Daily News Journalists On What Works

So how do PR professionals land a company profile or get a product into a daily newspaper for their clients these days?

PR Newswire organized an informative Webinar on that very subject on May 17, 2007. The featured speakers were:

Lisa Vickery, Day Editor, National News Desk, Wall Street Journal
Steve Trousdale, Deputy Business Editor, San Jose Mercury News
Polly Smith, Deputy Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times

Here are some abstracts paraphrased from my notes:

Lisa Vickery, Day Editor, National News Desk, Wall Street Journal

Do you favor public companies?

  • Public companies have the edge over private companies;
  • One tactic for a private company would be to explain how what you are doing fits into a trend. In other words, explain where your company fits into the world and how it is changing the landscape.

Who should stories be pitched to?

  • News is reporter-driven at the WSJ;
  • Writers keep an eye on what the Dow Jones news reporters are covering;
  • There’s a lot of “horse-trading” of stories between the various news groups, and stories are often re-cast. For example, a tech company may end up in the marketing pages rather than the tech pages because of an innovative marketing technique;
  • Stories that have been “chewed on a lot” by others, generally get less consideration.

Will you reach out to trusted bloggers for information?

  • The Journal is a very old paper, but we are learning some new tricks. We are adding blogs, but they’re still treated like a different animal. We don’t have a general tech blog. We are talking about it. This is
    already happening with marketing stories where there is a lot of buzz,
    but with business stories we are very cautious;
  • We are trying to bring the electronic and print side of the Journal together.

What’s best way to make you aware of experts in an industry? Send you a bio or wait until there is breaking news?

  • I always cringe if someone contacts me when there is a breaking story to offer an expert.

What’s the best way to grab your attention via press releases, etc?

  • Funny press releases will get my attention. Clarity. Be concise. Short sentences. As far as follow up phone calls, I confess there have been times when someone called after I had deleted an email a little too summarily. If it’s not a breaking story, probably it’s not bad to follow up. Not sure reporters would be happy with that. It’s always better to go through the reporters.

What’s the best way to foster a relationship with a journalist?

  • Cultivating relationships when we’re not on deadline is useful.

Steve Trousdale, Deputy Business Editor, San Jose Mercury News

Who should stories be pitched to?

  • There are 15 reporters and five assigning editors at the Merc;
  • It’s hard to make the cut. Tend to be very picky about what gets assigned;
  • There are 260 public companies in the area, including HP and Intel. “We could fill up the paper just with news from Google;”
  • Editorial is split between the Web and the newspaper;
  • We face intense competition from WSJ, NYT, Chronicle, Forbes, etc;
  • News has to interest a wide group of people, and then we’re still very cautious about the stories we take on.

Can you provide some examples of good headlines?

  • We look for stories that have consumer interest. Business-to-business subjects don’t do too much for us. Headlines that go overboard just turn us off.

Will you reach out to trusted bloggers for information?

  • Our Web people don’t contribute original content. Web content comes from the news desks. We’ll take something pretty quickly from the Web and turn it around in a story.

What’s best way to make you aware of experts in an industry? Send you a bio or wait until there is breaking news?

  • Offer industry expertise at the right time. A lot of people call and say if you are ever working on a story…well, that’s not likely to happen. Such offers must be made at a critical time, not six months before a story
    is on our radar screen.

What’s the best way to grab your attention via press releases, etc?

  • I can’t remember ever getting excited by a press release from a company. The smaller companies just really don’t make it into the paper. It’s so rare as to be almost irrelevant. It has to be something the NYT will kick itself over for not having first – it has to reach a high
    threshold like that;
  • There’s no desire to cover a specific company or a product. We’re leery of being sucked into a story where someone else might be doing as well and we would hate to overlook them.

What’s the best way to foster a relationship with a journalist?

  • Approach
    the reporter to develop an ongoing relationship, not necessarily a
    story. Be helpful. Reporters are always on deadline and need
    exclusives. If you can return calls quickly that’s a good way to
    develop a relationship. We realize that PR people are under
    restrictions with Sarbanes-Oxley, etc, but be as helpful as you can be.

How important are photos, video, audio?

  • Photos are always good. We just started experimenting with video.

How much time do you need for an exclusive?

  • If it comes in the day before then obviously we will do it, we’ll be aggressive. With more complicated stories such as biotech or stories that aren’t as intuitive, the more time the better

Polly Smith, Deputy Business Editor, Chicago Sun-Times

Who should stories be pitched to?

  • We focus on Chicago companies. Any story we consider has to have a Chicago angle. Welso enjoy companies that have become local because of the local impact they may have.

Do you favor public companies?

  • It’s less important whether your company is public or private. It’s more about how fresh the story is. We look for whether you are handling something in an interesting way. For example, if you have a large immigrant work force, and you are handling language issues in an interesting way then pitch us on that.

How do you utilize your Web sites and blogs to attract readers? Should PR pros try to reach those Web folks separately?

  • Go directly to the beat reporters to pitch your stories. Our Web staff is not a news gathering staff yet.

Will you reach out to trusted bloggers for information?

  • Bloggers can be an interesting way to reach out for fresh voices.

What’s best way to make you aware of experts in an industry? Send you a bio or wait until there is breaking news?

  • Generally, our reporters get their own sources.

What’s the best way to grab your attention via press releases, etc?

  • “I don’t have time to be turned off.” I have to go through so many. I have to scan [them all]. First thing I check is the area code. If I can’t see where they are and what industry it is, I don’t have time to figure it out. Follow up calls are a nuisance, I don’t even let them finish their sentence.

How important are photos, video, audio?

  • Photos are essential. Video is a new area for us. Hasn’t come up in business yet, but it will. Probably by end of this year we will be.

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