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Building a Relationship with the Media

Building a relationship with news media isn’t something that happens overnight due to its ever-changing, deadline-driven, 24/7 environment. Relationships are built by proving yourself one story at a time.

Here are some quick tips on how any organization can build a relationship and reputation of which they can be proud:

Live up to your promises

Always strive to deliver what you promise, when you promise it. If you can’t make an interview happen or can’t make a promised deadline, give the reporter as much advance notice as possible and attempt to be open about the challenges you’re facing, whether that’s a scheduling issue or because materials are still in the approval process.

Strive to be transparent

Reporters respect professionals who they can relate to and who they know are going to be transparent with them as much as possible.

Consider the reporter’s point of view

Don’t get upset if a reporter asked a question you don’t like. If you were on the other side of the table (or the phone,) you would be asking the same questions. A reporter has a job to do, just like you, and asking the hard questions is part of their job. Your job is to be prepared for them. Putting yourself in the reporter’s shoes prior to an interview not only fosters a relationship of mutual understanding, but also helps your spokesperson prepare for an interview in advance. Channel your inner reporter and ask yourself, “What are the hardest questions you would ask if you were in their shoes?” Then prepare for the questions you think are likely – including your “nightmare” question or the one question that makes you sweat the most.

Be aware and sensitive to deadlines and be respectful of their time

Being a reporter in today’s news industry is a tough gig. Often times, reporters are wearing multiple hats and juggling tight deadlines to make their stories happen. Don’t be afraid to ask a reporter when they need an interview or content by in order to make their deadline. If a reporter tells you they are on deadline, ask them what a better time would be for you to give them a call back. When you do have an opportunity to talk with a reporter about a story – get to the point. Most reporters know within the first 30 seconds whether a pitch has legs to stand. Choose how you’ll spend the first 30 seconds of your call carefully and be respectful of the reporter’s time. In the world of public relations, media remembers the contacts who make their jobs easier.

Offer newsworthy and interesting stories and interview sources

Before pitching a story, ask yourself, “Would I want to read or hear about this story?” Businesses will often have “soft” news that needs to be shared but isn’t breaking news (such as ribbon cuttings or community donations.) Even soft news can be strengthened with a little preparation and by taking the time to discover what newsworthy angles may exist. Don’t be afraid to push company leadership or your clients to discover the newsworthy elements of their story. A strong public relations partner doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – they push you and ask questions to help discover your most newsworthy opportunities for coverage.

Do your research and become familiar with a reporter’s work

To impact the news industry, you need to consume news. Become a reader, listener or viewer of the outlets and reporters you want to target. Identify a reporter’s beat in advance and be familiar with the types of stories they cover. Be informed and stay on top of trends – especially trends in which your leadership could serve as a media source.

Respect boundaries

Know how your reporters like to be contacted and respect it. Most reporters prefer to be contacted through their work email. As your relationships build, you may begin to have reporters who provide you with additional contact information such as personal cell phone numbers. Guard this information and only use it when necessary. Never share any reporter’s personal contact information with anyone else without prior permission.

 Keep the proper tone

You can achieve more momentum with media by keeping a positive tone in your interactions. Understand that all coverage may not be positive, but it should be accurate. Even when correcting false information in news coverage, always keep a tone of respectful appreciation. The quickest way to earn negative media coverage is to become aggressive or disrespectful with a reporter. Keep it professional.

 Share stories on social media, but be careful of pitches made through social media

Social media is a great tool for getting to know your reporters. You can find out what their interests are and where you may relate to them on a personal level. Feel free to like, follow, re-post and re-tweet news coverage from reporters you are trying to build a relationship with; however, practice caution when considering pitching a story via a social channel. Most reporters prefer their story pitches be private so others in the industry are not tipped off. With a 24- hour news cycle, the industry is extremely competitive.

Serve as a resource even when you’re not benefiting from the coverage

As media relationships grow, you may have reporters who come to you for sources that are unrelated to your industry or clients. This is especially common if you work for an agency where you have a number of different clients from various industries. If a reporter comes to you looking for a source, do everything you can to help them – even if the source isn’t your client or company. Consider these colleague-to-colleague opportunities a compliment. They mean that the reporter trusts you and that you are on the short list of their key contacts that make things happen. If you treat them well, reporters will continue to come back to you – and next time the coverage may be to your benefit.

Building relationships with news reporters is an on-going process. As reporters move outlets or change professions, you’ll find building relationships is an important part of public relations no matter how long you’ve been in the industry.

If you are a reporter or public relations professional looking to build relationships or a company looking to make an impact in the world of earned media coverage, we can help. Contact us at [email protected] to learn more.