How to Get the Media to Pay Attention to your Business: An Interview with Ottawa Citizen’s Business Editor

Reporters get about 100-150 emails per day. Most are from companies hoping to have a story written on their product or service. How do you make sure you stand out? I interviewed the Citizen’s Business Editor to get insider tips.

I had the privilege of speaking with Ottawa Citizen’s Business Editor, Robert Bostelaar. We discussed elements that make a good story, dos and don’ts of writing a news release, how to attract media attention, and upcoming business trends in Ottawa. Read about Robert and our interview below.

Robert Bostelaar has worked for Canadian newspapers for 36 years and has been Business and Technology Editor at the Ottawa Citizen since 2010. He also is editor of the Citizen’s Boomer magazine supplement that is aimed at the baby boomer demographic. Earlier, he was a city news reporter and editor, and for 10 years wrote for and edited the Citizen’s Driving section. His hobby is writing about the cars and culture of Cuba at He can be found on Twitter at @Robt_Bostelaar.

In your opinion, what makes a good story?

Something that speaks directly to the intended audience. Something that affects their lives or grabs their interest in a significant way.

What are your primary sources for stories?

The main source is news releases, but other sources include observation of trends, ideas from speaking to people, suggestions from others, and cyclical stories (such as holiday shopping or housing stories).

How are reporters using Twitter? For example, do they use it to find story leads, build relationships with business people, etc.

It’s one other tool, but I haven’t found it of huge value at the moment. There is a lot of noise on Twitter so it’s a matter of cutting through to get things that are relevant. Currently, our business reporters mainly use it to build relationships with business people. It’s used less as a story lead tool right now, but that may change as both sides become more familiar with Twitter.

What is the optimum length of a news release?

Definitely not longer than 1 page. You want enough information to have reporters’ questions answered without too much follow up. It should be able to be digested in 20 seconds. As reporters, we get on average 100-150 emails per day. We basically read the first few paragraphs and decide after that if we want to continue reading.

A recent study by HubSpot, which I wrote about here, suggested that online news releases with a photo get a greater number of views by media than those without a photo. Do you find the inclusion of a photo makes you more likely to read the release? If you end up reporting on that story do you usually use the photo that was provided?

Yes, the presence of a photo makes me more likely to read the release. Human nature is when there’s an image you want to look at it. The photo helps to give more information. Sometimes we use the photo that’s provided, but at the Citizen we’d be more likely to take our own photo.

What are some elements of a news release that makes you want to do a story?

Something that will interest our readership. Relevance is absolutely key. Something that makes you stop and think, that’s cool or different. Something unique or a new spin on an old thing.

Timeliness is key. Don’t try to pitch things that are out-dated. The news industry is more time-focused than ever. Send a release in advance of an event or item as opposed to post-event.

What’s your number one pet peeve when reading a news release?

Garble, jargon, technical language. Basically when it’s not written in clear English.

Should a person do a follow up to a news release, for instance by phone or email?

No. In the majority of cases, the reporter will either write about the story or not. In certain situations it may be helpful, but generally it’s not a good practice.

What’s the best way to contact a reporter?

By email is best.

What are three things a local business can do to get media attention?

Have a product or service that’s news worthy.
Have a strategy of who to gain attention from (which reporters) and when.
Be clear and relevant in whatever way you approach the reporter.

What are some trends you see coming to the Ottawa business community for 2012?

We’re seeing more focus on starts-ups, entrepreneurs and small-scale business. There is a trend away from larger local companies, as some have closed or moved.

There is greater focus on software, social media, and e-commerce and less focus on hardware.

Overall there is a wait-and-see attitude and a bit of anxiety among local businesses. They are waiting to see what the Federal government will do with spending and employment.

Here are three key take-aways from my interview with Robert:
1. Be relevant.
2. Be timely.
3. Keep your news release brief (max. 1 page), but clear.

Question: What other tips do you have for getting media interest and attention?

  • Scott Vetter

    Well done Lydia, informative, succinct and several worthy tips.

  • Jennifer Forbes Walker

    Lydia, thanks for the awesome tips! I think you’ve covered everything a local business would need to know in this regard. Well done.