Media Insights: Interview With Freelance Journalist George Lawton
The relationship between PR professionals and freelance journalists is a symbiotic one. As a PR agency, we look to freelancers to drive media coverage for our clients, while freelancers look to us to provide credible sources and information for their stories. Continuing our media insights blog series, I connected with George Lawton, a seasoned freelance journalist, to discuss best practices for PR professionals when it comes to pitching to freelance writers.
George is a freelancer based in London, most frequently writing for TechTarget. Over the last 30 years, he has written over 3,000 stories for publications about computers, communications, knowledge management, business, health and other areas.
Are you open to being pitched by PR people? If so, what kind of pitches do you like, and what kind of pitches do you dislike?
Digital twins, they’re always interesting to me. That’s just my thing this quarter. I’m also doing more user stories lately, but honestly, I don’t mind pitches. I have a special box in my email and I just put all my pitches there. I’ll see them come in and I’ll say, “Oh, this is what they’re pitching.” Then later, when I’m working on a story about open source security policy for example, I might look to see who has pitched me about software bill of materials, which is the keyword in that particular realm. From there, I would reach out to the people that sound good. Mostly, I use pitches to sort of guide outreach when I have a particular topic.
So, do you prefer to be pitched through email? Or are you open to other mediums like Twitter, for example?
Oh, never. I rarely look at Twitter or LinkedIn. People will pitch me on LinkedIn, but I tell them to send me an email instead because messaging isn’t great on LinkedIn. It just gets buried and you can’t organize your messages. It’s a one-way street.
As a freelancer, how are your stories decided when you’re writing with certain publications? Do you like to be pitched with a certain publication in mind?
Well, if you’re asking me about TechTarget, it’s 100% them. I used to throw ideas out, but now it’s mainly TechTarget coming up with the ideas.
I’ve been through diginomica, well, VentureBeat, but that slowed down this quarter. diginomica is good for user stories or trend stories, but they’re letting me write about digital twins again. I did about 100 stories about digital twins for VentureBeat and I thought it was going to be the thing for them, the industrial metaverse. Honestly, I’m not a fan of blockchain or the metaverse by itself, but I have a soft spot for the industrial metaverse because that’s the actual way of framing digital twins in a way that makes sense. The other stuff, it’s just so hard to tease apart what’s real.
In general, there’s always a lot of hype in tech. Now it’s generative AI. Of course, I’m writing a whole series on generative AI, and there’s something there, but my goodness, every day it’s like I’m getting spammed on it. And I kind of look at the pitches and wonder what I could possibly do with them. In some cases they kind of fit, because I get these weird assignments that I’m not so sure about. But if I just roll with it and see what people have to say about the topic, I’m often surprised by what I learn. I love being surprised by stories that make no sense to me, and then turn into a pretty good angle when I discover what people have to say about it. That’s what I appreciate about having people who are in the field and add a perspective that I wouldn’t have considered.
Are there any specific practices that PR people have done in the past, like spamming, that you have particularly disliked?
I hate it when people follow up three times. I always get your pitch. Always. Usually, I might just look at the headline, read it and depending on what it is, put it in my special folder and circle back. But then I get these people who are like, “Did you see this thing I sent earlier?” Of course, I saw it. You don’t have to write me back.
On average, how many stories do you complete in a week or a month?
It’s all over the place. This month, I have maybe 16. And they’re like multi-source stories. A bunch of them were the generative AI stuff, but then the month before, maybe it was five stories. When I was doing more stuff for VentureBeat, it was about 10. It goes up and down. It kind of depends on where the publication and my interest level are.
I try to balance easy stories with more interesting ones. The more interesting ones tend to take more time, but if I just did the easy ones, I’d get bored because they’re easy. I just spent a whole day working on this story on NeRFs (Neural Radiance Fields). It’s the hot new generative AI technique, and they can take a big 3D scene that would normally take 18 gigabytes to do it at high-res, and shrink it to a few megabytes. I thought that was the coolest thing, trying to make sense of how it worked and where it was going to be useful. But at other times, I’ll do three stories in a day. It’s just a paint-by-numbers kind of thing.
Can you talk a little more about how you determine whether a company or an executive is worth an interview?
Well, there are a few things I look for. At TechTarget, there are a lot of different editors, but I can’t have people touting their own products too much. I did a piece on workplace transformation, and I got a pitch from a company that does smart lockers. It was five paragraphs on how every company needs a smart locker. But I can’t just write that the smart locker guy says smart lockers are the thing. So the less they’re talking about what they sell and the more they’re talking about the field and applying their expertise, the more valuable it is.
Sometimes I’ll get pushback if it’s a product manager or marketing person that’s writing it as opposed to a CTO or a senior executive. Developers are golden. So those in-the-weeds kinds of technical people are always great when we can get that in there.
The thing I appreciate about Walker Sands is that you guys seem to have a lot of consultants, and those are always great because they can bring vendor neutrality to the table. That’s really helpful when I can get that in there.
Thank you, George, for taking the time to discuss how PR professionals can foster successful relationships with freelance writers. Get in touch with our media relations experts to learn more about how Walker Sands can help your company reach its public relations goals.