By Beatrice Aidin, award-wining freelance consumer journalist
In a commercial property unit late last summer, I got that jolt in my stomach that means one of two things. Had I fallen in love, I asked myself? No. But nearly as good, I was onto a good potential story.
A few weeks later, the subject (a customized off-site wardrobe operated by an iPad app for the super-rich) became an article in the Financial Times.
What happened on that journey from potential story, to publication in such a prestigious title?
Well, first off I was offered an exclusive. Secondly, competitive analysis demonstrated that the subject matter was one of a kind. Thirdly, the PR had the facts and figures at her finger-tips. And last but by no means least, the PR encouraged me to see the venture and took the time to arrange it. The fact that the PR person was open to just letting me see the offering beyond her description, was the most appealing aspect.
Being a freelance consumer journalist as I am, has lots of advantages. The one that I would highlight the most is being able to take the experience that PRs offer you. For the difference in consumer media in the last decade has become that the experience is ever-more crucial to the reporting. Searching online has its place, but now every 6 year old in the world seems to know how to Google. Journalism now is visceral and has to be from a position of a certain amount of authority (bloggers do their good part too here).
So here is where I think we can all learn – the PR, the client, the journalist, alike. When you are looking for a feature for the consumer press, research via overheard conversations on the bus (put down those headphones!) or walking into stores, to notice what is selling and what is not. Are people shopping? Are they carrying designer shopping bags or high street ones - or nothing at all? Read the business pages. It might not be the time to pitch or ask a journalist to write about a new £50 lipstick. If folks can’t afford it, they won’t read your copy – and as a journalist you don’t want to seem as out of touch as say, yikes, a politician.
And that’s why, for most stories in the consumer media, it is a mixture of the new, the experience, the observation backed up by facts and statistics. It is however most importantly a good trusting relationship between a PR and a journalist, with allowances for what the client wants but also what is achievable, especially during this shaky economic climate.
An advantage to working with a freelance consumer journalist on your coverage is that they can spend more time developing an idea and pitching it. The thing about being freelance is that you can seem to waste a lot of time, but the avenues that have been explored normally get re-routed down to a cul-de-sac for a feature in the future.
One take away is one of my fathers’ maxims: ‘Time spent on reconnaissance is time never wasted’. As a freelance journalist if you can, check it out! If you can see all the ideas and products that your readers don’t have access too, then hopefully you will get that stomach rush of a great story. Either that, or lucky you, you are in love.
You can follow Beatrice on Twitter: @beatriceaidin
You can read her blog: http://the-daily-bea.blogspot.com
Beatrice Aidin is Winner of the Johnson & Johnson National Newspaper Journalist of the Year Award, 2011 and the P &G National Newspaper Beauty Journalist 2011.