5 tactics for developing relationships with journalists

Are you tired of getting no response to your media pitches? Here are some ways you can develop a rapport with reporters—and cut through the cluttered inbox.

There are proven ways we can help build and maintain affinity with our counterparts in the to media, whether you are with an agency, or you are an internal marketing or brand manager.

Consider these tips:

1. Start before you need to start.

Is your brand that much of a draw that a journalist will drop everything to cover it? Probably not.

Relationships take time build. An external PR team may have strong ties with the journalists you want to be in front of, but even so, that won’t mean the journalist will have an affinity for the brand being pitched. It can take time to turn a journalist onto a brand.

Do you expect a good friend to invite to dinner someone that you personally think is great, but they’ve never met themselves? Maybe there’s room at the table, but it’s also likely that the host wants to meet the other person first, before committing to something greater.

As a brand or PR pro, spend time and resources engaging with media so you’re on their radar well before you want to be in their stories.

Share their content in your social channels. Comment—publicly or privately—about stories they wrote that you enjoyed. Offer tips and ideas on future stories that are not about your brand. Send them cookies, but make sure you checked their Instagram profile first to see if they need to be gluten-free. (Make sure they are allowed to receive gifts.)

Get to know them and put yourself on their radar at the same time.

2. Start turning down clients and projects.

No agency wants to turn down billable work, but not every brand has a great story for the media.

The story that an organization has to tell might be good, but isn’t going to result in award-winning work for the agency. It may also turn out that the story the brand has to tell with the most media value isn’t the one the brand wants to tell. That’s OK, if expectations are managed.

PR pros must remind their clients and internal partners that they’re the experts, and push back on requests and plans that don’t have media appeal.

Managing expectations and effort, versus media appeal, is crucial in this situation. If the client really wants a press release written on something without strong news value, you can do so. Just be clear on expectations and be realistic in where you wind up sending it.

No journalist wants to receive a barrage of FYI press releases.

3. Remember that reporters are people, too.

Journalists are also not public servants and are under no obligation to write about your brand. Emailing a press release is not the equivalent of an ad buy. Reporters are not sitting around waiting for you to send over a press release so they can regurgitate it to their audience.

Your supposed news has to be actual news for their audience and be a cut above what other brands are pitching at the time.

Journalists need time to digest your story idea, and often, run it by their editors for approval. This takes time, so pitching a story on Friday and hoping for coverage, let alone a response, to materialize the following Wednesday, might be a bit unrealistic too.

Journalists have lives. They go on vacation, have families and obligations, and sometimes want to clock out a bit early before a holiday weekend. They are not waiting around for your news to come out, even if it is newsworthy.

4. Say thanks in a way that matters.

Once you land that great story about your brand or event in an outlet you’ve been hoping for, don’t let it end there. Promote those who have helped promote you.

Share the story via both your marketing team’s professional network, as well as your brand’s social networks. Your social media team may not want to ruin the curated Instagram grid they’ve created, and if that’s the case, then share it other ways, like IG stories, tweets, Facebook posts, LinkedIn posts and more.

When that article your brand is featured in makes it into a media outlet’s Facebook feed, send the link to that post company-wide so every single person in your company can hit the like button. You don’t have to require your colleagues to be friends on Facebook, but a thumbs up click isn’t too much to ask if they do have an account.

You’ll help build traction for the media outlet, as well as the journalist, and that goes a long way.

5. Realize you’re planting seeds.

If you only reach out to journalists when you need them, what does that say about the relationship? Set aside some time each day, or each week, to engage. Simple comments or likes on social media can go a long way.

Bill Byrne is a veteran PR pro with a diverse range of experience including work with startups, leading snowboard brands, consumer tech, financial entities, craft beer and general consumer goods. 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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