A seasoned journalist, Oliver Holmes took some time out for G3 Partners to talk about how he chooses his stories, how companies should build their PR strategy and what they definitely should not do when reaching out to journalists. Oliver Holmes is the South East Asia correspondent for the Guardian. He has reported across Asia and the Middle East and now lives in Bangkok
A great guide to follow when thinking of how you should reach out to top journalists like Oliver:
1) As a first step in reading story pitches, what factors make you decide which emails to open?
If it is relevant to my beat. I cover South East Asia and live in Bangkok but I am bombarded with emails from PR firms asking me if I want to attend a gallery opening in London or a restaurant launch in New York two days from now.
2) Considering the large volume of story pitches you receive, how do you decide which stories to publish?
I work in news. It sounds simple but journalists are looking for something new. I received an email this week asking me to cover a report that found people in the UK make international money transfers. Would you read that? No, because you already know.
I love quirky and accessible stories that explain politics, without lofty language. When KFC opened its first branch in Myanmar, it was a novel way to show how the once-isolated country has opened up after the US lifted sanctions.
3) Where do you get most of your stories from?
Much of the time an event happens and you have to react. This could be an earthquake or a plane crash. But to uncover fresh stories, I speak to diplomats, aid workers, other journalists, politicians, business leaders and activists. Small local news websites often have idiosyncratic stories that you can research more to make relevant to a global readership.
4) What is your biggest pet peeve when reading story pitches?
When there is no clear story idea. I receive emails all the time saying a new restaurant has opened in Singapore, or a Prime Minister has met with members from the business community. Who would read this? Find an angle — does the restaurant serve a particularly bizarre dish, for example?
5) What factors do you think people should bear in mind when reaching out to journalists?
Think like a journalist. We try to write what people will want to know. So the first paragraph of your pitch should look like the top paragraph of a news article. Tell us immediately what is happening and why it is important. The advocacy group Human Rights Watch is a good at this — their press releases read like well-written news stories.
6) What is the craziest pitch you have ever received?
My favourite pitch was from an academic study that was investigating time travel. They looked for search terms on the Internet that should not have been known at the time they were posted, indicating they were typed in by people who had knowledge of future events, i.e. they had travelled back in time. They trawled the Internet to see if anyone has searched for “Pope Francis” before his inauguration. The study was inconclusive but it was such an absorbing idea that it did not matter.
7) What is the most interesting story you have ever covered?
Most recently, the elections in Myanmar were fascinating to report on. The military has had a grip on power for more than half a decade and many in the country hoped the elections would bring long-awaited change. For decades the story in Myanmar was about a stagnant regime and now it has suddenly become unpredictable and hypnotising.
8) What difference do you see in content generation between SE Asia and the regions you have covered before ie Middle East?
South East Asia is a fantastic region to work in as a journalist because each country is completely unique, leading to very eccentric stories. It is also a emerging technology hub and I loved reporting on robotic personal trainers in Singapore. The Middle East has great start up companies and the region is well connected so ideas travel fast across borders.
9) Lastly, what advice would you give to anyone that would like to build their PR strategy?
Quality over quantity. There are a few PR companies who I have automatically assigned to junk mail because they consistently send me uninspiring press releases about how great a company their client is. Others research my beat, the stories I’ve written and find unique insights they think will appeal.
We would like to thank Oliver for his time and insight. If you would like hear more from Oliver you can follow him on Twitter @olireports.
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