Tag Archives: opinion piece

Will my readers really be interested?

Targeting matters if you’re trying to get a journalist or blogger’s attention. Several times this week alone I’ve had pitches that start off “I’ve enjoyed your writing” and then continue with “your readers will be interested in my/my client’s viewpoint/product…”

In principle this should be excellent. The sender has thought through who my readers are, which publication I write for and why the readers will want to hear from them. I should be excited.

Except that one of the pitches was for a toy (I have almost never written about toys, certainly not for five years or so). Another was for a restaurant launch (I am a technology and business journalist, you can argue that a restaurant is a business but it’s tenuous).

One of the pitches that might actually have been in my area but was a bit vague prompted me to respond: where exactly were you pitching this? I do write for more than one outlet, after all.

Good targeting enables you to send a good reply

Dismally, I didn’t get a response to that question. Literally nothing. This was a shame because I was prepared to listen and, once I knew a bit more about the story, consider where it might work best.

Presumably, bothering to send a response would have been too much effort. A second possibility is that the PR person involved took my query as a rebuff; I’ve had that before. I once told someone with a reasonable pitch that we needed a customer to talk to in order to make the story work, and he said “Yeah, I suppose you’re right” and hung up – when I’d have used him in the Guardian quite happily if he’d gone and done the leg work.

A third possibility, and I fear the most likely, is that the pitch hadn’t been targeted at all. The fact that it might have worked for me was a coincidence, and I was one of many journalists getting the same “This might work for your readers…” pitch, when the sender had no idea who the readers were.

Always, always find out about the readership you’re approaching through a journalist or blogger. You’ll be able to have a much more intelligent conversation afterwards if you have an idea of what you want to get out of it.

You won’t change our style

I had a great afternoon media training yesterday for a client who will remain nameless (nothing untoward happened but I always keep clients confidential unless they give me express permission to do otherwise). I love offering this training because something different crops up in every session, and in this instance it was someone objecting to a magazine’s house style.

The house style is the thing that keeps a publication consistent. Is the first number when you’re counting written as “one” or “1”? It doesn’t actually matter as long as it’s consistent (most publications for which I’ve worked, including the nationals, write out one to ten in full and then move to 11, 12 and soforth). Are companies singular or plural? I’m happier with singular, there is only one Microsoft so it *is* doing something rather than *are*- and it’s an “it” rather than a “they”. However, a colleague in sports journalism tells me that at the BBC it’s always “West Ham are…” – again, as long as it’s the same throughout a publication or broadcast it’ll be acceptable.

Most people understand this – when you’re talking to the press there’s enough that can go wrong without flapping over the odd comma that someone in the office has put in or deleted. That said, I’ve taken calls in the past from people complaining that their job titles aren’t in capital letters; how insecure do you have to be?

Nobody says datum

Yesterday’s query was nowhere near as egotistical . He’d simply written a piece for a magazine and they’d changed every reference to “the data is…” to “the data are…”

I had to think about this. My latin is nonexistent but I believe “data” is actually the plural of “datum” which nobody uses (anyone who knows better is more than welcome to correct me in the comments section). So “data are…” is technically correct in the same way that phone really ought to be ‘phone because it’s short for telephone, but we all know it’s become a word in its own right so nobody puts the apostrophe in.

If you submit an opinion piece and find this sort of change – and yes, “data are” makes my teeth itch too – to your copy or your quotes, there’s only one thing you can do. Accept it. Accept and understand that the sub-editors and editor will be altering everything for their magazine’s house style for complete internal consistency. There is nothing you can or should do about it, it’s a correct thing to do.

Worry about the substance – if they misrepresent your view or accidentally put factual inaccuracies in, you have every right to ask them to stop. And if you’re really worried that their changes are making you look illiterate, you’re not obliged to continue working with them. Just don’t expect a newspaper, magazine or website, with its own brand values and investment, to change its style in your favour. It won’t, even when you’re right!

Information on Guy Clapperton’s media training is here. For help with writing for business, check the courses he runs with the Henshall Centre in London.

Stick to the deadline

I once attended a dinner of CEOs and chief technology officers. They were talking about tight deadlines and how people had to understand in a modern world that they couldn’t be broken. Then during the dinner the guy sitting next to me leaned over and said “mind you, if you want to talk to someone really strict about deadlines, you talk to a journalist”. Proof, if any were needed, that he’d completely forgotten who I was.

Journalists do have a reputation for being fierce about deadlines. There are actually good reasons – it’s worth considering the process of what happens after an article reaches us, if you’re an executive or PR person writing something for a magazine.

Errors and assumptions

There seems to be an air of “we can probably move this if we want to” around contributors to magazines for which I’ve worked. Here are some examples:

• I commissioned some items for the Radio Times once – and a famous conductor missed the deadline by a day and decided that meant he probably didn’t have to write the piece after all. We had of course reserved the space.

• A contributor to a magazine once assumed that he could write something the day after it came out and it would appear on the website, no harm done. We had of course reserved a space and were left scrambling around to fill it.

• A sponsor for an entire supplement once decided to commission the articles himself (fine, I’ll charge you anyway but I’d leave it to a professional if I were you). The supplement was due to appear the week he’d set everyone as a deadline. This gave no opportunity for any other process to happen…including printing the thing.

The process

If you or your client are approached to contribute to a publication, or pitch to a publication and succeed, great. Here’s what happens afterwards – and this happens on smaller as well as larger publications.

First the editor will have a read of the piece you’ve written. If it’s not to length and on topic you can expect us to send it straight back. This sounds like common sense but a lot of people get it completely wrong.

Second, he or she will pass it to the subs to massage into house style (so ‘is a number written 1 or one’, ‘are companies singular or plural’ become important questions). This is non-negotiable; if you’re lucky enough to see it again after this stage, do not send it back with red biro amending your job title back into capital letters. I’ve actually seen this and other than the editorial team having a chuckle it doesn’t achieve much. Remember your article is not the only one being subbed. So expecting this to take less than a couple of days is unrealistic.

Third, the layouts will happen. Again, this is in the context of an entire magazine rather than just your pages – allow days again. Several designers work on more than one magazine simultaneously so there can be quite a queue.

Fourth, the layouts go back to the editorial team. Unless you are stunningly lucky, your piece will need trimming or expanding to fit the space exactly. No, we won’t change the font size to fit. We’ll also add a headline – the one you sent might give us a steer on the tone to adopt but the chances of it fitting properly on the page and matching our style are remote (ask yourself whether the publication for which you’re writing always has a verb in the headline – the people making the magazine will know).

Fifth, if you’re very lucky, there might be time to send it back to you for a quick once-over. This isn’t a cue to start rewriting entire paragraphs, it fits and we’re looking for tweaks unless we’ve amended something to fit and misunderstood the meaning entirely.

Sixth, the designer changes it to PDF and we proofread it.

Seventh, it goes to the printer in the case of a hard copy publication, or it may go straight online in the digital world. If it’s going into print, then it will take about a week – not only do we have to sign off the galley proofs (as those of us of a certain age still call them; it may be called a Delano system officially but to me the last pre-print stage is a galley proof) individually, page by page, then they’re printed. The ink literally has to take a day to dry and then the issue is assembled and delivered.

So this is why, when you’ve agreed to contribute to a magazine, we’re a bit precious about our deadlines. It’s because we understand the chaos that ensues when they’re overlooked. Of course, neither you nor your clients work for us, so this doesn’t have to be part of your world. But do yourself a favour; if you can’t honour a commitment to write on time and on length, don’t make it in the first place. The next time you come across us might be when we’re interviewing you about an important announcement, and you really don’t want us having “that’s the pillock that doesn’t keep his or her word” at the back of our mind at the time.