Freelance Journalist Interview: Susan Grossman

Today we speak to Susan Grossman about her career as a journalist, mentor and media trainer. On 1 July and 17 September, Grossman will be hosting her next Pitching to Editors workshop. She can be contacted via her website and is also tweeting at wordsallowed.

About your media training, journalism workshops and short courses:

What’s your approach to mentoring, media training and workshops? Do you have a particular style of teaching that you find ‘works’?
I am very direct and give my students my honest views. I passionately want people to achieve their goals, and I am as excited as they are when they do. My inbox is full of success stories and I always want to know what happens next.

Tell us about your most successful or memorable case study.
I’m so proud of the women who sold The Big Issue, and came runner up in a Guardian writing competition; the supply teacher who got herself a column in the TES and still has it; the PR who was commissioned by The Indy ten minutes after she pitched the story, the retired civil servant who got a commission that involved a press trip on a £5000 cruise, and a young paediatrician who found herself on the News at Ten with her story on dog bites.

What’s your advice for freelancers who might be struggling to make a successful pitch?
To wait until they find a topical ‘peg’; to write with passion in a chatty style, and to include case studies and quotes from experts.

As a media trainer (and journalist), what’s your best piece of advice for PRs?
Write like a journalist. Give the facts not the hard sell and avoid words like ‘best’, ‘only’ or ‘unique’. Never use a one shot approach. Good press releases are tailored to specific audiences and read like ‘news’ with the most important fact at the top.

Working with both PRs and journalists, how does your teaching approach differ between the two groups?
It doesn’t really. Journalists and PRs both want to impress someone with their ideas. The job is to get the message across succinctly and to understand the target audience. If I work in-house with a PR team we look at what the client wants and work as if we are journalists. The fun starts in my workshops when PRs, former editors and journalists brainstorm ideas together! Sometimes you can’t hear yourself speak.

You have a varied, rich career. How does that reflect in the work you do as a media trainer, a mentor, a lecturer and as a writer?
I learnt to ‘listen’, and to approach the decision makers with ideas, and to never fill in application forms. I found out quickly that being creative isn’t enough, you also have to be able to ‘sell’. Networking is an important route to success. I believe that if you want to, you will succeed and that the best ideas are often lurking underneath a blanket of self-doubt.

How do you balance all these various strands of your professional life?
With difficulty. Sometimes I get off at the wrong tube stop because I forget which day it is. I’ve got six different work bags for the different places I lecture at, and my office is wallpapered with post-it notes. I have to reflect on each lecture or workshop immediately to learn from it, before I take on the next task. It’s about the only area of my life that I plan.

[img|jpg|Susan Grossman]
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