Everyone talks to them, but so few do it well. Know who I’m talking about? That’s right: journalists. Those mythical creatures that scurry through life with an impending deadline always at their heels.
When it comes to growing your startup, a good relationship with the press is more essential than beads at Mardi Gras. But you’ll never be bosom buddies with feature columnists if you can’t learn to speak their language. In order to get what you want from journalists, you first need to understand how to talk to them. And how exactly is that? I’m glad you asked.
Here are 5 of my top rules for what to say to the people who say it all.
1. Speak Their Lingo. Be Human.
For some strange reason, journalists are treated like an extraterrestrial breed. Or on the other extreme, the “cool kids” you should be afraid of, that will never acknowledge you. But contrary to popular belief, journalists are real people, too. They eat lunch; they look at pictures of cats on the Internet; they Googled the royal baby. In fact, they’re probably doing all three of those things right now.
And you know what? They’re not so scary.
So what does that mean? It means you should talk to journalists like they’re a normal human and not E.T. You don’t have to butter it up and use your thesaurus 37 times either. Just because they have an English degree from Columbia, doesn’t mean they don’t talk or write like you and I. Always write to them like you say it. Be bright, but conversational. Be real and sincere.
2. Buzzwords are a buzz kill.
Buzzwords used to be a good thing. Many moons ago. About the time scrunchies were popular. Now buzzwords are just those treacherous victims of the English language that are used and abused with such frequency that they become meaningless. Leverage. Game changer. Synergize. Viral.
Sound familiar? Make you a little nauseous? I hope so.
When you use buzzwords, you’re not being a communicator; you’re being a copycat. And no journalist worth his or her salt is going to listen attentively to what they’ve heard again and again and again. Journalists, like regular people, are intrigued by the original. So stop all the poppycock and just say what you mean already.
3. Let a Sleeping Reporter Sleep
Do you know the worst thing about being a journalist? Everyone around them is so needy. All the time. People are continually pitching them with such urgency and fanfare. They haven’t yet brewed their coffee and their phone is already buzzing away. First email: This is the most important thing you’ll read all day!!! Really? Is it? Open it up and it’s a pitch about a new flavor of Hot Pockets. Huge let down. And huge turnoff. That was totally not worth three exclamation points.
The best gift you can give a journalist is to be conscious of what you say and when you say it. You are not the paparazzi. It is not in your job description to be rude and in someone’s face all the time. Consider when and how you like to be contacted, then follow suit. People are generally most receptive to helping you when you approach them in a time and place that respects their schedule and needs.
4. Do Not Act Like Shunned Sally
Have you heard about Sally? That girl who got dumped by her boyfriend? She is so broken up about it that she writes him a long, heart-felt letter. She then follows this up with a phone call, followed by a text, followed by a dramatic Facebook post, followed by more desperate texts, and then a blog which she sends out simultaneously through all her social media . . . you see where I’m going with this. And it’s nowhere good.
Over-communication is ridiculous. This is the age of technology where it’s incredibly easy to reach people via multiple means on multiple devices. But just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. In fact, let’s just go ahead and say it: you shouldn’t. No one likes the person who sends an email directly followed by a text that says, “I just sent you an email.” Find out how journalists prefer to be contacted, and then use that. Be patient; give people time to respond. Instead of saying more, try to say less better.
5. Take It In Stride
Say a journalist doesn’t go with your pitch. Say they don’t even read it or respond to it. Do not, I repeat do not, take it personally. Do not start a Twitter war, or huff and puff vindictively. You are not an elementary school girl who just got picked last because you were wearing the wrong color jelly shoes. You’re an adult with an idea that didn’t take. Don’t worry; you’ll have another one. And another one after that. If you can be easy to work with even when things aren’t going your way, you’ll make friends rather than enemies. And when it comes to the press, that’s kinda the point isn’t it?
Got any other suggestions to work your way into a journalists’ inner circle? Let us know in the comments below!