Effective public relations professionals have many talents. They are good writers. They know how to interview people in order to find interesting information. They are doggedly determined. They are naturally curious and voracious readers across a wide variety of subjects. And, most importantly, they know how to think like journalists.
Thinking like a journalist helps public relations professionals provide journalists with the kind of information they need, which is likely to lead to a news story — hopefully one that includes your client because the interesting information you provided pertains to your client.
Here’s how to think like a journalist:
Focus On What Is New
News is about what is new. Thinking like a journalist requires you to be constantly on the lookout for information about what has not happened before. This is where being naturally curious and a voracious reader comes in handy, because you can’t know what is new unless you are well versed in what has happened before. You should know just about everything there is to know about your industry or your client’s industry, and then a little about everything else so you can know when your company has done something that no one else has done before, inside or outside of your industry. Having this kind of deep and wide knowledge also makes you a valuable resource to journalists and, if they trust you, they will rely on you to tell them if something is new or not.
A corollary of “the new” is the superlative — something that is the only one of its kind because it has taken some aspect of itself to the extreme. For example, it might be the fastest, slowest, largest, smallest, cheapest, most expensive, loudest, quietest, youngest, oldest, cleanest, filthiest, safest, most dangerous and so on. The ways in which something or someone can be the most or the least are virtually limitless. So if you can’t be first (i.e., new), then find a way to be the most.
Deal In Facts And Stats, Not Opinions
In general, journalists don’t care what you think; they care what you know and can prove. So be prepared to share hard, verifiable facts with journalists — or at least the results of a survey so that you are sharing facts about opinions. The only journalists who care about opinions are those who cover politics, but even then they only care about the opinions of people who have the authority to act on them — in which case they may become facts — or whose opinions have been borne out by the facts in the past.
Be Different From Your Competitors
Journalists have the opportunity to gather information from many people in your industry, including, of course, your competitors, so offer something different from what your competitors can offer. If everyone in your industry shares the same facts, then provide a different perspective on these facts, and show why your perspective matters — how it affects what people think of your industry or how it allows you to better serve your customers or be kinder to the environment, for example.
I once had a client who was prone to saying outlandish things. He would openly call out people in power, point out how the current situation favored one group over another or use exaggeration to make a point. This made him very quotable; journalists are looking for people who say bold things because it is unusual. It makes readers sit up and take notice. Most people, particularly businesspeople, tend to use bland language so as not to offend anyone who might help them — such as a prospective customer — or hurt them — such as a government official who has regulatory power over their industry. Now, this is prudent, but it is unlikely to get a journalist’s attention. So if you can afford it, be bold.
The most successful journalists make themselves available so that news can find them. They answer the phone, respond to tweets, work all hours and, in general, do whatever it takes to open themselves to opportunity. You should follow their lead, especially when it comes to being accessible to journalists. Return their phone calls and emails quickly — certainly before their deadlines — and when you don’t know the answer to one of their questions, find the answer and get back to them quickly.
Good journalists are among the most honest people on the planet. They have to be willing to follow a story wherever it leads, even if it contradicts what they believe. And they have to be considered extremely trustworthy by their contacts, because if they are not, no one will talk to them, and they will be cut off from their most valuable resource: people who know what they don’t know and are willing to share it with them. You need to be just as honest. Always tell journalists the truth about what you know, and don’t pretend to know what you don’t. This doesn’t mean you must tell journalists everything you know — you should never divulge trade secrets or proprietary information, for example, even off the record — but never knowingly tell a lie. The first time you’re caught in a lie is probably the last time a journalist will talk to you.
Basically, thinking like a journalist means being an alert and interested person who is confident in what they know and willing to share it as long as it’s not confidential. This is actually a pretty good way to live your life anyway, but it has the advantage of making it more likely that the news media will help you raise awareness of your business.
(Originally appeared in Forbes.)