Last week, I attended an event along with Leeds Business School PR student, Bryony Czujko. The evening – organised by the CIPR’s Yorkshire and Lincolnshire regional group and the Education and Skills sectoral group – took the form of a dinner with William Stewart, reporter and features writer for the Times Educational Supplement (TES) and two-time winner of the CIPR’s National Education Journalist of the Year award.
It offered a chance to hear William’s interests and priorities as a journalist, what he and his colleagues are looking for and how they prefer to receive potential stories.
William spoke about his career, from humble beginnings at the Nidderdale Herald – a widely read local paper for a rural area– where some creativity was required to fill his seven broadsheet page allocation, once achieving a front page splash with a story about a school’s new headteacher.
On his eleven years at the TES, William explained how the publication has evolved, becoming far bigger and better than its origins as a pull-out in the parent paper over 100 years ago, becoming more international and the TES’s move online.
“There was once a running joke that it was possible to have the same story featured three times in the publication under different bylines”, he said, “but we’ve come a long way since then.”
William’s biggest piece of advice to the PR practitioners in attendance was to really understand the publication – like many outlets the TES is inundated with irrelevant pitches.
The TES is teacher-focussed (its website is the largest online network of teachers in the world), with advice, resources and job listings for teachers, in addition to the news and features content produced by the editorial team. However, the features editor at the TES receives well over 300 pitches via email and around 15 telephone ‘sell ins’ each day, astounding considering they tend to commission only two features a week!
As the evening drew to a close William shared a few personal preferences:
Piggyback – The TES is a weekly publication, and it’s likely that by the time you’ve thought to jump on the heels of a story, draft some content, have it approved and get to pitch it, the story would be two weeks old when it gets to the press and largely useless.
Send a fully formed piece of content – It’s very rare that this will suit the needs of the magazine and is time intensive to rework into something usable.
Phone ahead – Pick up the phone and pitch an idea rather than the finished article – this way it can be talked over and direction given by the journalist to shape the content into something with a much higher chance of inclusion and coverage. It saves both parties time and energy, and even if this idea doesn’t get picked up they might be able to suggest something that will in the future.
Understand who you’re writing for – The TES is read by 362,000 people a week, most of whom are teachers and education professionals. It’s also (particularly online) a community where resources, tips, ideas and all manner of different things are shared. Think about what the audience wants to hear about and how to make it stand out – there’s a lot of user-generated-content online written by teachers, for teachers. What makes yours appealing to them?
All in all it was an enjoyable evening, with a chance to meet and hear from both William and practitioners working in education-focused roles, so much so in fact that we overran slightly and the staff at the venue had to prompt us to leave!