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Dos and don’ts when dealing with journalists

by | September 19, 2019

Are you thinking of pitching a story about your pet business to journalists and want to know the dos and don’ts?

Every day reporters get hundreds of pitches from PR companies trying to persuade them to write about their clients.

Personally, I receive around 250-300 e mails and I’m a freelance – staff writers get double this amount.

Some turn into stories but the majority are deleted. While this might sound harsh, many of the e mails I get are about subjects I don’t cover like finance or parenting.

Getting media coverage is a great way to elevate your pet business and if you can connect with a journalist it can turn into a means of reaching hundreds of thousands of people.

But you have to get it right.

So here are five ‘dos and don’ts’ for you to follow if you want to form lasting relationships with journalists.


Have photos that tell the story

Last month I helped Dominic Hodgson promote his Tour De Rescue and the story was about him riding round rescue centres on his bike.

The key image was him on his bike with his rescue dog Derek next to him.

This is the image every paper used as the main image and he took this on a smartphone. If you can provide video, do this too.

Here is his story in the Daily Mirror. Dog trainer cycles 300 mile to help rescue dogs.

Dos and don'ts when pitching to a journalist

The picture needs to tell the story – here it was Dominic, his bike and rescue dog Derek

Have statistics to back up your story

Journalists love figures. So if you’re a dog trainer and 70 per cent of your clients come to you because they have anxious dogs, include this in your story.

Even if it’s only anecdotal evidence it’s still helpful.

With thanks to Jill Foster from Feature Me for this tip – you can join her online community  where you will find LOADS of brilliant PR opportunities here: Feature Me Facebook Group.

Send high resolution pics

When you put photos on social media, the size of the image is altered and they often can’t be used in print or online.

Send high resolution images, not ones you have used from social media, or screen grabbed as they won’t be of good enough quality.

Take time to find the original image and send that file. Remember journalists are pushed for time, if they have to keep coming back to you, you risk the story being pulled.

With thanks to Kate Chapman for this one – follow Kate here on Twitter as she writes lots about animals too.

Check they’re interested in your topic

Take time to find journalists who are interested in writing about pet businesses.

Believe it or not, some journalists hate pets, they think pet stories are fluffy and frivolous and if you called them with one they are likely to give you an ear bashing.

So take time to research and find people who will be interested in writing about your topic and who may have covered it before.

Give them a fresh angle

This is really important – let’s say that you’re opening a grooming salon. This takes place every day so it’s not really newsworthy.

Think about what’s different in your grooming salon. Maybe it’s a package that you offer that you can invite the journalist to come and try out – they love this!

Or you might be offering free grooms to dogs at your local shelter like Jenny from Scizzor Yappy in Warrington in this story from the Warrington Guardian. Pooches get a pampering at Scizzor Yappy.

This is far more interesting and newsworthy than someone simply opening a shop.


Refuse to give personal information

When writing about a person, a journalist will be expected by their editor to include their age, the area they live in, their marital status and what they do for a living.

This isn’t because of sexism, or ageism, it’s for accuracy, to ensure the reader can identify the person who is being written about.

If you’re interviewed and you are asked how old you are or if you have children, answer the question because it’s being asked for a reason, not because the journalist is being difficult. 

Complain unless it’s warranted

If the article appears and there is a typo or you don’t like the photo they have used, or they have cut your quotes down, that’s not a reason to complain.

If there is a screaming inaccuracy, then yes, of course you should raise this with the journalist and they will put it right.

Bear in mind copy is edited. I will often file 1200 word stories that can be chopped down to 300 words depending on space and this is out of my control.

The key thing is that your name is mentioned so when people Google you, they find the article.

Be boring

I think it’s really useful to prepare a key message that you want to put across before speaking to a journalist but make it interesting.

Don’t baffle journalists with complicated theory or jargon or give dull, stuffy answers. Think about creating an emotional response for the reader.

When I used to volunteer giving PR support to Street Paws – a charity supporting homeless pet owners – this is what I would stress when dealing with journalists.

‘Homeless people don’t have pets so they can get more money. Only 10 per cent of hostels allow pets meaning our clients stay on the streets because they can’t bear to be parted from them.’

The emotional response for many pet owners here would be empathy. If they fell on difficult times they wouldn’t want to leave their pet.

The insight about hostels is counter intuitive and demonstrates that far from using animals so people give money, they have pets because of their unbreakable bond.

Be demanding

You might think you have a great story but if it’s not right for the journalist or editor, it’s best to let it go and try again with another idea in the future.

There is no rhyme or reason as to what gets in the paper/magazine/on the show and what doesn’t and sometimes it is just down to bad luck if a story doesn’t make.

Many reporters will find it annoying if you call or e mail and try to argue it should be used or ask for feedback.

Remember PR coverage is free publicity for your business, it’s not like taking out an advert  so you can’t insist it’s used and if you do then it might harm your relationship.

Don’t be disheartened. Repurpose the story or press release on your own blog, social media, newsletter and e mail marketing and try again when you have another idea.

Be precious with your knowledge

If you’ve been approached to give an expert guide, you might feel like you’re giving your best stuff away for free.

The journalist is most likely to ask you to go into a lot of detail about a training or grooming method so be prepared for this.

If you refuse to give it, they will have no choice but to find someone who will. Then you have missed an opportunity and ruined a relationship with them.

Think of all the millions of dog training books there are out there – people still use dog trainers don’t they? When you want something fixing, you call in an expert.

And if you’re quoted as an expert in your field in the media, you’re rising above the others in your area who are not.

Aim to become their ‘go-to’ person.

This is your ultimate goal – you want to be the person your local publications get on the phone to when they’re writing about pets.

Whether it’s grooming, training, walking, caring for pets, or products, you want to be front of mind as the person who can help them.

For more tips on how to PR your Pet Biz, you can join in my FREE five day challenge starting Monday September 30th.

Find out more here PR My Pet Biz Challenge

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Publicity and Marketing for Pet Preneurs Businesses Mobile

Hi, I’m Rachel, a freelance journalist and PR and content consultant and crazy dog lady!

I’ve written so many stories about animals and pet brands that I wrote a book on how pet entrepreneurs can do their own PR.

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