Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Rachel Newcombe
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Send Emails or Phone Up
It sounds obvious, but a practical way of letting PRs know of your existence and that you'd like to be on their distribution lists is to approach them by phone or email. Finding out who the appropriate PRs to contact are can be tricky if you don't have existing contacts, but media directories such as Hollis are a good source of reference and online directories such as O'Dwyer's (http://www.odwyerpr.com/pr_firms_database/index.htm) are quick to browse through. Sometimes a Google search can yield results, or the websites of companies, such as hotels or businesses, are a good source of key contact details. But if you're really stuck, putting out a simple request on resources such as Response Source (http://www.responsesource.com) or ProfNet (http://www.prnewswire.com/profnet/), which are designed to put journalists in touch with PRs, may be just what you need.
If you're stuck for what to say, a simple email or phone conversation like this should do the trick: "I'm a journalist specialising in XXX and writing for publications such as XXX, and would love to receive regular press releases and be added to your mailing lists." You can also add in how you'd prefer to receive details, such as by phone, email, post or fax.
Arrange One-to-one Meetings
Whilst this isn't always practical for everyone, if you live near where the PR is based or are likely to be visiting sometime, why not ask for a short one-to-one meeting? It's a good opportunity to put a face to a name, lets them know you're interested and gives them the perfect opportunity to discuss various clients. You can either go to their offices or for a coffee or lunch at a convenient place nearby.
Andrea Wren, a journalist and editor, believes finding time to meet up with PRs is crucial. "Even though I'm based in Manchester, when I do go to London I make an effort to meet up with PRs, as I think face-to-face contact is great for building relationships," she explains.
Attend Networking Events
If you're not madly keen on one-to-one meetings, but do want to meet PRs, then networking events are a great alternative. Events are often run by media groups, journalists or even PR companies themselves and are usually held in the evening. Search on Google or ask around for ideas of possible events, as other journalists may know of something you've not heard of. Remember to pick an event carefully -- ideally you want something where there are PRs, not just fellow writers.
Examples of events available include those run by MediaBistro in the US, and TravMedia (http://www.travmedia.com), who runs Thirst Tuesday events for travel writers. It's also worth enquiring about local business networking events, as sometimes locally based PRs may attend.
But if you aren't able to attend networking events in person, whether due to living too far away, in another country or family commitments, don't panic. There are also plenty of opportunities to network online. Some PRs already hang out on email lists and forums for writers (see, they're on step ahead of you!), but in the same way you can find places where they may be.
For example, forums such as the UKPress (http://www.ukpress.org) email list and online forums (the latter online forum isn't so widely used) have a large number of PRs subscribed. Join up, browse the archives, keep a watch on posts or a post a query -- at some point there's a chance there will be just the person you need to get hold of or who knows your ideal contact.
Go to Trade Events
If the areas in which you specialise or are interested in have trade events, then attending could be a good opportunity for you to meet relevant PRs. For example, health events, hotel industry shows or toy industry events take place regularly most years and can be really useful to attend. The favourite amongst many travel journalists, for example, is the World Travel Mart, held in London each year, which is attended by an abundance of PRs from all the key travel organisations. So keep an eye out for details of trade events, where 100s of relevant PRs are gathered together under one roof at the same time -- an opportunity not to be missed!
Get Listed in Media Directories
Many PRs use media directories to access information about publications and journalists. It's often assumed that it's only possible to get your details listed in the directories if you're on staff at a magazine, but products such as Media Disk from Cision Press Media Monitoring (http://www.cision.com/uk/) also include contact information about freelancers. If you contact them, it's possible to get your details included free of charge.
Gorkana (http://www.gorkana.us/) publishes two daily email newsletters, one covering financial and business and the other focusing on consumer issues, which are sent out to PR and journalist subscribers. It covers all the latest moves and updates in the media industry, and is free to subscribe to. You can submit details to be included in the mailings, for example saying which publications you're currently working for and the type of work you do, and it's a useful way of letting PRs know about you and what your current interests are.
Another similar newsletter called DWP JournAlert is produced by the company behind Response Source (http://www.dwpub.com/). It covers technology, financial, trade, consumer, national and regional press news, with updates on who's doing what and where, as well as other useful bits of information, and you can have your details included.
PRs often go out of their way to provide to help and information to writers, sometimes at short notice, so why not let them know you appreciate it? If a PR has helped you out with some information, invited you on a press trip or provided quotes for a feature, then being courteous and saying thanks, is both polite and could help your future working relationship.
Clarissa Satchell, who's recently left her job as a staff journalist to become freelance, says, "I try to let people know when we're going to run the story where possible -- especially if it's an exclusive and they've agreed to hang on to it for us. I'll also offer to have a copy sent to them if they miss it or are based away from the area. It's only a small thing, but people seem to appreciate it."
Once you've employed techniques such as these and got in contact with relevant PRs, don't forget to maintain it. Although many companies will happily send you press releases for life (or so it seems!), with others you may need to remind them every now and again of your existence and the areas you're covering. This is especially so when people leave and others take over their jobs. A quick email or phone call now and again should suffice, or you could keep in touch by sending Christmas cards to your key contacts.
Being in touch with PRs and hearing about the latest news and products on offer is extremely useful, but it's best not to regard it as a free and easy source of stories that are automatically going to prove popular with editors. As Linda Jones, managing director of Passionate Media says, "Anyone assuming PR companies are a sure fire bet for sound stories is kidding themselves. The journalists that have been a hit with me are those who know their stuff and can write a serious piece in an objective fashion, whilst accurately representing the view of latest development from a PR client."
So work hard at getting PR contacts, don't expect automatic story leads and remember to treat them with respect and thank them for their help, and you too could get your name known by PRs and develop a long-lasting business relationship!
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Rachel Newcombe is an award-winning UK-based writer, editor and researcher. She contributes news, features and reviews to a wide range of publications, including BUPA, Allergy magazine, Discovery Health, Child Education magazine, Channel 4, UKTV, Families First for Health, Moira Allen's TimeTravel-Britain.com, and Berkshire's County Child. She's currently editor of a women's health website and involved in the launch of a new lifestyle magazine. She can be found on the web at: http://www.rachelnewcombe.com/.