Thursday 14 March 2019, Glasgow

News that's fit to print

If the attendance, interest and participations levels from the most recent PM Forum Scotland event are anything to go by, the importance of Scottish business journalism and the regard in which it is held is as strong as ever.

Those in the packed room for our Meet the Journalist event - were given a fascinating insight into how modern journalism works from Ken Symon, Editor of Scotland's national business magazine Scottish Business Insider and a former business editor at The Scotsman and the Sunday Herald (and a Tai Chi teacher and stalwart fan of Motherwell FC).

The round table Q&A format saw James Friel, PR and Communications Manager at Harper Macleod LLP, directing the questions as Ken took delegates into the decision making process that follows email and telephone pitches on a story.

Setting the scene

Ken outlined the differences between new platforms – from daily newspapers, online bulletins and websites to bi-monthly magazines such as Business Insiders – and their different needs.

Using his own publication, which has been a fixture of Scottish business for 35 years, as a model he explained the variety of channels, the extensive content requirements of each, and the opportunities they give for raising a business's profile and potentially also the profile of clients. These include:

  • Bi-monthly print magazine doing in-depth and statistics based features
  • A website – insider.co.uk – continually updated throughout the day
  • A twice-daily business news bulletin delivered direct to inboxes
  • A busy calendar of events, from the Scottish Top 500 to the Made in Scotland Awards

He also explained the changes that have occurred in the traditional media, and why with fewer journalists the modern newsroom has little time to waste on pitches which don't hit the mark.

With hundreds of emails and calls coming in, pitches have to be succinct and to the point – in fact, sometimes using four or five quick bullet points is the best way to achieve cut through.

One key point Ken emphasised was that you must always read the publication or channel you are trying to pitch a story to, and ask yourself the question "is this the type of thing I would expect to see here?" Journalists are not there to manage your clients expectations on your behalf, and if the answer is no, save both yourself and the journalist the time and effort.

Of course, it's not all about news. Thought leadership is important for both companies and the media alike, and with no shortage of big issues there are ways to have your firm's voice heard.

Ken's other key pitching tips, from the journalist's perspective, included:

  • Follow an initial email approach with a call, bearing in mind that your story is one of many.
  • Offer exclusivity or option to post story first, if possible.
  • Give option to send embargoed story a couple of days in advance, so they have it ready to post.
  • Try and differentiate yourself by looking at a topic from a different or unusual angle.
  • Language is crucial – using plain English and explaining complex issues in a clear, accessible way is essential. If the journalist can't understand, it doesn't stand a chance.

Becoming a trusted source

Journalists will have existing relationships with both individuals and companies, but there are ways to become a trusted source.

In particular, Ken emphasised the value of submitting entries or participating in awards as a useful way of gaining profile and building relationships, particularly for newer entrants to Scotland or those looking to build their profile. The Awards are stronger for your entry, you and your clients gain profile – it's a win-win situation.

Ken outlined some other approaches which work for him, including:

  • Introduce yourself by asking to meet for a coffee or attend events and make an approach.
  • Ask journalists what it is of interest in the market and the kind of articles that they would print.
  • Offering relevant topical articles as this will help to build a relationship.

Ken even tackled the issue of seeking correction for any errors or otherwise making a complaint - stay calm, reasonable and give a valid reason for your complaint and you'll find that works much better than an angry email or call.

Conclusion

This session was pitched as a chance to learn more about how to create visibility for your business in the media by securing good press coverage for your firm. Thanks to Ken's candid answers to the many questions from around the room, of which this report is just a flavour, it did just that.

James Friel, PR and Communications Manager
Harper Macleod LLP