Ask the Editor – Q&A with Geoff Ho, Sunday Express business editor
For this ask the editor Q&A, we sat down with Geoff Ho, business editor of the Sunday Express, to find out what stories make the cut for his pages, and the do’s and don’t when pitching to him.
As an editor, what is the acid test when deciding which stories you will publish on the business pages of the Sunday Express?
When I receive a press release or pitch from a business, I ask myself the following questions:
Is the story regarding a household name?
Is this story interesting enough for the public to care?
Is it close to home, i.e. a UK-based story, or a European story?
if these questions are satisfied, I’d be interested in hearing more.
You mention that the first question you ask yourself is whether the business is a household name. Does that mean that small or medium-sized businesses have no chance of being featured in the Sunday Express?
No, small businesses do get featured in the Sunday Express. However, if they’re not known, then the chances of the general public caring about them is smaller, so they do need to have that extra wow factor. For example, we covered a start-up company that created a battery pack that works as a satellite mobile phone, which allows the user to get phone coverage anywhere, even in the desert. It didn’t matter that the company wasn’t a household name in this case, the story was interesting enough to stand on its own merit.
So if a business has a good story, what is the best way of getting in touch?
If a business has a good story, the best thing the PR/comms person can do is pick up the phone and speak to me. I just need one sentence which sums up why their story is good, and why as an editor, I should care. If their phone summary grabs my attention, then I can ask for further information on the story.
I say a phone call is better than an email because I receive on average between 400-500 emails a day, so your chances of standing out from them are slim.
What is the best time to get in touch with a story?
As we’re a Sunday paper, earlier in the week is the best time to get in touch. Monday is a good day as the paper has gone to print, and I’ll be working on admin, so I have more time to listen to stories. I’m also probably a bit more receptive to email then. However, by Thursday or Friday, I’ll be busy writing stories for the paper, and Saturday I’ll be going live. So unless you’ve got an earth-changing story, I probably won’t have time to entertain it.
OK, so a business has got your interest over the phone and we’re about to send you some follow up information, what’s the best format?
I prefer to receive the key information in bullet point format, and the press release can be attached as a pdf. The key with all of this is that I need to scan a story quickly to assess if and how it will fit in with the paper. So I don’t want a lengthy story, I just want the facts.
So what are the worst things a business can do when pitching a story to you?
Well, there are quite a few pitching fails!
Businesses need to be clear about who is doing the PR and communications for them. With larger companies, there is often multiple points of contacts or different PR agencies, and it’s gets time-consuming to have to speak to so many different contacts about one story! I would much prefer to deal with one point of contact.
Also, whoever pitches the story needs to be clear and to the point. Selling in a story is not the time for niceties, so less ‘hi, how was your weekend’ and more ‘hi Geoff, I’ve got a story for you…’ This is even more the case when it’s a business I haven’t heard of or spoken to before. It’s really worth thinking through that one sentence summary before picking up the phone, as that has to be as tight as possible.
One of the worst things is also when the person pitching the story isn’t informed. I want all my follow-up questions answered. There have been times when I’ve been given inaccurate information over the phone, or I’ve known more about the business than the person pitching. That’s a big fail in my book and really damages a business’ chances of getting coverage.
This is often the case when the PR is outsourced to a big agency. The business is just a number to them, and the person pitching isn’t that interested in the story they’re sharing.
Another big no-no is sending unsolicited large files by email. We journalists have small inboxes, so we don’t appreciated being bombarded with large photo files in pitches. If we need a picture, we’ll get in touch. Also, don’t presume your pictures are right for the Sunday Express. Our picture team may want a specific photo for the story, so unless I ask for it, don’t send it!
There is also an issue with inappropriate embargoes. Don’t send a story under embargo for a Tuesday, when we’re out on a Sunday! Respect our deadline, know what we need and when, and where you can, offer us an exclusive.
And finally, one real bugbear is when a business gets my name wrong. I’ve had people email saying, ‘hi Godfrey Jones. It might seem like a small thing, but it happens more often than you’d think. It’s unforgiveable and puts me off reading your pitch straight away.
OK, so now we know what not to do! What about Sunday Express online? Is there more leeway there?
Of course, as the Express.co.uk is a like a 24hour news channel, you’ve got a better chance of getting your story published. I’m also open to suggestions if a business feels a story they’re pitching would work better online. But the acid test still remains, it has to still be interesting enough to grab my attention.