8 ways to build a relationship with freelance reporters

As more journalists are working outside of traditional media companies, PR pros must reconfigure their outreach efforts. Here’s how these new media pros want to be contacted.

With more and more journalists taking the leap to go freelance, PR pros must not only update their contact lists but also navigate new relationships.

Does that journalist still cover their old beat? What kind of work are they taking on? Will they be able to reply as quickly as they once did? Add these questions to the potentially sensitive issue that going freelance may not have been that person’s choice, and the PR professional has to choose their words and approach carefully.

A freelancer is an invaluable addition to your address book, because they are flexible, often pitching different publications, constantly developing their networks and available to take on all kinds of projects they might not have been able to cover as a staffer.

Consider these eight tips for building a better relationship with a freelance journalist:

1. Ask them out.

Many freelancers make the inspired and joyful decision to quit a staff job—but a lot of writers are forced into it.

Reach out to that person and ask them to go for a coffee or lunch. They might be looking for a reason to leave the house and to maintain as many of their contacts as they can. Even better if you’ve got a lead on any work, or have a great story idea.

This is a people business, so showing you care about your relationship even during a time of transition will mean something to the writer.

2. Respect their wishes.

A freelancer’s time is money.

They don’t live in the safe knowledge that they can take a weekend, a sick day or a lazy, long lunch with a PR pro and still cover their rent. Even if the journalist wants to attend your event or meet up with you for an after-work drink, it might not be possible, or they have other priorities.

Expect your relationship to change as that freelancer’s deadlines and work patterns evolve. Also, that freelancer may now have to commute into the city to see you.  Why not suggest meeting halfway between your work and their home or co-working space?

3. Don’t send random emails.

My freelancing counterparts regularly tweet funny examples of random emails they get sent from communications pros.

An avalanche of emails can be triggered by special events, like the birth of Meghan and Harry’s baby or the upcoming Christmas holiday. Product launches are sent to a columnist, or New Year health detox listicles land in the inbox of a personal finance writer.

I’ve never understood how blanket emails work—perhaps they catch one or two if you’re lucky—but it’s not a long-term winning strategy. Doing your research about each person you approach is key.

4. Don’t pile on.

I’ve lost count of the number of wheedling emails, saying something like, “Please can you just tell me if you’re interested?” or “Just a quick yes or no would be a massive help.”

I haven’t asked for the email in the first place, so why should I feel obligated to reply? That’s not to say you can’t follow up, but there is a way to do it.

5. Timing is everything.

This is a tricky one. Most freelancers do a combination of shift work, branded or corporate work and pitching ideas to publications. Some of those ideas come from press releases, but they need to be sent in advance. If a PR pro sends a mental health release on the last day of Mental Health Awareness Week, it doesn’t leave the journalist much time to place it.

A freelancer, as one recently complained on Twitter, “is not a news outlet.”

6. Coverage is not guaranteed.

Freelancers, just like staffers, always appreciate an invite to a Beyoncé gig (yes, it was amazing) or a 10-course tasting menu at a fancy restaurant (indigestion). However, taking up a cool invite doesn’t mean that writer owes you anything. More important, even if you invite them to see a show or come to a gallery opening, there is no guarantee they can get coverage for you in return.

PR pros should be willing to cultivate the relationship and accept not everything they offer will result in press. Just know a freelancer is trying as hard as they can for all opportunities not to go to waste.

7. Respect a freelancer’s email.

We all get a lot of emails, including things we didn’t sign up for. So, it can be irritating when a positive and useful interaction with a PR professional leads to you being automatically signed up to every client list for that company.

Ask permission first.

8. Make connections.

A good PR pro will always be remembered by a freelancer. That includes not just getting coverage for their own client but also helping out in other ways—introductions, forwarding emails about work opportunities, inviting them to events and more.

The hard work should pay off.

Rachael Revesz is a freelance commissioning editor and journalist. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.

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