How to Maintain Journalist Relationships

PR pros and journalists have a unique relationship that can be mutually beneficial and rewarding or challenging and adversarial, depending on how communications managers approach their media contacts. As someone who communicates with journalists on a regular basis, I make an effort to try to understand journalists and figure out what I can do to make our relationship more efficient – especially in light of today’s changing media landscape.

Some things I’ve learned:

Social Media 

With the variety of social networks, it’s hard to tell which ones journalists are using most, and for what purposes, but Twitter seems to have the most value. A survey from MuckRack of over 25,000 journalists cited that 80 percent of journalists believe Twitter has the most professional value and use for their careers, with Facebook coming in at 13 percent and LinkedIn at 4 percent.

The dramatic gap indicates that engagement would be more purposeful on Twitter. But how exactly do you engage with journalists on Twitter? Many green PR pros tend to think that because journalists’ goals consist of shares, likes, etc., they should like every tweet they’ve had in the past three months. But that’s not exactly the case. That’s like trying to make friends by just poking everyone you meet – not likely to work out.

Instead, try to actually engage. Read their articles, really get to know their beat, and share their stories by posting insightful quotes that hit close to home. Remember that there are socially responsible ways of interacting with reporters that go beyond traditional pitching or any other aspect of your job for that matter. I recommend engaging with reporters on a one-to-one human level while still being respectful of their boundaries.

Similar to the ideology behind HARO and ProfNet – two services that connect reporters and PR professionals — some reporters will seek out sources on Twitter if pressed with a tight deadline. Except these requests are live and not sent via a scheduled newsletter. This can be highly valuable for quick wins.

Pitching 

Despite our social media-driven world, traditional pitching still plays a huge role in the reporter relationship. But just like social media, there are rules, starting with respect for time.

A commonly known fact – journalists are incredibly busy. I’ve once facilitated a phone interview where the journalist questioned the interviewee in his car while sitting in traffic – talk about multitasking.

It’s important to know how to reach journalist. The Muck Rack survey cited that 93 percent of journalists prefer to be reached by email – no surprise considering the digital era we live in.

It’s just as important to know when to reach out to them. If you pitch a journalist at the busiest part of their day, it’s likely that you won’t receive a response, no matter how compelling your story is.

In this case, the early bird truly does get the worm. The survey also cited that 30 percent of journalists prefer to be pitched between 6-9 a.m., while 37 percent prefer to be pitched between 9-11 a.m. – totaling in at 67 percent before noon.

Now there are some variables here, so you may have to conduct some trial and error. It’s not uncommon for journalists to overlook those 6 a.m. pitches as they’re rapidly skimming through their morning junk emails.

So we’ve covered the when and the where, but what about the pitch itself? First, it must always be relevant and align with the journalist’s beat. It should also be short. The majority (53 percent) of journalists prefer the length to be between two to three paragraphs. Even more incredibly, 41 percent of journalists prefer the pitch to only have two to three sentences! This is why it’s highly important for PR pros to be excellent wordsmiths and have the ability to craft a clear and concise pitch, all the while still providing enough compelling information on the news.

Let’s say you’ve followed these guidelines but you’re still not getting results. What could be the problem? Other reasons journalists reject a pitch are the lack of personalization (28 percent), including large attachments (3 percent), and having a confusing subject line (10 percent).

And then there are follow-ups. You’re convinced your story is awesome, relevant, and has none of the qualities listed above, but the journalist still didn’t respond to your pitch. Should you follow up in case your email was overlooked and forgotten?

Again, there are some variables to this. Many times you can find out a journalist’s preference by spending five minutes on their Twitter page, but according to the survey 72 percent of journalists feel that it is alright if someone follows up after a pitch, whereas 28 percent believe it is not.

That’s almost a third of the journalists surveyed, so as a rule a thumb following up should be fine. But, pro-tip: if a journalist takes the time to respond saying not to follow up, make a note on your database and spread the word. Allowing your colleagues to make the same mistake could potentially burn any future opportunities with the journalist – a PR no-no.

As you’ve probably inferred, this relationship is a delicate one – one that should be handled with care. Following these tried and tested approaches can put you on the path to a positive relationship with journalists, but remember there are outliers and no two journalists are the same.