Four Tips for Building Relationships with Media
We’ve all heard some version of “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” While I don’t completely agree with the phrase, it does ring true in public relations.
In the B2B and B2G technology world, where it’s common for your client to have a laundry list of competitors all marketing similar products, getting their story out can be extremely difficult. Reporters’ inboxes are flooded with pitches, so it’s easy for your story to get lost or overlooked, no matter how well written or compelling it is. That’s why establishing relationships with media is critical and something our public relations team places heavy emphasis on. While this can be an intimidating and sometimes awkward task, it can be the difference between securing an interview or being lost in their inbox.
The best way to go about building these relationships, especially if you’re starting from square one, requires some strategizing. Sending an email out of the blue isn’t ideal (though sometimes necessary), so keep these four best practices in mind as you begin reaching out and establishing relationships with reporters:
1. Do your homework
Familiarize yourself with the topics and types of stories they’re writing—are they only covering hard news or do they write more analytical pieces? If their beat is something broad, such as cybersecurity, what topics do they seem to write about the most? We should know this information regardless of any relationship-building, but it’s especially critical for ensuring that you bring something to the table, too.
For example, when I learned that a long-time cyber reporter was leaving a publication and being replaced by a younger, up-and-coming staff correspondent, I reached out to him offering informational interviews with two of my clients’ cyber experts. Knowing that he was new to the beat and likely building out his Rolodex of sources, I was able to provide him with a friendly Q&A to pick these cyber experts’ brains, and in return, help establish the clients as go-to sources for future stories.
2. Take advantage of in-person opportunities
You’d be surprised at how many opportunities there are to interface with the media. Check out your Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) chapter or other public relations organization’s event calendar. Many of them have networking events or panels where you can sit and chat with various reporters and editors. For example, Washington Women in PR just held their annual media roundtable.
Some of the clients we work with host forums or conferences, which can also be great opportunities to chat with the media—especially if you’re the one inviting them to the event. Bigger events, such as industry conferences, can be more difficult for relationship-building since reporters are likely running around covering stories. Be sure to check out the event program because they often have media happy hours or similar events designed for casual conversation.
3. Have your pitches ready
When you do finally sit down with a reporter, it’s critical that you make the most of the opportunity. Use the time to live pitch them on stories you think they’d be interested in and ask them the questions you don’t normally have the chance to discuss: What’s keeping you up at night? What’s your take on [recent policy announcement]? This all goes back to doing your homework and nurturing that symbiotic relationship—they’re taking the time to chat with you, so you need to be ready with pitches and sources that are beneficial to their work.
And don’t dive right into the pitch. The conversation shouldn’t be all small talk, but you should always make an effort to engage in light conversation before you begin weaving your clients and pitch ideas in.
4. Follow up is essential
Whether it’s a quick conversation at an event happy hour or a one-on-one conversation over coffee, sending a follow-up email is important to continue fostering the relationship. If it was a quick conversation, you should aim to get a note to them quickly while you’re name is still fresh in their mind (and also for them to associate a face to the email address they keep seeing). Otherwise, use the follow up to thank them for taking the time to sit down and chat and to further discuss or finalize any opportunities you tentatively secured. In other words, strike while the iron is hot!
At the end of the day, the relationship between PR professionals and the media is a symbiotic one—PR professionals provide news, expert sources, and information, and in return, reporters (hopefully) provide us with coverage on our clients. So sharpen your small talk skills and research your trendy local coffee shops, because it’s time to grow your Rolodex of contacts.