How Journalism Helped Me Navigate The World Of PR

I was a journalist for six years, until I decided to try something and switch to the “dark side” – public relations. 

I’m relatively new to the world of PR. Now, new worries fill my world – having to quickly draft press releases, organise media launches, and pray that journalists will be interested enough to cover the story. And the more I learned about the public relations industry, the more I realised that there are so many interchangeable skills which overlap between the two fields. 

Here are eight skills which I picked up as a journalist, and have proven to be extremely useful in the public relations world:

BE A STORYTELLER

Content is king – be it in journalism or public relations. If you do not craft a compelling or newsworthy press release, nobody is going to want to pick up the story. Come up with an engaging lead to act as a grip to hook your reader and make them want to read more. 

ALWAYS FACT-CHECK

Always fact-check details such as names, numbers, and dates, when doing your research. This goes for both journalism and PR. You must always present accurate information to the media and the public – after all, what could be worse than having to issue a correction when sending out a press release? 

BE A SOCIAL BUTTERFLY (WELL, SORT OF)

No, you don’t need to host summer soirees and become a social butterfly to network. Simply put yourself out there – attend events and seminars, talk to people and start a conversation. You never know what will come of it – if everything works out, you could have a new client on your hands. It never hurts to be well-connected. 

DEALING WITH DEADLINES

Every journalist, no matter how accomplished they are, hate this word – deadlines. Escaping to the PR world will not rid you of deadlines. In fact, you will be inundated with deadlines, be it for pitches or press releases. Luckily, having spent time as a journalist has polished my deadline-management skills. 

MAKING CALLS

Just like journalists chase for quotes or statements for a story, PR practitioners do the same – in fact, they go a step further and make calls to journalists about press releases or pitches they sent over. It’s two sides of the same coin, really.

ACTIVELY LISTEN 

Carefully listen to interviews so you can quickly grab onto sentences which can be used as a strong lead, or a juicy quote. That’s what I regularly did as a journalist – of course, it doesn’t mean that I switched off during the mundane bits of the interview. I learned to identify talking points which could be used to generate more storylines, or lead to a more robust conversation, but only if the right follow-up questions were asked. 

GET WHAT YOU WANT 

Seasoned journalists know how to masterfully steer an interview in their desired direction, to extract the quote they want for their story. This skill will help any PR practitioner prevent an unnecessary PR crisis.

KNOW WHEN TO LET LOOSE

Disconnecting from work may be hard, but it is beneficial to people in this line of work. Journalists certainly know how to have fun and let loose after a hard day in the newsroom. And the team at Mutant does exactly that – we work hard and play hard! That is one of the reasons why we have been awarded the Best Mid-Sized Agency To Work For APAC by Holmes Report (Woohoo!).

Come join the dark side at [email protected]!

Using data to get media attention isn’t as hard as you think

Your company is not special. Your product is probably not “revolutionary”. Very few people care that your best-selling system has a new feature – and I guarantee no one cares that you hired a new CFO.  

Sorry (not sorry) for the hard truths, but the simple fact is that most companies still don’t understand what makes a good story. What you think makes a great story is probably not the same as what a journalist considers to be a great story – this is mainly because journalists know their readers won’t care about what you have to say. To make things harder, shrinking newsrooms translate to journalists being more stretched than ever, so your press release will often go unread and that interview you pitched will likely never happen.

Now that’s all out of the way, it’s time for the good news: the best stories you possess have actually been at your disposal this whole time. Okay, there might be some digging around to find the right spreadsheets, but the point is you’re probably already sitting on a goldmine and you don’t even know it. 

Because the way to get a journalist’s attention is with – say it with me now – DATA! 

Even if you don’t have anything interesting to say, you can create news with data. When handled the right way and moulded into a usable story, data can deliver the media attention you have always wanted, but have never been able to achieve – even with paid content. 

But first, a quick PR lesson

Before we can talk about why data is essential to your PR strategy, we need to touch on why public relations might not currently be working for you. If you’ve been burned before by agencies that promise the world, but only hand over a ‘strategy’ that relies on press releases, then this is especially relevant for you: 

Despite what you may think, you are not important. A story is never going to be about how awesome your company or product is – that is not news. News is a story that’s broader than an announcement of something new (unless that new thing is incredibly timely). News is something that has impact and affects people’s lives or businesses. It’s timeliness, something close to  what we value, and something that carries a human interest angle or solves a conflict. News is unique and it carries consequences. News is not hyperbole and exaggerated claims of being “the best”, “the newest” or “the most revolutionary”. 

Your goal to get the media’s attention is to provide a reason for them to write about you. This means selling them a story, not a product, and avoiding your usual press releases chock-full of corporate jargon that says a lot about, well, nothing. If your press releases and pitches haven’t been picked up, it likely because you or your agency haven’t figured out how to tell your story in a compelling way. You need to speak the journalists’ language and give them information that can be turned into news – this is why they love data. 

Create the news for journalists using your own data 

If you think the only way to share news is via press releases, then how are you going to get anything written about you in between each pitch? When there’s no news to share, data is a vehicle that can be used to create news and provide new avenues and angles for journalists to explore, based on real, unique statistics that tell a story. There are a couple of ways you can do this: 

  1. Use a research agency to run a survey: This is the most expensive option, but a streamlined way to gather new data on a particular topic or issue across a broad sample. A good PR agency will get involved at the early stage of survey creation, ensuring the right questions are being asked to get the headlines you want at the other end.
  2. Run your own survey: You might not have the money for a research agency, but perhaps you have a big database of clients and customers? There are an abundance of online tools that allow you to send out surveys and questions to your existing and potential customers. Some agencies (*cough cough, hello!*) can help you manage this entire process from end-to-end to ensure you get the best and most accurate data.
  3. Delve into your own existing data: Chances are you’re sitting on a mountain of data that can actually be used to tell a story – you just need someone to identify what that story may be. This is why it’s often good to connect your communications team or agency to other parts of the business (such as the sales team) to better understand what data you have, and then to provide guidance on how it can be used in PR.
  4. Use third party research paired with your own thought leadership: If you don’t have any of the above, it doesn’t matter. There is so much research out there you can draw from to create interesting whitepapers and tip sheets on a topic. Add in some high-level commentary and thought leadership from your company’s key spokespeople, and you’ve got yourself a pretty compelling piece of content to share. 

Reverse engineer your approach 

When constructing your survey and data-led approach, you need to consider your end goals and work backwards from the headlines you want to achieve. This is why it’s so important to work with an agency partner that has a strong editorial team and understanding of how news editors operate. If you can provide a media outlet with exactly the right kind of headline and angle, you’re more likely to get the epic coverage you’re craving. 

For example, let’s say a recruitment company is looking to increase its contract roles in light of the growing gig economy, and needs to attract more employers to enlist their services in filling these roles. Ideally, they’re hoping to gain awareness via a PR push that gets their company name and expertise in front of their target demographic across trade and business publications.

The agency, understanding these goals, suggests a survey of both employees and employers in their target market and industries to find out what the biggest needs, challenges, and misconceptions are about gig economy workers, their salary expectations, key attraction factors and ultimate career goals. The survey questions are constructed to gather the most relevant information that can be used individually and comparatively, to result in potential compelling headlines such as: 

“One in three companies in Singapore are expanding workplace benefits to cover ‘gig’ talent” 

Or 

“Growth in Singapore’s gig economy workers set to grow by 30% in 2020” 

By understanding the types of headlines a client wants to achieve (specific to each target publication, of course) the agency can construct a better, more effective survey that asks the right questions. The end result? A compelling story that can be told in a newspaper, via a live broadcast interview, or written into a professionally designed report to share with both media and client customers. 

We won’t lie: a lot of work is required to turn this from ideation to execution, but the outcomes are well worth the effort. In fact, for one of our clients, a SG$15,000 investment in data-led insights resulted in a 3,000% ROI via the creation of a report and a push via PR and lead generation campaign.  

The content you can create with the right data is a story that never stops being told. Your data belongs to you, and you can use it across social media, to write blogs or to create entire advertising campaigns. You can continue to refer to your unique statistics and data-led insights for years to come, building crucial credibility and educating your customers not only on what you do, but why they should give a crap.

Need help talking to journalists? Drop us a line at [email protected]

 

Tips on using PR to build a brand for small businesses

For most small businesses with limited resources, public relations tend to be overlooked as a viable business strategy.. However, an effective public relations strategy can be incredibly valuable. In many cases, it is a cost effective way of getting your brand out there and building a strong reputation without the expensive cost of traditional advertising.

So, if you run a small business, consider these tips  to get the right kind of attention your brand needs – all without breaking the bank:

Find the right people

Journalists are constantly getting emails with story pitches that don’t often relate to their beat. To cut through the clutter, make sure what you are sending their way is relevant to their publication, and what they cover.

Do your research to find out who you should be targeting, and spend time understanding their publication. Reading what journalists are currently tracking and covering is a good starting point in building a media list. Remember, journalists who are already interested in the space you’re in are more likely to publish what you have to say.

Know what the media needs

Sure, your story is important to you, but is it newsworthy? The key to a well-written press release is not imbuing it with flowery language; it’s nailing down a compelling news angle and getting straight to the point. Journalists are often on the go just like you, so go with a punchy headline to grab the journalist’s attention, and keep it short and sweet.

Strike while the iron is hot

Sometimes, tying your announcement in with a timely moment can help give it an extra boost through that connection. If you’re launching a new product, do a bit of research to find out if there are any upcoming events, occasions or even trending topics that are relevant to your product. Use a recent trending topic that is linked directly to features of your business or business model. For instance, McDonalds struck gold with their nasi lemak-inspired burger by launching it ahead of Singapore’s 50th National Service anniversary. A clever spin on a classic dish, the burger was a massive hit thanks to its local appeal and opportune release date.  Connecting the two can enable you to tap on that trending issue.

Communicate your expertise

Even as a small business owner, you are still an authority in your field. Communicate that expertise by positioning yourself as an expert in the industry, and build yourself up as a thought leader with a story to tell the media. There’s always a story to tell, you’ve just got to find the right angle to communicate it. The key here is to step out of living and breathing your product. Showing thought leadership requires you to go beyond just how amazing your product is. You will have to demonstrate your understanding on the issues faced by your target audience and how you can solve them.

Make it visual

In today’s multiscreen world, people respond well to visuals. If you’re pitching a story involving data and numbers, putting them into one neat infographic can bring your story to life. You will be surprised at how much a good image can enhance your press release or media kit. It is definitely worth the investment to have a professional come in to take pictures of your products and spokespeople.

Getting your brand off the ground when you’re running a lean operation may be a daunting task, but when done right, an effective PR campaign tailored to the needs of your small business can do wonders – even with limited resources.

Need a helping hand on getting your brand and voice out there? Reach out to [email protected]

Lessons from @jonnysun: Why content marketers need a journalism background

Emotions make content viral, not the content itself. Anger, awe, happiness, enlightenment and sadness create the urge to share with others. When content is written with the intention to “give you the feels”, facts can become secondary.

In comparison, journalism in its traditional form is designed to inform, yet the lines between the two fields of communication blur in the convoluted slush pile of tweets and soundbites packed nuts to butts on the internet. It’s our job as content marketers to stay on the latter half of the thinning media tightrope.

Fake information spreads like wildfire – take @Jonnysun’s twitter “scandal” last week.

Jonathan Sun, the biggest internet celebrity you’ve never heard of – also an MIT researcher – posted a fake fact about actors Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, online. To do this, he created a fake Google search image about the origins of their children’s names, Willow and Jaden Smith. The made up fact was nothing ‘amazing’ in itself, but what happened next was an eye-opener.

Nineteen thousand retweets and 25,000 favourites later, tweeters were bragging “they already knew ages ago” about this so-called fact, while others were enraged this ‘old’ news was making headlines.


When the jig was up, the experiment had the Twitterverse facepalming, while Sun was praised for confirming what we always suspected: the majority of people online do not fact check before sharing.

As content marketers, we market through shares – of thoughts, insights, knowledge and information. So if there’s something off about our information, there’s something off about our brand.

People are already skeptical, since it’s getting increasingly difficult to differentiate between paid content and well-researched original facts and quotes.

Here are some tips from a former journalist on how to do proper due diligence:

  1. Be hands on. If you’re talking about a product, instead of looking up a review of what someone else thought of it, download it or get your hands on it to form your own opinion.
  2. Pick up the phone. While it’s easier to copy and paste a quote from an article, a sure fire way not to misquote someone is to just ask them.
  3. Check statistics: When you see a stat in a post, look for the original research document that the article cited from. Most of the time they’ll have the actual link.
  4. Um, Google. You’d be surprised how many times I’ve caught a slip up, typo, or hoax just by Googling it.
  5. Read the news. Instead of just retweeting existing news, take the facts from a real news story and spin your own angle on it. This way you can’t possibly be wrong, since it’s your own opinion crafted from hard facts.

In a time when we’re always trying to hop on to what’s trending for engagement, it’s important to step back and say, “Really?” If authors don’t take the extra few minutes or an hour to check facts, readers will start to view content marketing as the new clickbait.

Knowing something intimate and relatable about a Hollywood couple made everyone go “awww” – and it sold. But while tugging at heartstrings racks up numbers and engagement, it’s authenticity that retains and converts.

Mutant’s content experts are all former journalists. If you’d like to chat with us about your content marketing needs, please get in touch with us at [email protected]