Why the human element of media relations matters

While younger PR pros might not want to meet reporters face-to-face, it’s important to cultivate friendly relationships with journalists. Here are some ideas.

This article originally appeared on PR Daily in April of 2018.

It’s not always easy to befriend the so-called “media beast.”

Some reporters can be disagreeable, difficult or even despicable at times. Some journalists view PR practitioners as untrustworthy flacks or empty mouthpieces preaching the company gospel.

Nevertheless, all PR pros should be mindful of the human element in media relations to foster more positive press—now more than ever because fewer PR pros are honoring it. In the modern digital age, some millennials rely too much on social media and electronic communication alone. They would rather converse with reporters via Facebook than meet face-to-face.

However, one of the most crucial aspects of mastering media relations is fostering mutually beneficial relationships with key journalists. Hence, the word “relations” after “media” to encapsulate this overriding point.

Maybe there will always be generational differences in communications strategy. Nevertheless, practicing effective media relations should always involve proactively reaching out on a personal and professional level.

Forging relationships

How much do you know about those in the media who cover your company or client? Further, how do you ensure that media relations are non-adversarial and mutually beneficial?

The answers could dictate your ultimate PR success or failure. Thus, a good start to maximizing media relations is proactively forging positive relationships.

For example, try getting to know journalists on a basic human level. This goes a long way toward building mutual respect, goodwill and trust—all of which are essential elements of any good relationship.

Forget about the “us versus them” mentality. Get out of the trenches and meet reporters in person. Get to know them on a professional and personal level.


Silencing stereotypes

It’s important to recognize that most reporters are decent people.

Most professional journalists are more than merely TV “talking heads” or bylines on a page. They are real people who deserve sincere respect and recognition for a job well done, as warranted and appropriate.

When a reporter does a good job, let him or her know it. Be respectful when errors are made or clarifications are needed. Don’t be a constant complainer because you deem a story to be imperfect. Save your arguments for when it really counts.

How can you get started?

Try getting out of your silo, leaving the trenches and meeting journalists one-on-one.

  • Meet for breakfast, coffee or lunch.
  • Visit their newsrooms.
  • Give them an informal “off-the-record” tour of your organization.
  • Introduce them to your executives.

Express genuine interest

Don’t forget that expressing genuine interest in a journalist can go a long way to solidify positive relations. That’s why it pays dividends to go the extra mile by learning some basic information about reporters. This can lead to common ground and help build mutual trust. Consider these questions:

  • Where did the reporter go to college?
  • What’s their home town?
  • How did they first get into journalism and why?

Find sweet spots of common ground and build upon them.

Remember that personalizing media relations allows each party to view the other as an individual rather than just part of a perceived adversarial institution.

David is a strategic communications consultant, freelance writer and former federal government spokesman based in the Washington, DC-area. A native New Yorker, David was a journalist prior to his career of public service. You can also find him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Medium.

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3 Responses to “Why the human element of media relations matters”

    Leandra Meredith says:

    I really enjoyed this article. As a current college student who is trying to learn how the PR world works, I think these tips are very useful. Personally, I love meeting new people and establishing connections, but sometimes I’m not sure how to go about doing so. This article provides plenty of practical ways to put yourself out there and to help establish a strong connection with your colleagues. This article can also be beneficial to those that aren’t as comfortable with putting themselves out there. It provides possible conversation topics and possible meeting places.

    Madelyn LaFavers says:

    I agree that a lot of journalists see PR practitioners as untrustworthy, and as a someone going into the public relations field this article is helpful in learning how to knock that stereotype out of the way. I also agree, because I am a millennial, that a lot of millennial’s would rather have all of their communication through social media, opposed to face to face. I think meeting a reporter for lunch or coffee is a great idea, because it makes it a lot less formal. It is a good idea, because it makes it seem more like a get to know you, taking the spotlight off you being a public relations practitioner, just looking for answers from them.

    Savannah says:

    Being new the to public relations world and yet to meet with clients and other professionals I found this blog extremely helpful. In a society moving towards an online presence only, I think the world has lost a lot of that human interaction. Like you stated above, the “us versus them” mentality can no longer work when trying to build these positive relationships. Putting yourself out there in a way foreign to you can be a scary thing, but this helped with easing the nerves by adding practical ways to involve yourself. As a newcomer I found this information to be resourceful and helpful and could reach all ages. I think it’s important for all PR professionals to remember that in a society based on technology that a handshake could shape a relationship better than an email.

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