Journo Intel: Murad Ahmed, technology news editor at the FT on big names, boring stories and blossoming relationships
Our media relations team recently attended a webinar with Murad Ahmed, technology news editor at the Financial Times. Murad has been at the FT since 2014 and has held a variety of positions in that time. In this Journo Intel entry, he reveals the best ways to pitch the FT, what the team are looking for and, importantly, what they are not.
Before jumping into the advice, here is a quick rundown of Murad’s team:
The FT has 1.1m subscribers, a million of whom are digital, while the remaining 100,000 subscribe to the newspaper. The online readership is generally younger than the paper audience.
During the week, the paper edition is focused on hard business news. In contrast, the FT Weekend edition tends to take a step back and aims to contextualise business stories with the wider world. This slightly different editorial focus is reflected in the audience, with FT Weekend enjoying a better gender balance among its younger readership, who are less focused on business matters.
What should agencies know before pitching?
As technology news editor, Murad is not the best contact: instead, agencies should target the reporter most relevant to their story. If you are unsure who to pitch, pick up a copy of the FT – you will soon figure out the reporter you need to contact.
Murad also recommends that agencies wanting to understand what interests his team should pay close attention to what they are writing about already. If you see a topic or theme pop up more than a couple of times, it is safe to say it interests them.
When it comes to contacting the team, email is always the best way to make an initial approach. Reporters frequently work together and if you think a story might interest more than one, then approach the relevant reporters via email.
How to pitch?
Murad publishes the best on stories on the FT’s website at 5am. However, he does not take pitches directly as technology news editor and PR agencies should approach the relevant reporter who will then pitch to him. He dislikes embargos and is prepared to drop a story (even if is a good one!) if it does not meet his online publication times (5am or midday).
When pitching, think of how the team lay out their stories in the newspaper, and use that to construct your pitch. A good structure would be:
A line that tells the news, actual new information.
Second, put the news into a broader context.
Then add additional details.
Next: how does this news fit the overall trend?
Finally, a quote from an original person.
Murad also stresses the importance of being honest about what you think you can or cannot achieve deliver. There is nothing worse than overpromising in a pitch and having the final story fall flat – be realistic.
When to contact?
Murad attends a morning conference at 10am every day. However, the conference is focused on what news the team will put online at midday that day and 5am the next morning when the FT’s best stories are published on the website. Thus, Murad ensures he arrives at every conference with a top news story in mind for 5am the next day.
Murad hates embargoes and will always push back at any imposed. If you cannot meet his online publication schedule of 5am or midday, he will most likely drop the story. If you happen to have an exclusive story, do not waste any time sitting on it! Murad recommends anyone offering his team an exclusive should approach the reporter days, “…if not weeks” in advance of their targeted publication date.
In terms of following up, the team are happy to receive one follow-up one, but agencies should limit themselves to that.
What to pitch?
Stories about big names – this being corporations or people – will always attract the team’s attention. If it is a person, try to set up a meeting instead of pitching on their behalf. Let reporters get to know someone, and then get out of the way – allow the relationship to blossom. The journalist will then go straight to the person rather than through you.
The FT is focused on money matters, so companies need to prepare to discuss their financials. Those who are not willing to do so are not of interest to the team. Also, they are inundated with pitches every day, so being short and sweet and getting to the point is vital.
Small companies can gain coverage by focusing on what makes the company interesting for a news story. In particular, the team likes to report on tech start-ups with either interesting founders or investors. Start-ups in areas of interest, like AI, are more likely to catch their attention.
In terms of other topics, the FT’s climate team handles cleantech stories. A separate product publishing team oversees special reports.
Additionally, Murad noted the importance of managing your clients. He emphasises how important honesty is. That means, if a client comes to you with a story that is boring – tell them. Wanting coverage, for coverage’s sake, is a lousy way of pitching.
Exclusivity matters when pitching, as does accessibility. So, as well as having an interesting pitch, make sure the concepts can be easily explained.
Written by: Jasmin Martin, media relations executive at Definition.