Media Relations is People Relations

The media. THE media. As PR professionals, it’s sometimes easy to forget that “the media” is not some big nameless entity, staring back at us across that invisible divide that separates those that pitch the news (us) from those that print the news (them).

No. The media is made up of a bunch of individuals, just like you and me. They’re inquisitive, smart, well-educated professionals who love to write and who work well on tight deadlines. And just like you and me, they’ve got different likes and dislikes, and at the end of the day, they just want to feel like they’ve done quality work.

It’s about time we stop treating the media as THE media and start treating them as people. You’ll often hear PR professionals say that the most important part of our job is building relationships, and it’s true. From the dawn of public relations, it has always been about fostering strategic relationships with your publics (media being one of them) to achieve your set goals. The process of building relationships has evolved from town criers and the printing press in the early days, all the way to social media and the dawn of “instant gratification” news today, but the R part of PR has always stayed the same.

Media relations is in large part common sense. Treat “the media” like people, and you’ll get results. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned on building strategic media relationships:

  • Don’t be annoying. Seriously, I cannot stress this enough. Hate it when a telemarketer calls you during dinner? That’s how reporters feel when you bombard them with information at inconvenient times. It takes practice, but learning the “right” time to call or email a reporter can make all the difference.
  • Don’t spew canned information. Take the time to make sure your pitch is crafted to that specific reporter, based on their beat or previous article coverage. And just because you have a “master” media list does not mean that every press release you ever send out has to go to every reporter on that media list.
  • Communicate in their language. You don’t talk to your spouse the same way you talk to your colleagues or your friends, just like you shouldn’t talk to each reporter the same way. Start with your pitch, but customize it for EACH reporter and outlet.
  • Be respectful of their time. Reporters are pressed for time just like you, so package things so that it’s as neat and self-explanatory as possible. What’s more, just because reporters typically work on tight deadlines doesn’t mean you should necessarily send them stories at the last minute if you can help it.
  • Don’t cry wolf. While some company milestones or announcements may be of great interest to your internal audiences (investors, employees, clients), they might not be the most media-worthy stories. Sometimes too much communication with the media can be a bad thing. Frequent, redundant or irrelevant pitches can lead to media reporters learning to tune you out.
  • Be responsive, but be honest. If a reporter gets back to you with a question that you don’t know the answer to, tell them you’re figuring out the answer ASAP. Tell them when ASAP is (i.e. by Friday at noon).
  • Invite them to coffee, no strings attached. Offer yourself/your clients as a resource to them if they ever need you, but otherwise, go with no hidden agenda.
  • Give thanks when thanks is due. Your communications with a reporter should not end once your story is published. Follow back up with them to let them know you appreciate their work and their help in getting you/a client coverage, and tell them you’ll be available in the future for anything they need.

What tips do you have on building and nurturing strategic relationships with reporters and those in the media?

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