WA Communications was delighted to host Oliver Gill, recently appointed as Industry and Leisure Business Editor at The Sunday Times, for an in-conversation lunch with some of our clients and contacts. Oliver discussed the big stories shaping his brief, which covers the manufacturing, transport, travel, hospitality, and utilities sectors. He also shared some honest advice on how best to engage with Fleet Street’s finest.
Here we share five key points raised during the session, including ways in which communications professionals can fine-tune their storytelling to connect with a range of audiences.
1. Journalists are responding quickly to the changing political winds.
The political landscape is and will continue to be a key influence on the kinds of stories journalists are looking for and how they report on issues across sectors ahead of the general election.
Journalists are becoming increasingly aware of how readers and businesses perceive the effectiveness of the government and opposition and will continue to report accordingly. We can expect papers to declare their party allegiances much closer to the election, but the rule of holding power to account always prevails.
2. Journalist’s preference is always to see something physical.
With hundreds of emails hitting their inboxes on a daily basis, having physical evidence to present to journalists will help to elevate your pitch. Stories can take time to develop, particularly feature pieces, so being able to show them a tangible asset will help to sustain their interest. While this requires careful planning and coordination, it may be the factor that takes your story from pitch to press and will often form the basis of the opening lines.
3. Readers are becoming more switched on to sustainability.
The stories that appeal most to readers are those that resonate with them personally. When it comes to net zero and sustainability, the stories that cut through are the ones that have a direct impact on people’s daily lives. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible for businesses to get traction with their ESG strategies, but for media success, it pays to look for those real-world solutions that people can touch and feel.
4. Engage with media yourself, rather than letting others take your space.
When a business finds itself in the media spotlight, it is far better to engage than let others fill the narrative with negative comment. Organisations that are under fire are unlikely to be able to avoid coverage, but they can certainly influence the shape of the story if they do engage with journalists. A hostile response to a journalist inquiry is unlikely to pay off, as it implies you have something to hide – and the journalist may well keep digging until they uncover that uncomfortable truth.
Offering compelling evidence that counters the journalist’s view will help you to regain control of the narrative or move the story on.
5. A journalist’s favourite story will always be one they believe their readers are going to tell their friends at the pub.
The most compelling stories are those you would tell your friends when you walk into a bar. That’s how journalists are trained. Comms professionals could do well to borrow from that rule of thumb. These stories offer something new or a fresh perspective. Something that makes a journalist think “I hadn’t thought of that” is likely to have the same effect on their readership.