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Think Like a Journalist – A Guide for Start-ups

July 03, 2023

Philip L Graham, the co-owner of The Washington Post once said, “Journalism is the first draft of history.” And organizations, individuals, public relations startups and professionals are constantly contributing to that legacy being written for generations to come.

Today we know companies like Microsoft, Google, IBM, Apple, and Walmart as much for the legacy they have built as for their innovation in the present times. It is safe to say that it is the art of storytelling with honesty and years of stories filed by journalists that have added to the reputation, respect, and stature of these brands.

To build a narrative like that, you need to think like a journalist and understand they use storytelling to connect and build impact. For start-ups, for whom the journey has only just started, thinking like a journalist can help build that connect, which can then lead to brand love.

#1: Think about the audience

A true journalist is answerable to her reader—the target audience. And that is what you must focus on too. What value are you providing to your target audience? How are you changing their lives? What pain point are you addressing? These are some of the questions you must answer—in your business and in your narrative. Most importantly, think of your target audience as living, breathing human beings, not impersonal statistics and demographics.

#2: Chase the right story

A lot of stories take birth and die every day. But journalists are always looking for the one that has an enduring impact. How do you know if your story would be enduring? When it is about positively impacting lives and is purposeful in its intention. It could be something that is happening for the first time, or something that is really different, path-breaking, or even something that impacts a huge number of people.

#3: Opinions are great to build thought leadership. But facts go a long way

Businesspeople, leaders, CEOs are expected to be treasure troves of industry facts and trends. There will always be messaging and opinions, but the main reason a journalist wants to talk to a business leader is because she understands the pulse of the industry. Yes, that also means that journalists ask for numbers like revenue generated, headcount, sales, profits and losses, future expansion plans—facts that you might not want to share. But with strong messaging, you can always have ready a response that both you and the journalist will be happy with. A quick tip: if you do not have numbers to share, leverage surveys and reports to narrate your story.

#4: Be honest, be original, be bold

All three of these are important to make a story worth reading—but in that order. If you want to truly connect with the journalist and through her with the reader, you must first be clear and honest in your responses. Journalists engage with all kinds of leaders and spokespeople every day, so it would help if you have something original to say, not the same old stuff that everyone is talking about. Take the example of AI. Everyone has a point of view on it today. But is your point of view any different? Or are you addressing it in a different way? And if you really want to catch the journalist’s attention, say something bold. Of course, you don’t need to be provocative just for the sake of it. But take calculated risks and say something that sets you apart as a thought leader.

Ultimately, journalists are always looking for stories that will catapult them to the next level as well.  Thinking like a journalist takes time. However, thinking about your brand or business from the perspective of the general audience can help you in the process.

Think of how the IBM story started with the first supercomputer, the IBM 7030 Stretch, and continues. Or the Apple Macintosh.