The PRCA joined us at the H+K London office this week to host a panel discussion on how broadcast media works, and how to package stories and make them relevant to the media. Panellists gave advice on how to nurture mutually beneficial relationships with broadcast journalists, and how to pique their interest with niche stories that may not hold the same mass appeal as the latest Apple launch or a high-profile cyber-attack.

The panel was hosted by freelance technology broadcaster and journalist David McClelland, who has featured regularly on BBC One’s Rip Off Britain and ITV’s Good Morning Britain. David was joined by Johny Cassidy, Business and Economics Journalist for BBC Business. His work also includes the Inside Track section of Business Live, where entrepreneurs and bosses from global companies talk about their industries and the issues they face. Tessa McCann, TV News Editor for CNBC also joined the discussion. She helps run the news desk team to create compelling coverage in the short and long-term, with extensive experience producing breaking news and daily coverage in the studio and on the field.

Johny highlighted the importance of doing your research and spelling a journalist’s name correctly. “Don’t offer an interview with a CEO unless you can deliver” added Johny, or you may get overlooked next time. He also stressed that gaining trust is key: “go for beers, ask them about their holiday.” Building a solid relationship with a communications expert means being comfortable enough “to call them up late at night when a story has broken to get a spokesperson on air at 7am the following morning.”

Both panellists stressed the importance of knowing the broadcaster and the show you’re pitching to. “We want to hear from people who understand the programme and listen to the show, at least occasionally. We’re not here to provide free publicity,” said Johny. The pitching approach should be more a case of “here’s an intriguing story” rather than “here’s our CEO.” Tessa added: “Know your audience. Why is the CEO interesting? Why is the story important? What makes it a good story?”

Another key topic discussed was undue prominence. Johny claimed that “If we’re eating food on a BBC show, it’s product placement. We will at least challenge your business model while eating it. It’s important to get the balance right and manage expectations. PRs will often give more push back than clients when responding to difficult questions and criticism. As journalists we have to place things in broader context and discussion, play the devil’s advocate and try to get both sides of the argument. It’s responsible journalism.”

Although global broadcasters such as CNBC prefer topics with broader appeal, Tessa urged PRs selling niche stories to always call: “There are no hard and fast rules, and it depends on the news cycle. If it doesn’t work now it might work in the future.” She also added that thanks to CNBC’s growing digital offer, there are always smaller opportunities online such as Instagram stories. Tessa wrapped up the panel discussion with: “We’re journalists: we like a good story but we’re not out to get anyone.”

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