A “friendly” is someone a PR professional can count on to respond to a pitch, be a soundboard for story ideas, and a resource whenever needed. It implies a strong relationship, one that – like any relationship – is built on trust, respect, and a willingness to help one another. It doesn’t necessarily mean starting a friendship — although that can happen — but rather establishing a working relationship that’s friendly, comfortable, and mutually beneficial.
Why is Cultivating Media Relationships Important?
It’s in the name: Public RELATIONS. Our job as PR people is to build beneficial relationships between organizations (our clients) and their publics (the consumer), which we do primarily through storytelling. And who do we share our client’s stories with to ensure they reach the consumer? You guessed it – the media
In today’s rapidly evolving media world, where getting noticed is becoming harder than ever, having strong media relationships is instrumental. If you’ve established a strong relationship with a reporter or journalist, chances are they’ll be more likely to tell your client’s story (or at least respond to your pitch) or come to you directly when they need something than they would be otherwise. So, we can deduce that having strong media relationships leads to better stories, which in turn leads to stronger results for clients.
Plus, having good working relationships with people in the media will make collaborating easier and more pleasant for both of you!
Tips for Cultivating Strong Media Relationships
So, the question remains – HOW do I go about building better relationships with the media? Just like with any relationship, it doesn’t happen overnight. If you’ve worked in public relations long enough you’ve likely developed many of these strong media relationships throughout the course of your career. But if you’re new to PR, the idea of establishing media relationships may seem daunting, even impossible. How does one break through the mold and stand out amongst thousands of other PR and media relations practitioners enough to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship?
Do Your Homework
Before pitching a journalist that you’re hoping to establish a positive relationship with, read their work to understand the topics, style and angles they use – that way you can tailor your pitches to ensure you’re only sharing information that’s relevant and important to them and their work. It’s also important to learn their preferences and RESPECT THEM. You can do so by asking questions like, “how do you prefer to receive news?” Every reporter is different. Some may prefer a press release, some may only accept news under embargo, but you’ll never know unless you ask. Asking questions like this shows the reporter that you respect them and care about making their lives easier.
Become a Resource
If you want a reporter to continue working with you, you need to become an invaluable resource. When you first make contact make sure they know everyone and everything you have access to, like company spokespersons, research and data, products, industry experts, etc. Then, once they’ve tapped you for one of said resources, make sure to act quickly to get them what they need. It’s important for journalists to see you as reliable; if you can’t get them what they need in time to meet a deadline, they won’t want to continue working with you.
Once you’ve started working together, the next step is to try to anticipate their questions or resources they may need before they ask. For example, if you know that they always include images in their stories when covering new products, make sure to link to visual assets within your pitch. This thoughtful approach to sharing news will make forming a relationship much easier.
Be More Than a News Engine
If the only time you’re reaching out to a reporter or journalist is when your clients have news, they’re going to quickly lose interest in you. So, make an effort to outreach to them even when you don’t have hard news to share. Try instead offering unique story angles, fresh takes on trending topics or new insights into the industry they cover. And do so without a hidden agenda by sharing ideas that don’t directly relate back to your clients. Reporters will appreciate your interest in helping them, especially when they know your ulterior motive isn’t to highlight your clients.
Engage, Engage, Engage
A great way to form a closer bond with a media contact is to follow and engage with them on social media. Many journalists are active on Twitter so that’s a great place to start; even the smallest, simplest interactions like upvoting when they promote their articles or replying when they share their take on the latest industry news go a long way.
Another benefit of following your favorite reporters on social media platforms is that, in addition to getting insight into what they’re interested in, you’ll get a sense of their personality and who they are outside of work. Then, use that information to bond. For example, if you find that they’re humorous on Twitter, start incorporating humor into your pitches by adding GIFs or trending memes. You can also break the ice by referencing something you saw them Tweet or by asking them about something they shared about their personal life. It’ll show that you’re interested in them outside of their work, which will only strengthen your relationship.
It sounds simple, but it’s much easier said than done. As public relations professionals, we’re always busy juggling the demands of our clients and sometimes it impacts how much time we can spend on media relations. And when that happens, it’s easy to fall back on the “canned pitch” – a templated, impersonal email pitch oftentimes blasted to tens of hundreds of media contacts. While the canned pitch has its place, as it’s the fastest and simplest way to disseminate news, it’s not doing you any favors in terms of building a strong media relationship.
A better approach is to be authentic and real in your pitches. Make them personal and most importantly – don’t be afraid to be yourself. Show them your personality with the language you use; specifically, don’t feel like you need to be formal. No one wants to feel like they’re talking to a robot. And if appropriate, share your interests outside of work or tidbits about your personal life. You may just find out you and the person you’re speaking with have things in common that go beyond news stories and media coverage!
Remember the Golden Rule
When it comes to interacting with journalists, never forget the golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. That means being respectful of them, their time and their craft. If they don’t respond to your email after a follow-up, leave it be. If they pass on your pitch, respect their decision. If they don’t include your client in a story when they said they would, thank them anyway. And remember that journalists don’t exist to serve you and your clients, they have their own job to do. If you can help them do their jobs while also treating them with kindness and respect, you’ll be well on your way to having media friendlies of your own.