I was recently interviewed for the Flying Solo podcast on the topic of how to get seen and interviewed by journalists.
You can listen to the audio above, or read the transcript below.
Here's a summary of the main points I covered:
How to get seen by the media
- Every entrepreneur has a story – you need to reflect on your path
- Brainstorm with other people to uncover your stories and come up with new story ideas
- Read the publications and media where you want to appear
- A media release has a specific format and must be delivered in a specific way
- A media pitch is offering yourself as an expert for a media interview
- Consider writing an article and sending that article to a journalist
- To figure out what the ideal word length is, look at that publication that you’re pitching to
- Don’t be afraid to share your IP in your articles
- Don’t be overly promotional in your articles
What to do when a journalist calls
- When a journalist calls don’t do the interview then and there – call them back within 5 or 10 minutes so you can prepare
- Before the interview, look at what you pitched to them and then work out what your key messages are
- Write down 3 to 5 things you absolutely want to get across in the interview
- Make sure you stay on topic and be clear and concise with your answers
- Never ask the journalist to print something in particular – this is bad form
- Focus on giving an amazing interview so that they will actually use as many quotes as possible
What to avoid in an interview
- Never ask for the article before it’s printed so that you can check - you don’t have the right to do that
- Don’t ask for them to send you the article once it’s published
- Don’t ask the journalist to send you the questions in advance
- Don’t wear casual clothes or striped shirts on TV
Robert: Catriona Pollard supports world-leading brands and those heading in that direction. She also works with individuals helping them transition from unknown to expert, which funnily enough is the title of her recent book. Today, we're looking at how to get the attention of a journalist and assuming that we do get their attention how to prepare for an interview. Hello Catriona, thanks so much for joining us.
Catriona: Thanks so much Robert.
Robert: Good. Presumably, this whole media, media, media, this whole sort of area starts with us needing to know what journalists are actually looking for. As small business owners how do we start? How do we even know that?
Catriona: I think the first thing to think about as small business owners is that we make assumptions that we have no stories to tell or we get so caught up in running the business because we wear so many hats as small business owners that we just get caught up in ... Well everybody knows what we do, everybody knows what I do and I don't really have anything to tell but we do. We have amazing stories to tell. I think the first place to start is that acknowledgement and that realisation that you do have stories to tell that the journalists are interested in. It's just really critical to actually put that as a part of your week or plan that into the time that you are spending building the business is to actually uncover some of those stories.
Robert: Okay, so it starts off with a kind of a mind shift then is it?
Catriona: I certainly do believe that to be the case and that's what I felt with all the work that I've done with small businesses over the years is the first thing that people say is like, "No, no, no, I don't have anything interesting to tell." The first one is the mind shift. The second is to think about the fact that journalists are always looking for stories, particularly those journalists who write about small businesses or solo entrepreneurs. They are always looking for stories.
What it is, is actually seeing ... The first place to start is to make sure that you're reading those publications or all those online news sites and radio, TV, wherever you want to be to find out what kind of stories that they're actually publishing.
Robert: Tell me Catriona, should we really sort of start to try and get in the head of an individual journalist? I'm not talking about ... This is way before we make any form of contact but when we read the publication, should we be taking careful notes of who's writing what?
Catriona: Definitely, definitely. That's where you start building your media list because the media list which we'll talk about probably a little bit later isn't about having hundreds of people on your media list. All you need to have on your media list are the people who will be likely to be interested in your story and the places where your target audience and your potential customers read obviously.
Definitely getting into the mind of a journalist is really critical because what you need to understand is that journalists aren't there to promote your business. They're not there to help you sell more of your products. If you think, "Oh well, I'm moving office into a bigger building in a month's time. I'm going to send a media release out." Journalists will go, "I don't really care about that. Why would my readers be interested in that?”
If you're actually releasing an innovative product or if you've actually been prepared to actually share some of your IP about the things that you do, then they will be more interested in that because you need to understand that they're there to sell more magazines or to get more clicks on their website. They're writing stories that their readers are interested in.
Robert: Great points and I get … What I'm getting so far is that now in the mornings when we stand there in front of our mirrors looking at ourselves and saying, "I'm great, I'm wonderful." We also need to say, "I've got a story to tell. I am interesting."
Robert: We need to start sort of thinking that way. Also I love your point there about media lists. So often you hear of people going, "Oh I've got a media list of 200 journalists." Big deal. A medial list of one journalist is great if that journalist actually writes about you, isn't it?
Catriona: Yes, absolutely and I think something that you just touched on as well too of when we're standing in front of the mirror in the morning, not that I can say I do that regularly, but it is definitely that reflection. It is thinking about what your entrepreneur story is.
One of the things that I did and I share this story all the time and I've got lots of media coverage, it's on the back of my book. It’s the fact that I started with absolutely nothing like I left a job, I started in a rented property in the sun room with no computer, no nothing and actually have told that story of how now I'm an international speaker and blah-blah-blah. My journey of how I actually got there, my trials and my tribulations and the learnings that I got and I share those through my story.
The first story really is actually uncovering your entrepreneur story of where you started and all of the stories along the way of what you learnt and sharing this, because that's what other entrepreneurs are really interested in as well.
Robert: Of course what it … Again, great points. It makes it so much more pleasurable for the journalist as you say that the journo that gets the press release that says business ABC is moving to a bigger building goes for goodness sake, I wasted three seconds of my life reading that. Versus the one that's got maybe a rags to riches story or an idea that you have as an eight year old that's coming into fruition as a 38 year old. These are where the gems are, aren't they? It's almost like we have to sort of imagine that we're being interviewed by somebody and really going back in time and just keeping, start to keep notes on anything that's ... the sort of the path that we've taken, isn't it? It's often the path that's got the story.
Catriona: Absolutely, absolutely because that's that human interest element to it where as humans we like to actually understand that we can emulate people. If somebody else got there and started with nothing, we can get there as well and we also like to know that other people are ... Especially as small business owners because quite often, we're sitting there, doing this on our own or we might have 5 staff or whatever, but we're still the person who's responsible for managing that business, and so we don't have the sounding boards quite often that people in large corporates have.
Catriona: It's actually really important to spend that time to actually acknowledge the trials and tribulations that we've had, but it's also why it's so critical and such great storytelling is if you actually share, you hear of others because you feel like, "Okay, I'm on the right path. Oh I can do that. Oh they did it, I can get there." It's that really inspiration and aspirational story.
Robert: Sure. You touched on another great point there about this whole notion of a sounding board. For those people that are listening to this, as our audience are listening to this and there will be some, I sincerely hope, that will want to come and talk to you and get your help, but there will be others go, "No, I can't do that. It's not the right time for my business to do that from a finance point of view or whatever." How can we kind of rehearse? How do we know whether what we think is a great story is a great story?
Catriona: You know what I suggest that people do, there’s a couple of things. That's I'm saying too it needs to be built in to the part of the way that you run your business. For example with what I do is we have a brainstorming session every Wednesday morning at 10:30 no matter what. Obviously, I'm lucky because I have people who are in PR so we can generate stories together. I also go out and catch up with people who are in business, who I know have experienced the similar things to me in terms of growing a business and we actually catch up for dinner or a drink and we brainstorm. It might not be a formal thing but we're actually brainstorming story ideas.
Then there's other things too like sometimes I just go down and sit under a tree and I'll just take a piece of paper and some coloured pens and I'll just write down 20 things in one minute without actually ... It's really building that time into doing that brainstorming and then actually finding the people who are in your life whether it's business, whether it's friends, whether it's family that you can actually talk through.
Robert: I think what you’re sort of alluding to there I think as well as is something that we talk about a fair bit and that happens quite a lot in our forums which is this notion of having a buddy group. If you just reach out and have maybe 3 or 4 other business owners who have also perhaps got media profile as something on their wish list then as you said there’s the way that you do it, you do very formally every Wednesday morning but it might be that you meet once a fortnight and you say okay let’s have 20 minutes each around the table on what’s your story and talk to each other.
That sounding board is such an important thing and it’s such … As small businesses it’s something that we can do so readily because we see it every day in our forums people are so willing to share and they’ll soon tell you if you’ve got a good idea or bad idea.
Catriona: I love that buddy system, that is such a great idea and it’s so critical for people who don’t … who are working from home because they don’t have that sounding board. Quite often I know I personally come up with ideas when I’m talking. It depends on your personality, plunk me in a blank room with a black pen and a piece of paper it’d be very hard for me to come up with an idea. I think that we need to acknowledge a small business owners where do we get our ideas from and making sure that we cultivate those opportunities to really draw out those stories.
Robert: Yes, so true. I remember just to digress just for a second I used to do a talk which is with small businesses which is where do you get your best ideas. It’s fascinating the responses you get, nobody ever, and I must have done this talk I don’t know 10 times to 50 people at a time or something, nobody ever said they had their best idea when they’re staring at their monitor. When you have your ideas when you’re with friends or when you’re out walking or you’re about to hop in the shower or at 3:00 in the morning it’s just important that we have the facility and ability to capture those ideas when they come, don’t they?
Catriona: Absolutely, critically and I think that those ideas really need to … it’s not just growing business ideas I think that the media needs to be a part of how you actually do that problem solving of like what is a journalist going to be interested in. You’re going to find that you’ll get a lot more ideas and it’ll trigger a lot more stories in your business when you’re reading those publications and listening to the podcast or wherever you want to be. It is something that I actually talk to my team about all the time and the graduates that we come through here, you have to read or listen or watch the media outlets that you want to be in because it will, I guarantee you, you will get ideas from doing that.
Robert: It is kind of total immersion isn’t it, you’ve got to if you’re going to do this it’s not a knee jerk, it’s Monday I must wiz off a press release, that’s not the response.
Robert: Okay, let’s … I totally get that what we’re doing here is we’re giving almost kind of the best of some of the content of your book that you’ve written, I know we can’t get into everything but let’s just jump forward a little. Let’s imagine we’ve followed our journalist, we’ve read the publications, we’ve worked with perhaps a couple of colleagues and we’ve come up with some story lines and we think we’re on to something. What’s the best way to pitch it? I’ve got my idea, I’ve got it and maybe I’ve got … I mean well that’s another question perhaps should we have 1, 2 or 3 sort of pitches and then what do we do once we’ve got them? What’s that kind of the next step?
Catriona: There’s a number tactics that you can take. There’s one which is what most people are aware of is writing a media release and sending that to a journalist. A media release has a really specific format, it requires specific information to be delivered in a specific way. There’s a media … what we call a media pitch and that is actually offering yourself for an interview and on a basis of saying why you’re the expert or why you can talk about a certain topic and what are some of the things that you’ll be talking about. It’s literally a pitch.
It’s kind of a sales pitch but it’s not ‘salesy’ in any way. You’re pitching an idea to a journalist and doing it in a way that they … you want them to immediately go mm-mm that would be interesting. The other thing that you can do now which is more and more relevant is writing an article and sending that article to a journalist.
Robert: As an example of how you’re able to articulate things and to get your opinions across in a …
Robert: What sort of length? It doesn’t kind of want to be 5,000 words does it?
Catriona: No, for an article no. The best thing to figure out what the word length is, is to actually look at that publication that you’re pitching it to. Not every publication is going to publish an article.
Catriona: Let’s say for example The Australian Financial Review they will never publish an article that isn’t written by a journalist on staff or a freelance journalist that has been commissioned but say Management Today or your Flying Solo as well you have the specific guidelines but every publication does or outlet does. Smart Company accepts articles online, BRW accepts articles. There’s so many places that accept articles now. What you’re doing in an article is sharing some of your IP. You’re sharing something that their readers will be interested in reading and it will help them in their lives in some way.
Catriona: Or help them grow their business. I’ve written an article on every single thing that I do in my day, in my week, in my month. There’s not one thing that I haven’t written about, do you know what I mean?
Catriona: I’ve sent that out because I get people sometimes saying but you’re sharing your IP, what are you doing? If you read my blog Public Relations Sydney you could open an agency but what it’s doing is positioning me as an expert because I’m prepared to share my expertise.
Robert: Yeah and the reality is yes somebody could read that and open a PR agency and be your competitors but the fact is that they don’t and as you rightly say it’s just such a great way to come and show your expertise. Let’s, just one little point to share there is not everybody is quite a good a writer as they might like to think they are. I’m not sure that is very good English but you know …
Catriona: I know exactly what you mean?
Robert: Presumably as well it’s got to be worth just making sure that whatever we submit is written well and is punctuated correctly because we’re writing to people who care about words, aren’t we?
Catriona: Absolutely and it’s really critical that you write articles if you do choose that tactic. Media releases is the same and the media pitches are the same. You can’t send anything that is promotional, you can’t send anything that has got spelling mistakes, poor sentence structure. Journalists receive so much information that … I know some journalists that if they see a spelling mistake in a release or a pitch they will delete it, they won’t even read it. Because they get so much content they can just, they have the choice to do that.
Catriona: I think as small business owners I know we wear so many hats and probably some people are going, great, now I have to be a copy writer. I’m not suggesting that, I think that you definitely have to be ideas person and come up with the … It might even be that you do bullet points but then you find a copywriter who is trained in this, who does this and you can find copywriters on Fiverr or oDesk or … there’s amazing Australian copywriters that are affordable for small businesses but it’s absolutely worth the investment.
Robert: Yeah, I agree totally. All right let’s, I’m going to jump this forward a little bit. We’ve done our stalking of journalists, we’ve found out and looked at how to kind of go about submitting a pitch to them, be that an article or a release. Let’s imagine now joy of joys, we’ve done all this and we got an email back or a phone call back and the journalist says I’d like to talk to you at 10:00 next Tuesday morning.
Robert: Right, now for some people that’s oh my god, oh my god. Now my view is I will talk to any journalist about anything at any time but what I’ll always do is I’ll just make sure that I’ve got my opinions clear. If I pick up the phone and it’s a journalist saying I’d like to talk to you now I go well I’m busy right now but can I call you back in 20 minutes? That’s enough time for me to get an opinion. Let’s imagine now that we’re doing this not in that sort of scenario but someone who’s saying yes I want to talk to you Catriona how do we prepare? What should we be doing, what’s realistic expectations-wise, any tips there?
Catriona: Yeah. I think the most critical thing is just what you said is that if a journalist does call or when they call I should say don’t do the interview then and there. Which is even if they are an online publication. I do an interview for an online publication at least once a week and they are on deadline because they’re an online publication.
I met, sorry even though I’m trained in this and I could probably do it off of the top of my head I always say I will call you back in 5 minutes or 10 minutes and I will do it but just give me 5 minutes to prepare. Then I sit down and this is what we should all do with every interview no matter how trained you are or how often you do interviews is don’t do it off the top of your head, you absolutely have to do some preparation.
Quite often with that preparation is you’re going back to what you pitched to them and then working out what your key messages are. With journalists they’re not out to catch you or to trip you up or to try and get you to say something that you don’t want to say unless you’re a con person or you’re a politician.
Robert: Yes, well let’s assume you’re none of those.
Catriona: Let’s assume you’re none of those. You want to write down 3 to 5 things you absolutely want to get across in the interview and often the journalist will be guided by you about what you want to say because they might have written a couple of questions themselves or they’re just simply wanting a comment. The most critical thing is that you do want to get across and answer their questions but you also want to do it in a way that you’re sharing the information that you’ve already figured out that you want to share, they’re your key messages.
Robert: Can I ask you another point in that? I often find that it’s quite … because I tend when I start, personally when I start talking about something and my sort of opinion on it gets sort of revved up I tend to go off in a million miles an hour. I will always as well just ask how are you sort of taking notes on this interview? Are you recording or are you writing because pace is quite important isn’t it? Because sometimes it gets so kind of fired up and so excited that we end up speaking 19 words to the dozen which is pretty impossible.
Robert: Is that worth doing as well just clarifying how is this interview being undertaken?
Catriona: Yeah, absolutely. Well that’s particularly important. I guess what I’m … in my mind when I was answering that question it was a phone interview because 99 percent of the interviews will be over the phone. Maybe 90 percent and then 10 percent are going to be via email. Quite often when you’re doing phone interviews and it’s more often than not to a print publication and you’re providing comment. You need to understand too that you have to stay on topic because if you start going off topic you’re asking the journalist to interpret what you’re saying and that’s where they start making mistakes because they’re interpreting you as opposed to you just being very clear, concise in your answers. Because we are in control to a certain extent of what they write.
Because if we do babble then they’re just going to try and figure out what we were saying and they’ve written a million notes and they’ll just pull out something …
Robert: Their assumptions might not be quite correct.
Catriona: They might not be right, yes, absolutely. I think it’s really important to … that’s why writing down those key messages because then you’re coming back to really clarifying the point that you actually want to get across.
Robert: Sure, can I ask you another point here? What can we reasonably expect to ask for in terms of business name mentions and so on, what do you think is reasonable these days? Should we say as businesses should we say anything, should we ask for particular mentions or do we just wait and see what kind of comes out in the wash?
Catriona: Yeah, I actually don’t think that you can ask for anything, I really don’t. I think that if you do say I want you to say that we have moved our offices or whatever it is will absolutely annoy the journalist and you just do not want to annoy the journalist.
Catriona: I don’t think that we can ask for anything. I think that what we can do is actually give an amazing interview so that they will actually use as many quotes as possible that they have available because you’ve done a great interview, I do think that it’s really important. Say for example with my name because it’s spelled so crazily or if I haven’t spoken to that journalist before I will always send an email and actually just clarify this is how you spell my name and this is what my title is and also my contact details so my web address. In fact they’re not going to put that, more often than not they will not put that in there, my web address or any details.
Robert: Sure. I’m sure now we got a number of listeners wondering what is … what is so weird about Catriona’s name? I will just explain it, Catriona is spelled C-A-T-R-I-O-N-A and for months I always assumed it was Catriona, so it’s not, it’s Catriona so I’m glad we clarified that. Okay, but I guess it is totally okay just to say maybe something like look if you’re going to be referring to me by name can I just double check how you will describe me or what my business is? That’s acceptable isn’t it?
Catriona: Yeah, definitely, definitely. If it’s an interview about your business then one of the things that you need to do is have your description that you use, your elevator statement or one of your key messages that very clearly and concisely explains your business. What your business name is and what you do for clients, what you achieve benefits as well. They’re not going to write it, they’re not necessarily going to write it in a way that this business is amazing, you’ve got to go and buy from this business.
Robert: Of course not.
Catriona: They’re going to write it in a way that is very descriptive so you need to be descriptive as well.
Robert: I guess if anyone were going to write in that sort of formal way you kind of have to question whether it’s worthwhile being profiled there anyway.
Catriona: Yeah, that’s true.
Robert: Look what about any definite sort of no, no’s. I know there’s … I’ve spoken to people who’ve done their first or early media interview and then done a few things afterwards that I think I’m not sure if I should have done that like making requests or demands. When you’ve done the interview what do you then next do with the journalist if anything?
Catriona: I think one of the biggest no, no’s is to actually ask for the article before it’s printed so that you can check because you don’t have the right to do that.
Robert: It must be so annoying if you’re a journalist when someone says that.
Catriona: So annoying. The only time that we’ve ever done that is because one of our client’s is Macquarie University and some of their research is really, really detailed and we’ve actually had a request from a journalist to actually get the professor to make sure that what they…
Robert: Check some things.
Catriona: Yeah because it’s so detailed but that is not normal at all. You have to do the interview well enough to just trust that the journalist is going to write the story in the correct way and you can’t ask for the article pre-published. The other thing too is they’re not your media monitors so you can’t ask for them to send you the article once it’s published.
Robert: Or even tell you when it’s being published.
Catriona: Yeah and quite often they don’t know when it’s going to be published. Hopefully you’re reading that publication or listening or whatever so that you’ll know when it comes out. A really good tip there is we have … we do use Google News a lot, which is free and whenever for example me my name is mentioned in the media that instant alert comes up and I get the coverage and that’s free so it’s just great for small business owners. The other thing …
Robert: You must be wading through those every morning, it must be so tiring.
Catriona: How I wish. The other thing too is more often than not you can’t ask what the actual questions the journalist is going to be asking you.
Catriona: Because often they’re going to think of the questions at the top of their head. They’re going to do it on the fly, it’s not going to be as preplanned and often they don’t want it to sound like it’s preplanned either. You can certainly ask for the theme and certainly ask for the type of things they’re going to be asking but you can’t ask for the questions as well. The other thing too just sort of touching on radio and TV, one of the biggest no, no’s too is … say for example in TV because it’s sound as well as vision you can’t walk up and just go I’m just wearing my gardening clothes or even a striped business shirt. Do some research before you turn up to those live vision as well as sound ones where you do your research beforehand.
It’s a million articles, my website has a million … my blog has a million articles about what to wear and what to practice before you do those because it’s very different to doing print.
Robert: Yeah great, fantastic tips. Thank you so much. I think this has been a wonderful sort of intro to this whole topic and I think it’s so good just to hear you speaking with such energy around this because it’s so often when we hear the word media it’s usually followed by collapse, demise and it’s not true is it?
Robert: The media is still very much alive, it’s certainly changing face and changing the way they do things but the opportunities for small business are surely every bit as good as they ever have been.
Catriona: Absolutely, absolutely. We really as small business owners need to harness that and make the most of it because it changes our businesses when we use the media effectively.
Robert: Agreed, well I’m going to just wrap up with a final question, the question that I ask everybody that I manage to get on to our podcast. It’d be interest for you is you meet a lot of people, you hear a lot of stories, you help create a lot of stories but throughout your sort of business career, throughout your life who’s been the greatest influence on you and what did they teach you?
Catriona: It’s a combination of all the people that I meet. I know that sounds odd because there hasn’t been one person that particularly influenced me other than the fact that it’s everyone that I meet because I get energy and inspiration and aspiration from the people that I meet in my every day. It might be I’ve just had a client that just climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and he trained for months. He worked so hard to get there and that was such a powerful inspiration to me and then I speak to so many business owners who started the same process as me who had nothing and just had a dream and knew they wanted a different life and just talking to them about how they’ve achieved their dreams it’s just so amazing.
I have an artist who’s just had a really difficult life and I was just talking to her last night actually and it’s so amazing just to hear how she has gotten through all of her issues and the things that she has to face every day when she wakes up. It just makes me realise that we are surrounded by beauty and we are surrounded by so much love and we are so lucky to be able to have that. I think it’s really critical that even when we have the days where we wake up and go this business is too hard or I can’t do this anymore or I have no one to help me, I have no idea how I’m going to pay myself this month that we actually focus on gratitude and focus on that love and focus on the beauty of life even if it’s just for one moment. That’s what gets me through.
Robert: Fantastic. That’s a delightful response and it sounds very much like a journalist slash storyteller’s response. It says so much about you I think that you get your inspiration, you get your drive, you get your motivation by listening to other people and observing other people and that’s kind of what you want from someone who does what you do. Look, thank you so much Catriona for joining us.
For people that would like to consume more of your work and particularly to grab your recently published book the place to go is unknowntoexpert all one word, unknowntoexpert.com. There you’ll find versions of the book in every version including good old fashioned paper versions but all varieties are there. Unknowntoexpert.com. Catriona Pollard thank you so much for sharing your time with the Flying Solo community.
Catriona: Thanks so much Robert, I appreciate it.
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