How to Cultivate Lasting Media Relationships
Those of us who work in public relations are expected to be the best when it comes to honing a message that sticks and moving a reader or viewer to take a specific action. In theory, that is. I’ve noticed that there is one area where too many PR pros aren’t applying these specialised skills carefully enough, and that is when it comes to pitching story ideas to journalists and investing the necessary time and effort to foster relationships with media contacts.
The competition for reporters’ attention is steep these days. According to The Guardian, PR professionals outnumber journalists by nearly five to one, and more than half of top publishers say they receive between 50 and 500 pitches per week!
Given the heavy inundation that a successful pitch must cut through, it’s critical that us PR experts build a strong rapport with media contacts who they can establish a mutually beneficial relationship with. We are trained to think so deeply and creatively about audience and messaging in other realms, and that thinking should be applied here, too.
Over the past several years, I have seen a pattern emerge in my various interactions with writers and editors: Successful and consistent media placements often follow strong, actively maintained relationships with media professionals, not from the cultivation of a list of journalists thousands of names long.
Here are a few tips for how others in the PR field can shift their focus to developing the high-quality relationships that allow us to do our job well, and move away from the perceived need to rack up a sky-high quantity of them:
Understand a journalist’s beat and anticipate their future needs
Read journalists’ past stories and put some effort into gleaning their interests and future needs from this. They will appreciate the effort and the nuance it affords you in pitching them ideas. To express an even deeper understanding of, and interest in, their work, follow them on social platforms like Twitter and ‘like’ or retweet their posts and articles. Helping them to expand their work’s reach and audience will not go unappreciated or unnoticed if handled tactfully.
Offer multiple sources when possible
We are fortunate to work with faculty from a wide array of programmes and universities. This is a huge asset for both me and for the reporters I work with, because it allows me to provide multiple sources who can speak to different areas of a given story—providing perspectives that are different yet complementary. Seeking out multiple sources is standard practice for any journalist, so if you can alleviate some of the legwork by providing them with more than one to begin with, they will view you as an even more valuable PR partner and liaison. Helping writers do their job well means you can do yours better, too.
Know the journalists’ preferred communication style and adjust accordingly
Anyone who works with the media knows that the industry is comprised of a wide array of communication preferences and styles. Certain media contacts prefer to keep things very formal and to the point, while others will opt for a more personable and casual relationship. Some would greatly appreciate receiving a holiday greeting card, while others would find it strange and unnecessary. Deciphering which type of relationship your media contacts prefer will be crucial in building an ongoing professional relationship that both parties enjoy being a part of and feel more compelled to continue.
Respond in a timely manner
It’s not unusual for a reporter or editor to be on a tight deadline, especially when it comes to reporting on breaking news, so make sure that you are monitoring your email and phone and that you respond quickly if you receive any interest. Even if you don’t think you can facilitate the opportunity in time for their deadline, respond to them as soon as possible so that they can find sources elsewhere. This will help create a positive and trusting rapport.
Keep your media contacts updated
If you are facilitating an opportunity that requires the involvement of an outside party (like your client), make sure to keep the media contact updated on the status on your end, without becoming a nuisance, of course. If you are waiting on specific materials or waiting to hear back from your client, communicate this as you go so that the writer isn’t forced to send a frustrated follow-up email or risk missing a deadline. Doing such will help them plan their tasks and deadlines accordingly, ultimately positioning you as a considerate and efficient PR professional.