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What do reporters want? It’s a question that baffles many entrepreneurs, who can’t understand why members of the media aren’t interested in their businesses. But getting coverage requires more than simply sending out a boilerplate press release.

Recently, we asked public relations specialists and communications experts how to get the attention of a reporter. Here are some of our favourite responses.

Do your research

It’s not enough to simply call up a publication you think reaches your audience. You’re going to have much better results if you know which reporter or editor is responsible for covering a particular area. Different reporters approach beats in different ways. Someone writing about technology for a national daily might cover it from a business perspective, whereas somebody covering technology for a dedicated tech site might be less interested in business strategy. You have to understand your audience and understand what the reporter is after.
—Matt Hartley, senior editor, North Strategic, Toronto

Know what’s news

Organizations should take some time to really research the qualities that make up a news story, whether it’s relevance, timing, human interest or some other point that makes it unique. Additionally, you need to know what is not news: internal events, for example, or maybe a marketing initiative. So take the time to really understand what makes a news story and what makes it work for print, television or radio. Put yourself in the reporter’s shoes. If a company is pitching a story to a television station, do you have video assets that could help build out that story? Do the reporters have background information? Do you have a website link to send reporters? Think about how reporters put stories together for the outlets they’re working for.
—Bridgitte Anderson, senior vice-president, corporate and public affairs, Edelman, Vancouver

Become a resource

It goes beyond just setting up a meeting. You have to make sure you hit all of your followup items, whether it’s sending a report or an article that was mentioned during the interview. If you’re the main liaison or PR person for your company, you have to make sure you’re offering everything the reporter needs in order to write a good story. Reporters really don’t like low-grade, PR-trained spokespeople who read the marketing message verbatim. They want to have a conversation. Basically, spokespeople need to be willing to not only talk about the company but also be a resource for other articles reporters are working on or other topics that come up that day. That would certainly be advantageous. Reporters will definitely view that spokesperson or that executive as someone they want to have a long-term relationship with.
—Rod McLeod, public relations spokesman, Kik Interactive Inc., San Francisco

Don’t be a nuisance

If there’s somebody who’s going to be covering Schulich on an ongoing basis, sometimes we’ll invite the reporter up to the campus for lunch with the dean. Sometimes I’ll meet with people for coffee if I’m in the neighbourhood of their publication. It’s so that when they’re faced with a story that might invite a business expert’s comment, they’ll think, “Oh, Schulich might have somebody.” We’ll be top of mind for them. To add a caveat, you don’t want to pester people. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, and you have to push if your client or your company needs the coverage. But generally speaking, when I was a reporter, I would get turned off, so I wouldn’t want to encourage people to be really pushy. If a journalist knows you can bring something to the table that can help them understand the story they’re doing, and if they leave every interaction you have with them thinking, “That person helped me. They gave me exactly what I needed very quickly, respected my time and explained things in a very quotable way,” they are going to come back to you for future stories.
—Beth Marlin, media and public relations strategist, Schulich School of Business, Toronto

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This article is from the May 2015 issue of Canadian BusinessSubscribe now!

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