How to become a media source—and not someone who just pitches

Building relationships with journalists so they call you is key. The author explains how she has made it happen through ‘strategic small talk.’

It’s been said time and time again: PR is about relationships.

Although creative ideas and strategic planning are priorities at the agency where I work, establishing authentic relationships with journalists is the key to our media relations success. As opposed to “selling” our clients, we position them as valuable source to journalists.

How do we do that? Strategic small talk.

I recently heard from Jason Daley, a writer I worked with for a feature in Entrepreneur magazine, who was working on an upcoming story and needed a quote from a solid source. He knew I could help.

The best part of the conversation was when he told me about his upcoming story in the September 2012 issue of Entrepreneur. He wrote a full-page feature story about a franchise bakery and restaurant that I told him about eight months ago. The company is not my client, and I have no vested interest. I brought it up on a whim in a 30 minute rant about franchises, a sick dog, and travel to Jamaica. Now, this business has a full page feature in Entrepreneur, I have become a credible source for a writer, and the agency secured an introduction to a potential client.

The moral of the story: Sometimes small talk can lead to big results, including feature stories in magazines, a strong media contact, and a future client.

Here’s how you can help build previously established media relationships:

Five Things (besides your client) to talk to reporters about:

1. Trends: There is always something buzzing in the news that journalists have particular interest in. Whether it’s the Biebs’ new haircut or the hottest restaurant in their home town, there is nothing like a juicy news nugget to break the ice.

2. Tips: Sometimes the best relationship builders are not about your clients. A news tip means you are forward thinking and tracking trends. Take the time to call a writer about a tip that might interest him or her, even if it is not related to your client.

3. Travel: If they are anything like my co-workers, journalists live life from one vacation to the next. Got a few travel tips to share? Know of a great restaurant or hotel abroad? Share your secrets and your contact will be eternally grateful.

4. Torrential rains: For some strange reason, whenever I call writers they are always interested in the weather. It’s an old standby.

5. Twitter rants: One of the best ways to get a sense of a journalist’s personality is the tone of their Twitter rants. Snide remarks, wit, banter—whatever it is, Twitter references make great conversation starters on the phone. (Don’t forget to retweet.)

Krystal Tingle is the freelancer relations expert and senior account executive at The Abbi Agency. Recently, she wrote about pitching freelance writers. Follow her @krystaltingle. A version of this story first appeared on The Abbi Agency Blog. Follow The Abbi Agency on Twitter @TheAbbiAgency.

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