There’s a growing number of freelance journalists in Australia. I’m one of them. I’ve been bashing the keyboard as an independent freelancer since the GFC. I’m up against a lot of talented journalists, and I’m busy juggling several deadlines every week. I’m jostling with a number of other freelancers for the same pool of freelance budget. However, if a freelance journalists is half decent at what they do, they’re pretty chummy with the editors they write for, and have a pretty good strike rate.

So how can public relations professionals get the most of out these freelance journalists? What’s the best way to work with them to maximise the potential to get a hit in the media for your clients?I was asked this question by a leading Melbourne PR firm recently, and was asked to come in and explain, prompting this post.

1.Do your research

To start with, make sure you take the time to look at the freelance journalist landscape alongside in-house journalists and editors. Make sure that freelance business journalists are added to lists of in-house business journalists, for example. Most freelance journalists have their own website, and it should be updated, so take the time to look and see who they write for, and how often. If their website is pretty rubbish, you might want to look elsewhere. Most of the time, freelance journalists prefer to work for the same small pool of publications and service them well with a pipeline of good stories, so help us by feeding stories down the pipeline to us.

2.Treat us special

Some freelance journalists focus on hard news writing for the majors. Others write features, or travel, or investigative pieces. Take a look through their website, Google our byline, read some of our work. Honestly, just five minutes of research can give you so much insight into what we write about, our experience and who we usually write for, including publication sections we commonly writing for. Make sure you check out our online profiles, such as LinkedIn and see if we’re listed on The Freelance Collective, too (which I launched with a small group of freelancers to enable clients to build relationships with top Australian creative freelance talent).

3.Pitch me an actual story

Lazy PRs can be a frustrating part of my day. So often, I’ll get an email that a PR saying they’re handling a new client that asks if I’d like to write a story on them, and then a bit of a backgrounder attached. I don’t write profile pieces, I write feature news in the small business, finance and marketing space. And yet there’s been no consideration on what the actual story might be for me. For example, PRs should take a look at how your client might fit into a bigger trend I could report on. Or, look at whether there’s any government legislation that your client could comment on. Or tell me what they’re actually doing in their business that hasn’t been reported on before. There’s nothing more frustrating that being pitched exactly the same story that ran in the newspaper last week. Just don’t.

4.We need to keep on top of the news cycle

Freelance journalists need something meaty that’s different to what you’ve already sent in to the Editor and three of the in-house journalists at the publication you’re hoping I’ll write for. And don’t ask if we want to interview your clients for you, with no gain at the end of it. Freelance journalists just don’t have all day to sit on the phone interviewing clients in the hope that an angle might come up that could work for an editor of ours. And we don’t want to be pitching our editors stories that they’ve already seen in other newspapers, or that they ran three months ago. Don’t forget that we read the newspapers and magazines in our field of expertise. We know what ran last week.

5.We can be your secret weapon

Whether you schedule a call with us or just pick up the phone on a whim, take the time to talk to us. Build a relationship with us. Ask us what we’re working on. Remember, freelance journalists get to choose who they write for, so find out what sort of stories we want to write, and who we want to write them for. Give us the story first, and give us a bit of time to get it across the line with an editor. The stories I write for Fairfax Media can run in more than 100 affiliated mastheads, so taking a little bit of time and giving me something special can yield good results for you.

Also help us to help you by letting us know what similar stories on your client have run, so that we can work on a new angle, and pitch it on your behalf. Remember that freelance journalists can actually make your job easier. I do my homework first, but I’ll always pitch a story from a trusted PR that’s given me a couple of great leads in the past. Remember, if we don’t believe in the story, we won’t risk contacting our Editor with a story we don’t think they’re going to want.

I hope this is helpful. I look forward to hearing from you.

Nina Hendy

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