercrime and how they adapt, you’ll be able to offer something new. If experts are at your disposal, use them!
Once this is all taken into account, you’ll be able to offer consistent expert insight – John might come to you for comment! And as the world turns and journalists move from place to place, your leads won’t dry up – your media contacts (now hopefully friends), wherever they end up, are still going to have you in mind, or for John, who started his career writing for a yellow-pages type directory called the Computer Users Yearbook, in his Rolodex!