How to Become a Reporter’s Best Friend

A few weeks ago, I was pulling into my driveway, after a long week of work, when I received a phone call from a reporter I work with wanting a quote for a story. I spent the next two hours calling and e-mailing clients trying to gather a comment. I never did get a comment, but the reporter did express gratitude for the effort.

This little exercise reminds me of why some PR practioners maintain good relations with the media, and others don’t. Here are some points to remember for young PR executives.

  • Go above and beyond the call of duty. If a reporter calls you at 5 p.m. on a Friday, don’t hang up or blow him off. Do all you can to help him finish his story and get him sources. He will remember it in the future.
  • Don’t send them crap. An old boss of mine said the reason why our agency was successful in getting story placements was that we distributed well-written press releases. The press releases were often written like news stories and could be copied and pasted into a paper.  Not exactly great journalism, but in these days of thinning news rooms, reporters and editors love a press release that doesn’t need much work.
  • Understand the reporter’s beat. It helps if you learn about what subjects a reporter covers. If a reporter writes about politics and you keep sending him technology stories, you will soon find yourself in his dog house. Do some research and read about what kind of stories the reporter is covering. It will pay off in the long run.
  • Do some real networking. Ask the reporter to lunch or out to drinks, if he can do this, (this is prohibited by some papers); and spend some time talking about the industry and what is going on in his life. Don’t pitch any stories. Just spend some time getting to know the reporter and try to develop an actual relationship. They will end up liking you more than the PR rep who only calls when they want favorable coverage.
  • Broaden your scope. Send them story ideas that are not related to your clients. If they are looking for contacts, don’t always pitch your sources. This makes you a true media source and not just a conduit for your clients.

Old-time PR practioners may have already used many of these tactics, but these are useful tips for beginners. Use some of these tips, and you will soon end up a reporter’s best friend, and not the flack whose press releases go straight to the junk mail folder.

Manny Otiko, vice president of social and new media at Desmond & Louis, has worked in the public relations and journalism field for about 15 years as a journalist and a media relations specialist. His experience includes stints as a reporter at a daily newspaper, serving as a media relations specialist for a state agency and working for Southern California public relations agencies, Dameron Communications, Tobin and Associates and WunderMarx PR.

Manny has worked with clients in the public affairs, technology, education and economic development fields. He has secured coverage in publications such as The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Associated Press, the Wall Street Journal, and Men’s Health.

Manny has been published in The Riverside Press Enterprise, The LA Sentinel, The LA Wave, The Washington Afro-Am, IE Weekly and Our Weekly. He is an active member of the Orange County chapter of PRSA, the National Association of Black Journalists and the Black Journalists’ Association of Southern California.

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