PR can be great for building your author brand and there are ways to get PR without spending money … IF you can tell a good enough story. In today’s show, Janet Murray explains how.
In the (extended) introduction, I mention that Kickstarter now counts as one of the big 5 publishers in terms of volume published through the platform – and most of those are self-published by definition; the EU Commission has decided that ebooks are ‘books,‘ not electronically supplied services so that might bring down ebook VAT in 2017; plus how a Booker Prize nominated author wrote a commercial novel using The 90 Day Novel by Alan Watt.
I talk about my key takeaways from The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel by Jodie Archer and Matthew Jockers, which uses machine learning to analyze bestselling books in an attempt to show what makes a bestseller. I also mention this article in Wired about the publishing companies that are already using algorithms to determine what they publish – and why authors shouldn’t be too worried about all this!
The corporate sponsorship for this show pays for hosting and transcription. This podcast episode is sponsored by 99 Designs, where you can get all kinds of designs for your author business including book covers, merchandising, branding and business cards, illustrations and artwork and much more. You can get a Powerpack upgrade which gives your project more chance of getting noticed by going to: 99Designs.com/joanna
Janet Murray is a PR coach for experts, businesses & brands, an author and a podcaster. Her latest book is Your Press Release is Breaking my Heart: A totally unconventional guide to selling your story in the media.
- The definition of PR.
- The two essential ways PR can help authors.
- How to be easily found by journalists without having to pitch.
- Interesting angles to use when pitching books to journalists.
- How to find the right journalists / media outlets for your story, and how to pitch it.
Transcription of interview with Janet Murray
Joanna: Hi everyone, I’m Joanna Penn from TheCreativePenn.com and today I’m here with Janet Murray. Hi, Janet.
Janet: Hello, how are you?
Joanna: I’m good. It’s great to have you on the show. Just a little introduction.
Janet is a PR coach for experts, businesses, and brands, an author and a podcaster. Her latest book is Your Press Release Is Breaking My Heart: A Totally Unconventional Guide to Selling Your Story in the Media. Now we are all super interested in this topic, Janet, and I think we’re just gonna jump straight in. I want to start with a definition because I think people are confused.
What is PR? Why is it different to advertising and other kinds of marketing?
Janet: It’s a really good question to start with because when I first started helping people with it, I didn’t explain it. I often used to find out I’d been working with someone for a few weeks or a few months and realized that they weren’t actually sure what it was. They wanted PR but they didn’t know what it was, so it’s a really, really good question.
Essentially PR is free coverage in magazines, newspaper, and/or radio and TV. I think where people get a little bit confused is, obviously, you can buy adverts in magazines and newspapers. You can buy editorial, you can even buy time on radio and TV, but this is free credible editorial. So that means that content that journalists want to create because they think it will be really great for their audience, rather than content that you’re paying them to create.
Joanna: Wow, that’s really interesting. And you use the phrase credible editorial. That sounds amazing.
What are some examples of what is credible editorial? Because you know we’re in this space where there’s so many online magazines or whatever. What is credible?
Janet: Well it really depends on what the publication is. It’s what that audience for publication are interested in reading, but, you know, it’s essentially every editor will have an idea of what their audience wants to hear about, what they will find stimulating, what they want to talk about with their friends.
Increasingly it’s been much driven by what online stuff and whether it’s sharable and people are gonna talk about it on social media. But for example, I’ve done quite a bit of editing over the years. I’ve worked quite a lot on The Guardian.
I worked on The Guardian’s Small Business Network, and the kind of things that we’re looking for there would be very different than what you’re looking for on a business section somewhere else. For example, we’d be looking at really practical how-to articles that are going to help small business owners to really kind of ramp up their business.
But then if you look at the other Business section on the Times, they’re probably going to be looking at more kind of financial news. Does that give you an idea?
Joanna: Yeah, yeah, I think so. And like you said it’s going to be different by country. In the UK, The Guardian would be great. Some Americans would be like, “Yeah, I just don’t even care about that, whatever.”
Then I wanted to, you know, coming to the specifics of authors. For us right now, something like Bookbub, which is a paid email list, or Facebook ads, which you directly pay for, you pay for them and they are measurable in terms of book sales.
Now, and this is kind of my biggest issue around PR so I think we’ve got to address it straight up. Why should authors even consider PR when the results are not measurable? Like I’ve been on TV, and I can’t tell how many people discovered me because I was on this particular TV show.
Why should authors do PR?
Janet: It’s a really, really good question and definitely one worth asking. The way I look at it, there’s two ways that PR can help you if you’re an author.
The first way is building credibility. So when you go to my website, now at the moment you don’t because I’ve just published a book, so I’ve got something different on there. But generally when you go to my website you will see across the top that I’ve got “As Featured In The Guardian, Entrepreneur, Huffington Post, BBC,” all these kinds of credible titles. And that kind of gives you a stamp of approval.
And I think people who want to engage with you might be reading your books. It might be, if you’re offering other services, they might want to work with you in another way. Then it’s almost like, “Well if the BBC think that they, you know, they know what they’re talking about, or The New York Times know, I think they know what they’re talking about. Then they must do.”
We all know that that’s not necessarily true, but it’s like a stamp of approval, basically. That is credibility, and if you’re looking to maybe get speaking gigs, or you’re looking to attract, maybe your indie-published and you’re looking to attract a traditional publisher, then all of this stuff is going to help because it gives you credibility.
And the other thing that’s just worth mentioning, actually, quickly, for authors, is that often when you put a book proposal out, the first thing that a publisher, a traditional publisher would want to know is, “Well, how are you going to publicize this book? Who is your audience? You know, how do we know that you can do this?” But obviously, as an author if you’ve already got this great coverage on some really high-profile influential titles, then obviously you’re proving that. It’s like social proof.
The other side of it, it can actually lead to sales. Now this is more complicated because as you say it’s very difficult to measure the return on investment. But, I mean I think that’s true apart from, like, Facebook advertising, or, you know, it’s true of lots of stuff that you do in your author business.
People need eight touch points with you or something. What’s the sales research? They need connection with you, and PR can be one of those touch points. So it might be that they read something that you’ve had a feature in The New York Times or mention or something, but then they also see you on Twitter and then, I don’t know, a Facebook ad pops up or whatever. It can actually be a cumulative effect of many different touch points and PR is just one part of it.
I just published, indie published a non-fiction book, which is about how to get PR. And when I was doing my PR, I knew that the national press wouldn’t be interested in doing a story about my book, which is essentially aimed at business owners, and consultants, and authors who want to do their own PR.
But I was aware that there were opportunities for me to get coverage, so I wrote an opinion article for PR Week, which is the industry title for the PR industry because it will also have some people who work in the industry who read my stuff as well. And that particular piece of coverage in PR Week lead to an inquiry. We’re just firming up the details, but it was actually worth thousands of pounds in terms of consultancy. I could actually trace that piece back.
I’ve also written a piece for The Guardian about how to write press releases and that sent me, like, tons and tons of traffic, and tons of potential clients as well.
It can be tricky, but you can measure it at times and there are ways you can measure your return on investment, but I think it’s a little bit like social media. Sometimes it can be clear and sometimes it’s about looking at the overall picture of what you’ve been doing overall in your PR and marketing, if that kind of makes sense.
Joanna: Well there’s so much I can come back on that. I think we’re going to get into the kind of the targeting as we go through, so I guess let’s come back on the success with PR and the multiple touch points. Because that’s what it seems like for me, when I think about getting PR.
I’ve been on the BBC and all that type of thing, and they found me. So this is the other point, one of the things around being found, because you mentioned writing an article for example, and pitching, and we’re going to come back to pitching in a minute, but what are the things that authors can do in order to be found by the media when they’re looking for people to write a story?
For example, I got a call, like it was January 4 or something, a couple of years ago, from Sky News. They wanted a story on career change, on leaving your job. And they Googled and they just found me and called me and I went on TV like the next morning at 5 a.m.
How can authors get found without having to pitch? And then we’ll come back to pitching.
Janet: There’s some really simple things that you can do on your social media. Basically, you need to know that journalists are desperate to find experts to comment on stuff, and they are actively looking so that should be reassuring. So they’ll often looking on places like Twitter and or LinkedIn.
I still practice as a journalist. I’ve just spent a couple of weeks covering for an editor at The Guardian so I’ve been doing this myself. And so basically they’re looking for key words, you know. They’re, you know, like what happened to you, they were googling. It might be on Twitter, it might be on LinkedIn.
But what I find a lot of people do is they don’t sort of do the basics. For example, make sure that their Twitter profile really explains what they do in simple terms. They don’t have a phone number on there. Now some people might say, “Oh well I don’t want to have my phone number on there.” But, you know, journalists don’t work nine to five hours. They’re most likely going to be looking for someone to help them at 9:00 at night, or 7:00 in the morning or whatever. And you could be that person that they come to.
But if they go to your website and they think, “Well she seems interesting, or he seems interesting.” And then they’ve got to fill out a contact form that’s probably just slows them down. But if you’ve got on your Twitter profile, for example, your phone number, and I’ve got a real example of this.
A lady that I’ve been working with recently, she’s actually a consultant, but she’s an author as well. And a BBC journalist, I think it was Radio 5 Live, they were looking for somebody to talk on her topic of expertise. And because on Twitter she had her phone number, this is a little trick, you should come to one of my webinars, I’ve just suggested this little trick that she made. She got on 5 Live and also I think got on Radio 4 as well, and just that small trick just having your phone number on there.
And things like, on your LinkedIn profile, just making sure it’s really clear what you do, which sounds a bit silly, but sometimes people kind of put these really jargony titles and actually, you know, if you’re a thriller writer that’s what you need to put. And sometimes, I think people can kind of forget their audience.
Joanna: It’s so funny you mentioned the contact forms because I agonize over this, and I do have a contact form on TheCreativePenn.com which goes to my VA, and then she checks that email a couple of times a week, which means that I missed a Wired article because it came through too late. I was actually really annoyed about that, but because I get so much spam email, I can’t not have a form, and it cut down on a whole load of other stuff.
So as you’re saying now, I’m thinking, “Oh my goodness, what shall I do? So is it that I should have a separate page? And I used to have one and then I kinda stopped doing it as a separate page.
Should authors have a specific page for the press? Would a journalist look at that? And what should go on that page?
Janet: Yeah, I find a lot of people sort of wasting time and money creating like media kits. All you need is on your about page, or your contact page that people have the key things. So a phone number, now and this might make you feel a bit uncomfortable, but it doesn’t have to be your personal phone number. It could just be a answer service or something but basically where you can get a message to you, you know, quickly.
You need a photo, some good quality photos of you, ideally, you know, a selection. Not maybe just head shots, but maybe things that tell the story of your business from all your book and facts, depending on what you’re do.
And also some biogs and articles that you have like different lengths. You know, so you have a 50-word one, a 100-word one, and they’re the kinds of things that journalists are going to be looking for. And also maybe just links to a few other articles that you’ve been quoted in.
When I’m working as an editor, the first thing I do, if someone gets in touch and they want to write something for me or they want to be featured, the first thing I do is Google them and see what they’ve done before. With an author you would kind of expect that they can string sentences together, but there’s a big difference between being able to write for the media and writing fiction. And actually, sometimes fiction writers can be the worst people because they’re very elaborate. And when you’re writing for the media, it’s a lot more punchy. And you would use 2 words rather than 20.
I’ve noticed that often fiction writers can be a little bit more kind of verbose. And so what you’re looking at is if they’ve got some examples of their writing. And you need to see that they can string a sentence together and you’re not going to have to edit it too much. Then that’s going to make you happy.
Basically journalists just want to make their life easier, like we all do. They want to do it, you know, they want to find stuff quickly and they just want to be able to get on with their job.
Joanna: Coming back to the profiles and things. It’s funny you mentioned LinkedIn. I am shocking with LinkedIn because I used to use it in my corporate life so I kind of have this aversion to LinkedIn because it represents my old life. Whereas, I really just need to update it.
For SEO, the right words to use, search engine optimization around words, many people would use the word “author” or “podcaster” for example. I’ve noticed that many people use witty words, you know, how exact do they need to be?
What are some examples that would be better than just “author” on your Twitter profile?
Janet: I think just being really Ronseal. So for those people who are not from the UK, Ronseal is this brand of paint, and they used to be on some kind of advert or something, didn’t it? That was like, “Ronseal, what it says on the tin.”
I think the more simple you can be and direct, and the less clever you can be basically the more helpful it’s going to be. So if you are a thriller author or a crime author, that’s what you need to say.
If a journalist is looking for a thriller author to comment on something or a murder mystery writer or whatever, then you want to come up first in a search. And if you’ve put some kind of, like, you know, really clever pun or something, they’re not going to find you.
And the other thing to say as well about the LinkedIn is obviously going for radio and TV stuff. Have some video on there as well for radio and TV researchers. They’re not looking for perfection, but even just something like this. Just to see that you’re not going to freeze up in front of the camera and that you’re lively and all that kind of stuff.
I have to say, I don’t like LinkedIn very much either. But just making sure that your profile is up to date and that you’re going to come up first in the search basically. And it’s just really just thinking really basics. A journalist is not going to be searching for, you know, multimedia thriller, dystopian, blah, blah, blah. They’re going to be looking for just like thriller writer or whatever. Or fiction expert or whatever so you should just use those terms really.
Joanna: And if you’re writing non-fiction around a theme you would include very specific words.
It is very annoying having multiple brands. So I have J.F. Penn, which is my fiction, and Joanna Penn, which is my non-fiction. And then, I have two names for different websites but I still haven’t really split my social media. And as you’re speaking I’m like, “Oh.”
I’ve been thinking I really need to sort out J.F. Penn as the separate entity in social media. And I have a different Facebook page, but it’s so important when it comes to this.
As soon as you Google someone you land on a page, you make a decision quite quickly, don’t you? As to whether or not you want to talk to them.
Janet: Yeah, definitely. I have this conversation with my clients all the time about specializing and people are so scared of specializing, and they’re so scared to be pigeonholed and they’ll say, “I don’t want people to pigeonhole me.”
But actually, journalists in particular, they’re really busy people and they’re just looking for that go-to person. They’re not interested in the fact that you’re a thriller writer but you’ve also written non-fiction about surfing or whatever. You need to find a way that you can make yourself the go-to person that comes up in search for whatever it is that is most important to you to get out there.
Sometimes it means making a few decisions about what you’re going to prioritize. And it might be that you prioritize different things at different times. You know, it might be that you’re trying to promote your non-fiction books for a while, so you change all of your profiles to reflect that.
And then when you’re back in the fiction writing, I know that lots of your audience kind of do both. You might change things around. So it’s just about kind of just always asking yourself that question.
If a journalist was looking for somebody to help with this, would they be able to find me? And what do I need to change so that they can find me more easily?
Joanna: Yeah, and the reason I wanted to cover that first is because I know most people hate pitching. But you can avoid pitching by making yourself findable, which is fantastic. But now let’s talk about pitching.
So basically, and I’m sorry for anyone listening who still feels this way, but nobody cares that you have a book, right?
Joanna: Nobody actually cares. And in fact, when you’re a journalist, everyone has a bloomin’ book. Like seriously, you get pitched every day, right, people with books.
How can an author who wants to get PR come up with a story that a journalist would even be interested in? Because so many people pay for these press release things that just go out and say, “Here’s my book,” which is pointless.
What is the angle to come up with?
Janet: Okay, well there’s lots of little things that you can do. What I always advise people to do is look around the edges. Because I often work at business areas, so I say look around the edges of your business.
In the case of authors, I’d say, “Look around the edges of your book, and your writings. And look at the areas of your life which intersect with your book, and your writing.” And that’s often where the stories are.
When I’m working with people, I have this hand-out that I use, but I can share it actually with your audience, if you think they’ll find it useful. And in the middle it’s got your brand, or your book, or your product, or whatever it is. And then around the side it’s got work, relationships and friendships, life and death, money. And it’s got all these kinds of areas of your life which intersect with your business. And that’s basically what journalists are far more interested in, is those areas.
I’ll come to that in a second, but the other thing is often that we all have, I say in business if you have a business story, but I think people often have a book story as well. They have a story behind why they write what they write.
You’ve got some great stories around what you do. Leaving your job and going minimalist and moving to another part of the country so that you could work solely as a writer, and being unhappy in your job. I heard you talking another podcast about getting divorced in your 20s, and my journalist brain cropped that as well.
All those things that happened in your life, are often invisible to you and how they relate to your book are often far more interesting to journalists. So I get really clear on what your book story is.
And to give you a few examples…I’m always quite interested to see authors how they PR their books, but Adele Parks, who is quite a popular chick lit author. What I’ve noticed about her, when she has a new book out, she always appears in The Daily Mail with some story from her life, which links to the theme of her book.
I’ve seen her write stuff about how she was proposed to eight times. And then it related to the theme of her current book. And it was a nice read. It was a great story and had nothing to do with her book on the face of it, but at the end it just had, “Adele Parks new book is out, and blah, blah, blah.” When you thought about the theme they were quite linked.
She had another one about why she has only got one child and why she chose to do that. I think I saw that in The Guardian. What else have I seen her do? Oh, her best friend divorcing her, I saw a piece that she had written about that and that kind of linked to the theme of her book.
That’s what journalists are interested in. They’re interested in the human story.
There’s other things that I can mention as well, but for fictional works I think that works particularly well. That can work really well. And also, you know, I was listening to a podcast episode with Clare Mackintosh, who’s just launched. Not just launched, actually, but she’s got that really kind of amazing thriller, and she’s doing really, really, really well.
And I know that her story is she lost a child, and I heard her talking on the podcast about how losing that child kind of inspired her to become an author, and inspired some of the themes in her book. I haven’t any published any fiction books, but from working with writers and interviewing lots of writers, I think often the themes that come up in their fiction, often do link to their lives. They’ve often got stories in the things that happened to them in lives which come out in different ways in their books.
It’s about finding those stories that journalists will be interested in, and then you go to them and say, “Look, I’ve got this really strong personal story. Would you be interested in doing this? And by the way I’ve also got a book out.”
It’s almost like you turn it upside down, and you go with the story, and then if you can sell them a really compelling story, then they will be normally happy to pick a plug for your book at the end.
If you look at in the UK, we have The Guardian, which is obviously one of our biggest selling newspapers and also internationally online, they have a family section on a Saturday. What I’ve noticed about that section is often they have a really compelling personal story around a family issue.
Maybe long-lost relatives. Or they have somebody who’s had a child in each decade or something like that. And then when you look at the end they’ve usually got some kind of book out. It is about finding those personal stories and hooking with those, and that will get you the plug for your book. Does that kind of make sense?
Joanna: Yeah, and it’s funny because now I’m thinking, “Oh how can I tie in murders and explosions and all that totally?” It is about really sitting down and thinking about those human issues. And at the end of the day, writing fiction, people are interested in people. And so that’s why characters are so important when you write fiction. The plot is kind of secondary, the characters first.
What you’re saying is, you as an author have to be a character in the story that the PR person is interested in. And I think that’s quite hard for a lot of people. Myself included. You don’t necessarily want that attention on you personally. You’d rather have the attention on your book.
But, like you just said, nobody cares. And so hopefully that will give people some good ideas.
Say they come up with some ideas. How do they know who to pitch? Because I think this is such an important part, isn’t it? Because there’s no point in just sending your story randomly to a paper or a TV show.
How do you find the right people for your story?
Janet: Okay, well there’s a process that I take my clients through. The first thing I would do is say, “Well, who is it that you want to get in front of?”
If you’ve got romantic fiction, or you’ve got a non-fiction book about getting PR for your business or a book or whatever, I think then who is it you need to get in front of? What is your objective? And usually, it’s to sell books.
Where are the potential readers of your book? What are they reading, watching, and listening to and all the rest of it?
You really need to get clear about what is it you’re trying to do, and who you need to get in front of to make that happen.
I see people who chase coverage in big publications. “I must get in The New York Times,” or “I want to be in the Sydney Morning Herald, or whatever. But actually, will that get you in front of the people who want to read your book? And particularly, if you’ve written a niche, non-fiction type book, well that might not be the best place that you need to be. It might be better for you to be in some kind of industry title that people haven’t heard of.
That would be the first step: what is your objective? Presumably in most cases with books it is to sell more books. So who do you need to get in front of to sell those books, and what do they read, watch, and listen to?
People often say to me at that point, “Well, how do I find out?” You just ask people. So find 5, 10, 15 people who are your ideal readers and just ask them. And bear in mind that people don’t always tell you the truth. So like, for example, everybody says, in the UK, they don’t read The Daily Mail and most people do. And they love it, but they will tell you that they read all these high brow things.
Joanna: That’s like people saying they’ve read literary fiction but actually they’re reading romance on their Kindle.
Janet: Exactly, yeah. So just bear in mind you have to have to take it with a slight pinch of salt. But you will get a general sense of what people are reading and what they engage with. And there really is where you need to go.
When I was publishing my book recently, my non-fiction book, on how to get press coverage, like a DIY book, how to get press coverage, I knew there was no way that the nationals were going to be interested in that. Or, you know, not in just writing about it. I just knew it wouldn’t be of interest.
So I did several things. I wrote this opinion piece for PR Week about why, or pitched this opinion piece about why all people who work in the PR industry should spend some time in a news room, and that’s kind of quite a controversial topic. I wrote a very practical how-to piece for The Guardian on how to get press coverage or some kind of aspect of it.
Once you’ve really figured out where you need to be and who you need to get in front of, then the idea starts to roll. And then you can actually go beyond that personal story. Because then it might be that there’s some themes in your book, or there’s something that you know about, you’re expert in that would lend itself really well to an opinion article, like the one that I mentioned. Or it may well be, and this is another thing I encourage people to do, is this thing that you could teach people.
For example, I had an author who posted in my Facebook group earlier on, who was saying that she’d got some publicity in a writing magazine for one of her books that had come out. And she was teaching. She was teaching something around a sort of self-publishing process or something like that.
It really is about identifying where you need to be, and what these publications are. And then really, really researching them and seeing, not what is the story I want to tell, because the story we all want to tell is how brilliant we are and how helpful our book is. But instead of that it’s what is the story people actually want to hear. And like I said at the beginning, that will differ depending on the kind of publications that you’ve identified.
If you’ve got a short list and you think, “My readers, potential readers, they read The Guardian, The Huffington Post, I don’t know, Cosmopolitan Magazine”, then it really is about rolling your sleeves up. And as one of my colleagues used to say, a newspaper colleague, is just getting your finger scrubbed and actually sitting down with those publications and looking them online and actually looking at what kind of content do they actually run.
Not what would I like them to run, but what do they actually run. And then you start to think, “Oh, look, that’s interesting.” Because they have a first person, very powerful first person story every Saturday. I wonder if that story about the time I nearly died could work, you know, something very flippant here.
You know those children’s shapes toys? When you fit the square peg in the round bit. It’s a bit like that. Once you start to look at publications like that, and you start to think, “Okay, well they have that regular bit there. And maybe that thing happens to be there. And in that they have a bit about fly-fishing.”
Or I could suggest an article, six bits of tackle you need, or something. But it’s about really looking at what they cover, and where you can fit in, which is a very different place. Most people come at it like from a me, me, me place.
Joanna: Yeah, and then just pitching what they have. Funny when you said, “How you almost died.” I did almost die in Bali. I had a wheatgrass shot, and it turns out I’m allergic to it, and I almost died of a wheatgrass shot at a yoga retreat in Bali. Which has got to be a super story, I mean, I’ve got to use that. Now I’m going to find somewhere to pitch that one.
Joanna: It’s funny because it’s got nothing to do with my book. But what you’re saying is that doesn’t matter. At the end, you just want people to think, “Oh that’s interesting.” And then they’ll see at the end that you have a book, right?
Janet: Yes, exactly, and also I always encourage people to try if there’s a way that you can try and mold what you do into it.
For example, you know, one of my clients, when I started working with him, he was a coach. He was a relationship coach. And I said to him, “What inspired you to do what you do. Why do you work with couples?” And he said, “Well because my parents have been really unhappily married for the whole of their life, and they just got divorced in their 80s.” And I was like, “Oh my God. I really want to read that story.”
And, but, you know, it wasn’t just about that being a great story that I wanted to read, and incidentally that piece appeared in The Guardian and also in The Daily Mail You Magazine as well. But it was really relevant to his work that he was doing because it made him want to work with couples and help them save their marriages, and so often there’s usually a way that you can make it relevant to what you do.
I’m sure there probably will be a way that you could at least mention in there that you were a writer or something.
Joanna: I was on writing retreat. But just taking that further: people have found that they could pitch this particular thing.
Do they then find the name of the journalist and then they try and get the journalist’s contact details and target one or two specific people rather than just scattergun?
Janet: Yes. This is where people go wrong. They just kind of think, “Okay, I found this magazine. Let’s just send it to the editor.” And actually in reality, the editor of a magazine or a newspaper probably doesn’t do so much reviewing of the day’s “missioning,” we call it. You find the section editor that you want.
In the example I just mentioned that was the family section of The Guardian. So, Graham realized that there was a section that carried that kind of content. So he was like, “Right, now I need to find out the name of the…”
“Wait,” I told him, because I knew. You’re trying to find out the name of that particular person.
You really need to get it in front of the person who can make a decision. It’s a bit like when you’re pitching a book proposal or something. If you’re trying to get a particular agent to work with you, you send it to that person. You don’t just send it generically and hope that it will land on the right person’s desk. You need to find the person. Twitter is brilliant for finding for finding journalists.
And the other thing I would recommend that people do, so say for example you decided that you’ve got a hit list. And it’s The New York Times or whatever, and it’s a particular section you’d really like to get in. Then find out who the editor is and basically stalk them on Twitter for a while, and have a look at what they’re sharing, what they’re talking about.
Maybe you could just start replying to a few tweets or whatever, and warm them up a little bit. And that can be one way so that when your pitch does land, it’s not entirely cold. I mean you have to make sure you’re not being too stalkery or whatever. It’s all out there. Twitter, LinkedIn.
You can buy a list of journalists’ email addresses, but I just think it’s a bit of a waste of money because I think you can find most people you need to connect with within about three or four clicks. Why would you spend money on lists that are probably out of date? You’ll find the right person and then you’ll get an out of office that says they’re on maternity leave or something like that.
Just pick up the phone. That’s what I say to people, “Just pick up the phone and ask.” You might get passed around a little bit. And you might get people who are a bit short with you because newspapers in particular are quite busy places. But who cares? It’s the worst that could happen.
Now you’ve got the name of the person you want to get in front of. And that really often is half the battle. When I see people not getting responses and getting despondent it’s often because they’re sending it to the wrong person. If you rang up the The Guardian and said, “You know, I’ve got a feature idea.” They’d probably tell you to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, which is like, no.
Joanna: Yeah, and it would just go in a spam box somewhere.
Janet: Exactly. It really is about trying to find that person and making relationship. I run events in London every month where I get pitched, I just can’t talk about what they’re looking for. And just finding out where I can meet them and if this is somebody that you’d really like to start engaging with, or you’d like to write for them, then find out where they’re speaking. They’re often speaking at events or they might be at trade shows or wherever it might be. And it’s like anything else that you’re doing, you know, in your marketing and PR. You just gotta hustle a bit.
Joanna: Yes, and I know people listening have got excited and then you started saying things like, “Make a phone call.”
Janet: I knew you were going to say that.
Joanna: I’m an introvert and I hate phone calls. It’s probably my number one issue. I never answer the phone. I just don’t like phone calls.
One of the reasons I do podcasting is actually so I still have to call someone. And it still gives me sweaty palms. I’ve been doing this for years.
For me that’s the big issue with PR is this follow up. Because everyone says, “Even if you email you should follow up again.” You should, like you just said, pick up the phone or something. Now I’m fine if the contact has been made, if there’s been a warm up. But this sort of cold phone calls is my utter nightmare, and also in terms of time, I guess. But let’s just stick with the introvert thing.
Do you have any tips I guess for people who struggle with this following up and reaching out?
Janet: The good news is that you probably won’t have to phone. Because most journalists hate getting phone calls too, so it’s fine.
But if you had a story that was really timely, so say for example, so you said you almost died after drinking…was it wheatgrass or something?
Joanna: Yeah, a wheatgrass shot.
Janet: Let’s just say, that after we got off this call you went onto the BBC website, and you saw that a tourist, you know, was in trouble or was dying or something. It sounds terrible isn’t it, like me flipping them, but this is kind of how reporters think. Or maybe a gang of school children or, you know, drunk some wheatgrass and they were all desperately ill. I would say to you, “You need to get on the phone and make yourself known.”
Joanna: Jump on it.
Janet: Yeah, jump on it. In that situation when it’s a really hot story, and you’re the only person that can help, definitely just get on the phone.
Most of the time, journalists don’t answer the phone either, and they’re not interested, so they operate in email. So I would say first of all, don’t stress about it. And if it’s like getting contacts and stuff well that’s the kind of thing you would get an assistant, you know, someone to ring up who doesn’t mind ringing it up and, you know, if you don’t like doing it.
I’ve actually written a blog post, which is how to do a blog post if you’re an introvert, which you might want to link to. You can do because it’s such a problem. You might find that useful.
I think the chasing up thing is you can usually do most of it by email, and if you do have to get on the phone, just a few key things.
While I was covering for an editor at The Guardian the last few weeks, I always pick up the phone because obviously I have a business where I teach people how to get into the media, and I want to understand what people are finding hard or making mistakes with. So I’m like, “Yeah I’m gonna answer the phone.”
I was picking up the phone and the first mistake people make is this. If you imagine you’re a journalist. Your audience will know this. So you’re writing. You’re deep in thought. You’re just thinking about how are you going to get from A to B in your writing. The phone goes, you pick it up, and there’s somebody who is just babbling on at you and you don’t actually understand what they’re saying, because you’re like, “I was just doing something else and now you’re talking at me.”
And so when people say journalists can be a bit rude, often it’s that they’re literally just they’ve had their head in something else and then you phone up and people get so nervous they just vomit over them.
I’ve had that thing where I’ve picked up the phone and people are just like talking and talking at me. They haven’t asked me if I’ve got time to talk. If you do have to phone, I would just ring up and say something like, “It’s Joanna here, I’m an author of whatever book it is. And I just wondered if you had time to talk through a story idea?”
And so, basically you’re giving them a bait that you’ve actually got something useful for them. You know, you’ve got a story idea and actually know what you’re talking about.
And some people say, “Oh don’t ask, because then they’ll probably say no”, because lots of journalists do say, ‘I haven’t got the time.'” But actually if someone said that to me, I would probably go, “Yeah I know you’ve only got a minute, but yeah go on.”
If you can just get your idea in the first bit that you don’t ramble or waffle. And by asking if they’ve got time to talk it also slows you down as well, because you say, you know, “Have you got a minute?”
Joanna: Take a breath?
Janet: It forces you to do that. And then instead of saying, you know, instead of kind of rambling on about who you are and your background, just saying, “I noticed this story about the tourists who drank wheatgrass, and who did really poorly. That happened to me last year. If you’re doing anything on it…”
That really is your pitch. You don’t need to do anything more than that. And you don’t need to be polished or have a script or anything like that. It’s just being able to get to the point quickly. And just treat it like a conversation.
I think often people have this idea of journalists. They’re in kind an office and they’re like swarming around these powerful people who are saying, “yes” or “no.” But actually, it can be quite scary when you’re an editor, because you’ve got pages to fill or you’ve been told you’ve got to commission.
If it’s online, you’ve got to commission so many of these stories. Or radio and TV, you’ve got air space to fill. And sometimes you just can’t find that story. And I’ve literally been close to tears because I know my editor is coming back from holiday and just told me I have to have a story and whatever. And I just can’t find anything. And so just telling yourself that you’re not a pest, you’re actually potentially solving a problem.
You’re potentially helping them to get home earlier. Well, you are. Every email that you send, every phone call you make you’re potentially solving a problem, helping them go home earlier, fill some space, get their boss off the back or whatever.
I think people often approach this sort of thing feeling like they’re a pest and they’re being annoying. You’ll notice any of your listeners have ever done any of PR, you know pitching into the media, you’ll notice something about journalists. They’ll ignore you and ignore you, but the minute they want something, they’ll be on the phone, and phoning you every five seconds, you know, like, “Oh, have you got this yet?” Or “Can we have that” or whatever.
I think remembering that you could potentially be solving a problem, and helping them out is a much better way to think of it than your just scary pitching thing.
Joanna: I could talk to you all day, but we are pretty much out of time.
Tell everybody about your book, Your Press Release is Breaking My Heart. What can they, what else can they find in there?
Janet: My book, as the title would suggest, was inspired by the fact that as a journalist, I’ve spent 15 years working as a national journalist, and there’s just things, I mean, dreadful press releases come into my inbox. So it’s really, the subtitle is, An Unconventional Way to Tell Your Story in the Media, a totally unconventional way.
I take people through everything they need to know to do coverage. I start right at the beginning with what I call the low-hanging fruit; stuff that you can do that doesn’t involve pitching at all, or press releases, or phoning anyone up.
I teach you some really simple stuff that everybody can do just online. And then we progress to how to find story ideas, how to put a pitch together, how to chase up a journalist and what to do if you haven’t heard back.
And I’ve also got some others or bonus bits in there about getting speaking gigs and other things like that. And I’ve also created some resources as well. For each chapter there’s a downloadable resource that you can go. I use Teachable to host it. You can go over and download that.
It’s basically everything you need to know to get started with your own PR from my point of view as a journalist, and all things that I’ve learned dealing with people pitching and hearing their pitches over the phone, and seeing their press releases.
I genuinely want to help people because I’ve been a small business owner myself for years, and the book really was inspired by often seeing small business owners, or authors, or consultants, or people who maybe don’t have a massive budget to be spending out on PR companies and thinking, “No, you could be doing it yourself. And you could be doing a much better job.” So that’s it in a nutshell.
Joanna: Brilliant, no, fantastic. So where can people find you and your book and your blog and your podcast online?
Janet: So I’m at janetmurray.co.uk. My podcast is the Soulful PR Podcast, and online I generally hang out most on Twitter, which is @jan_murray. But I’ve also got a really fabulous Facebook group called The Soulful PR Facebook Community. I’ve got a couple of thousand people in there who are in there every day sharing ideas and tips and contacts, and that’s really a great place to start.
Joanna: Brilliant, well thanks so much for your time, Janet. That was amazing.
Janet: Thank you.