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Raise your hand if you are sick of hearing “it’s all about the relationship.” When it comes to producers, reporters and bloggers, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that it all comes down to relationships. Yet, as many times as it’s been said, it seems no one talks about how to create those relationships.
Whether you are just starting out in PR, or you’ve switched focuses, media relationships can prove to be a tricky thing. How do you establish a relationship? How do you maintain the relationship? Furthermore, how do you prove you are an actual person rather than just a flack robot?
With such hefty questions to tackle, I thought I would poll our PRBC family to get their advice and perspectives on everything having to do with relationships.
Monitor to get the conversation going
Danielle: With reporters consistently being asked to do more with fewer resources, building media relationships is more important than ever. One way to build relationships is to consistently monitor what reporters are covering and use those stories as a conversation starter. I’m not saying gush over what they write; I’m simply suggesting that people are keenly aware of the reporter’s recent stories. Another tool that I have found to be effective is to be direct. If you can place your story in the context of a specific section or column, you can make a reporter’s job infinitely easier, which helps to further your relationship with them.
Have a good story
Marie: The way you make the preliminary connection in the first place can be as simple as having a good story. Seems simple, right? If you’ve done your research and you know what the journalist/producer covers, chances are a relevant story will at least get you that first response back. Once you have the initial dialogue going – whether the story happens or doesn’t happen – this opens up the door for you to work together in the future.
Ask a simple question like: What information are you most interested in?
Christina: “Sure I research specific media professionals to make sure that I am targeting my pitch correclty but I work in a variety of genres. This is great for finding new contacts in different topic areas. I work most often with radio, so if I book with someone for the first time, I will always ask what they’re really interested in learning about so that I can keep them in mind for the future. Most of the time the media professional says, “No one ever asks me this” and details what they would love to hear about. Shows you care in my opinion.”
Be a resource
Danielle: Also, don’t hesitate to be a resource. If you know that the food editor that you are pitching is a vegetarian and you recently tried an amazing vegetarian restaurant, tell them. The personal touches make a huge difference.
Marie: Making your client a resource is key; especially if that client can provide commentary and/or insight onto a topic that a reporter/producer covers on a regular basis. Introduce yourself and let them know the different topics your client can discuss. Sometimes a reporter might not be working on that story now, but chances are they will keep you in mind for something later on.
Don’t be scared of rejection
TJ: I would say, don’t be scared of taking that first step. Reach out via e-mail, Twitter (if appropriate and applicable) and just flat-out say, “Listen, I see you write about X. Would you be interested in Y? If not, no problem, you can let me know what you are interested in, and maybe I can help.” Maybe months down the road you can say you have a real relationship, but you’re not going to get that far if you’re not up front.
I would say not to take it personally if (when) you get shot down. Some people do not work with flacks. And when they say so, I say, “OK, thanks for letting me know.
Show some respect
Keith: After pretty much every single interview, I always thank the reporter, even if my client is a little concerned with how the interview went. Typically, I will call the reporter about a half-hour after the interview (giving them a bit of time to collect their thoughts), ask them if they got everything they need and if I can help them with anything else, and then maybe follow up a few weeks later to check in with them again.
Danielle: I always ask, ‘Is this a good time?/Do you have a minute?’ before I pitch them. Showing reporters that you respect their time and schedule is a great starting point for building relationships.
Don’t always make it about “the pitch”
Keith: I’ve found good success with going back to people who I don’t just always go back to with pitches. The ones where I really try to make some type of professional relationship out of it that is beneficial for both of us (e.g., I ask them how they are doing, what they are working on, maybe offer an idea of where someone I know could help with a piece, just say “Hi” real quick, etc.). Something where I’m not always pitching them a new idea, but at the same time, they’re professionals, too, and they understand their success is largely dependent on finding great stories to tell, and as long as I have cultivated a solid relationship with them, I may be able to help them find a great story. They realize that just like me, they’re trying to get ahead in their careers, too, so it benefits them to listen to a couple of quick ideas I have if I have shown in the past that I’m worth my weight in this business.
Strike a balance between professional and personal
Jess: I think the key to building a relationship with a journalist/blogger/etc. is being able to strike that balance between professional and personal. DO take interest in their recent articles and things that you know the two of you have in common, but DON’T become that overbearing, TMI sort of person that everyone tries to avoid. You need to know when to step back and realize that they’re probably not looking for a new BFF. Try to keep in touch and up to date with what they’re working on, but know when to back off if you and your client don’t fit into those plans.
Interact, don’t be a robot
Kate: I try not to go MIA for prolonged periods of time. If I come out of nowhere all the time just with client news, I feel like I’m just asking, asking, asking and not helping. I like to comment on some of my journalist contacts’ blogs or e-mail them about a recent article they wrote. Be personable. Don’t be a robot. Don’t take up too much of their time – hopefully they’ll associate you with being brief (a non- time-waster), and perhaps they’re more apt to pick up the phone when you call.
Keith: The key thing I always tell people who ask is that this business can’t ever be a one-way street where you’re always trying to get something from someone. You may feel pressure for it to be that way from outside sources, but you have to keep your reputation and dignity intact. And that means treating reporters, bloggers, producers, etc., like human beings. Offer to help whenever and wherever you can, shoot them a quick line and offer to buy them coffee, whatever it may be.
Marie: Just keep in mind that developing relationships takes time, energy and effort – they don’t necessarily happen overnight. If you aren’t making any headway, look at your pitch/story, retool it and try a new angle. If you are working with an entirely new type of client, and have no established relationships within that sector, check in with those that you already have a relationship with. You never know who they know!
There you have it folks. Readers, do you have any tips on creating those lasting media relationships? Journalists, if you are listening, we’d also love to hear from you about how PR pros can form a relationship with you.
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