Building relationships with regional print journalists

So, you have a company and you want to raise its profile because you know building brand awareness is one way to drive sales.  Implementing media relations activity is an obvious step to take - but how do you know what your target publications are after in order to achieve that elusive coverage?  I spoke to four of the region’s most influential journalists who shared some top tips with me… Owen McAteer, business editor at the Northern Echo, recommends that anyone dealing with the print media starts by getting to know the title and the patch it covers: “When we do a story, we always check out the company website and do some research before speaking to the representative, but sadly we are not always afforded the same courtesy. And you’d be amazed by how many people ask if they can send a story through anyway after we’ve told them it’s not relevant – not a popular move when you consider the number of press releases we receive every day.”

Kevin Clark, business reporter at the Sunderland Echo, agrees that anyone pitching a story should know the publication and what its audience is interested in: “I call it the ‘shrug the shoulders’ test – if our readers think so what, they’ll not spend their money next time.  Supply something that they’ll want to see and if you want to know what that is, buy the paper.”

Clark believes that businesses should invest in their photography and be more thoughtful in their approach. “We get hundreds of images of business people on NewcastleGateshead Quayside but we’re based in Sunderland so they are of no use. It is also astonishing how many companies send through amateur shots rather than pay for a professional image. We can rewrite a poorly written story but there’s nothing to be done with a bad pic.”

Chief desk editor – business for The Journal, Evening Chronicle and Sunday Sun, Iain Laing says:  “We prefer long term relationships with organisations and pressure groups that are relevant to us and PRs should foster that rather than hijack it. It can be frustrating when PRs put out a release without chatting with us, because we may well know something about the story already. It is even worse when their client is unavailable to discuss or expand on the issue.

"When I get an interesting press release I want to speak to whoever it is about.  A PR may want to control the release of information as much as possible but it will ultimately be the journalist and their editor who decide what eventually appears and this probably doesn't mean anything unsympathetic to the client.  It is more likely that talking to a client means a story can be built up or given a new angle, which in turn means it is more likely to appear in the paper or get a better show, resulting in a stronger relationship between all three parties."

Context is important, as McAteer identifies: “Diary notes are really useful in keeping us abreast of what is happening and it’s worth making us aware of local developments that might make attending more pertinent.  For example, we might consider going to an electric car conference but we’re much more likely to attend if we learn that Nissan is launching a new version of the Leaf that week.”

The Evening Gazette takes a similar line to the other publications and Mike Hughes, chief multimedia desk editor for business, features and commercial features, offers a couple of additional pieces of advice: “We recognize that sometimes a story is of regional interest but it pays dividends if whoever sends it spends a little more time rewriting it for the local readers, ie by saying what’s in it for Teesside. Be aware that anything too salesy immediately goes the journey, as does anything too technical – reword the copy until the public will understand it. You have a much greater likelihood of making the paper then.”

With a bit of thought and some background research, achieving coverage in regional publications is not as challenging as it may first appear. What is clear is that for all four journalists, relationships are important.  As McAteer concludes: “95% of the people we deal with are great and we know when we hear from them that we’ll get a decent story, whether it’s a page lead or a filler.” Hopefully this post will help drive that percentage up.