Q&A with Charles Orton-Jones, freelance business and technology writer: Part 2

Kelly By Kelly

In the second part of our media Q&A with freelance business and technology writer Charles Orton-Jones, he shared his thoughts on the PR industry and gave us his advice for anyone looking to pitch stories to him.

What is your biggest frustration with the PR community?

Photography. Many British PRs do not do photography. I ask, “Can you send a lead image of your client?” for a BusinessAge story they've provided, and it triggers instant horror.

I've had PRs from major agencies admit they don't know the difference between landscape and portrait. They don't understand high and low res. Or how to crop. My mind is blown. I assumed photography was part of PR, but it isn't for a lot of them.

My challenge to the readers of this article is: do you have strong lead images of all of your clients? Keeping in mind that a headshot is not a lead image.

I've even created a guide to photography for PRs. That's how passionate I am about photography.

Do you have any advice for PRs out there that want to pitch stories to you?

Gosh, I do have advice. Brace yourself.

My side hustle is BusinessAge.com. It is a website where entrepreneurs can write about stuff, including their own companies. But the quality of stuff I get from some PRs is terrible. Four out of five opinion pieces I receive are not publishable. The openings are boring. The writer can't focus on the subject in hand and it's waffle from top to toe.

I think it's usually down to a lack of experience, where young PRs are asked to write something for a client and they've not been trained properly. They don’t know how to open with a Hook'em and Hold'em intro, or how to make an article flow. Nor the ways to end an article. So they panic.

I’ve seen this so often that I now help PR companies learn how to write. It's just a 40 minute session over Zoom where I explain how to find an angle, how to start with a bang, how to marshal evidence. The response is great. Most of the times I've done it the audience have simply never had this basic stuff explained to them.

Lesson? Young writers need training! They can't simply show up and do it. If readers want me to explain more about this, they can just email me.

What is your ideal pitch from a PR?

I only listen to pitches for BusinessAge.com. Otherwise, I write under commission so there's no point pitching me proactively.

The ideal pitch is an opinion piece with a thesis. An angle. It should be counter-intuitive. The Spectator magazine is great at this. Their articles take the opposite line to everyone else. For example, today Peter Hitchens, brother of the sainted Christopher, argued against electric bicycles. Contrarian, but he made a convincing case.

PRs often struggle with this. I get pitches stating the bleedin' obvious, such as “Why innovation is important,” or “Why you should treat your sales staff well”. But no one disagrees, so no one will bother reading.

Or the pitch is too big. “How to do SEO”. Nobody could write that and do the topic justice in 700 words!

To pitch an opinion piece, zoom in on your most interesting point. Make sure it is original. And set yourself the challenge of converting the reader to your point of view in 700 words.

Oh, and have fun! Articles should be entertaining. If you are using words like “omnichannel” and “key value drivers” you are in jargon mode; readers hate it. If you can make the reader laugh, just once, you are in the top 2% of writers. Be brave and crack a few gags.

Do you find that PRs know enough about the tech they are pitching or the issues impacting your audience?

For me, PRs don't need to know. Just tell me what your client does in plain English. If your client insists on being called an “end to end solutions provider”, push back until they admit they make HR software, or whatever it is.