With schools now back in full flow, it is a perfect time for education companies to get back on the radar of the top education journalists in the UK. Our experience working in education PR for almost two decades has given us invaluable insight into how to build relationships with education journalists in the UK, and how to convince them to cover your story.
Exclusives, exclusives, exclusives!
Exclusive content is paramount for the vast majority of journalists and education journalists are no exception. Of course, there are times when Apple, for instance, might release the new iPhone and coverage appears far and wide and no one really cares who else is getting this press release in their inbox as the whole world just needs to know immediately. But that is a privilege afforded only to the top companies in the world – and if you’re not one of them yet, you need to manage your media relationships more carefully.
Instead, you will need to give education journalists what they want, which is usually an engaging narrative backed by never-before-seen data with a personal case study. If you’ve got this winning formula, then you need to offer it to your top media target as an exclusive.
The top tier education trade titles such as Schools Week and TES always want exclusive data, research and insight. In fact, this is the number one thing they will often ask should you pitch any of them. DO NOT be that person that pitches ‘exclusives’ to multiple titles as everyone knows everyone and you could find yourself in an embarrassing situation. Plus lying is never good. National publications like the Guardian, FT and Telegraph in particular always ask us whether or not we have pitched the story elsewhere.
Large, representative data from reputable sources
How many times do you read something in a reputable publication whereby they mention a company you’ve never heard of with a weird name and research based on a really small sample? Never. This is because the readers will have never have heard of them!
A small sample size cannot be representative of the total population, and the results simply wouldn’t be statistically significant. As a result, most media outlets would turn the story away. As a general rule, if you are presenting data to education journalists, it is important to have a sample size of at least 1000. National education editors, in particular, want to hear about interesting research that is done in conjunction with large reputable research firms such as IFS, CEBR, YouGov etc. They need to maintain their own credibility which means they can’t publish stories based on unreliable data.
It’s almost like texting a mate
Yes we have been in this game for years and yes we have managed to build some great relationships over time but fundamentally pitching can be just the same as speaking to your friends. Do they really want to see paragraphs upon paragraphs of background information on your company? Or would they prefer something short, sharp and clear?
National education editors will rarely send detailed emails and will either pick up the phone and have a good old chat like the olden days or send a line saying what they want. It might seem snappy getting such a short answer, but you need to deal with it. Journalists are busy and you can have in-depth chats with other people in your life.
Use case studies
Education journalists in the UK want to hear from the end user about how your product is affecting their lives. The end user could be a teacher, a student, a parent or a legislator. Whoever your end user is, they will be much more likely to get an interview (that you arrange) than your company CEO. That might seem unfair – you are doing all the work pitching these journalists, so shouldn’t your CEO get the headline? But remember that case studies are the most positive form of PR you can get – your CEO is paid to sing the company’s praises – a case study is not. That means that their story is more authentic and convincing.
Keep it simple
The nationals in particular, don’t want complicated data and in-depth stories. They need to be able to engage their readers, who are usually just regular consumers. That means concepts need to be kept simple and accessible, which means you need to work hard on your messaging and story generation.
Don’t ignore the trades
While the national media might be top of your target list, remember that the education trade media plays an important role too. These media are consumed by specialists and the journalists know their subjects in-depth. That means you can get more complex with the media angles that you take to them.
For example, Amy Gibbons, a reporter at TES says: ”Anyone who knows me will say I love a good investigation – especially if it involves spreadsheets, graphs and charts. But I think my favourite part of the job has to be the rush of uncovering a good story and bringing it into the public eye; it’s excitement and nerves in equal measure.”
Education journalists at the trade media will also be more open to press releases and company announcements, and they are more likely to link to your website (which is SEO gold dust). And it’s crucial to remember that the nationals get many of their stories from the trades, so having a trade press presence can support your national media coverage agenda.
Follow the rules of good media relations
When pitching education journalists in the UK, be a good PR pro.
Do your research. One journalist at a top tier trade title sends any stupid emails/follow-ups she gets to the wider team with the subject line “BREAKING NEWS”. You don’t want your sloppy pitching to be called out.
NEVER make demands or ask to check the copy before it goes live – that’s just not how journalists in the UK work.
And ALWAYS stay responsive when speaking to journalists. If you can’t make an interview, if your schedule has changed or if the story you were pitching is no longer relevant, then have an honest conversation with them, keeping them in the loop. They will respect you for it.
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