The Myth of Advanced Media Relations

In the past several years I’ve attended seminars, webinars, and a couple of conference sessions about “advanced media relations.” You’d think after the first one I would have learned, or you’d think after spending dollar-after-dollar and hearing the same thing over-and-over,  I would have figured it out: advanced media relations is a myth.  Yet, I kept attending, focused on professional development and perhaps hoping that I’d find that magical key to making media relations easier. I didn’t. 

To save you the time, the cash, and the hand-to-the-forehead moments, take confidence in mastering the four basic elements of media relations:

1.       Research the media you want to pitch.

You can’t just build a media list from a database, you have to qualify it. Research each media outlet and each reporter to assure you’ve got the right media outlet for your product/service and the right reporter who’d be interested in your pitch.

2.       Pitch on target.

Never, ever send the same pitch, worded the same way, with the same info to every single reporter on a list (also known as mass emails). Take time to research the reporter and his/her current or related stories. Then, customize each email or phone pitch to tell them why his/her readers, listeners, viewers would want this story and how you can help.

3.       Be polite and be professional.

While seemingly obvious, I’m always amazed at the stories we hear about supposedly experienced PR pros acting like idiots when it comes to pitching journalists. Start by reaching out through the channel they prefer – email, phone, DM or whatever they’ve listed or told you when you qualified your media list.

Next, when calling a reporter, ask if you’ve caught them at a good time. Do not leave multiple voicemails or send four emails in a row. Value their time by having your pitch and reasoning lined up. Be brief, consider bullet points instead of prose or if you’re on the phone, get to the point in under a minute.

If a reporter rejects the story, thank him or her anyway and offer to be a resource in the future. If they tell you they don’t cover that area, apologize for being off topic and be sure to remove them from future pitches. And hard to believe I have to say this, don’t ask to review his/her story before it publishes or airs, reporters have editors already.

4.       Follow up as promised.

If you offered visuals, research stats, more information, or an interview, follow up and deliver it exactly – if not before – you promised.  If you said you’d call back tomorrow, call back. If you said you’d email a confirmation, do so. As with most things in life, follow up matters and reporters tend to remember the reliable PR pro who delivered as promised.

Every single “advanced media relations” session I attended was really a thinly-veiled review and reiteration of these four elements.

You’d think we’d all get it by now, but click for a short visit to the Bad Pitch Blog and read on in horror to see first-hand evidence that basic skills aren’t always that common.  And before send you or your team to that promising “advanced media relations” seminar with its slick copy and headlining speakers, save your time and money and re-read this post.

JR Schmitt (@cloudspark) is the founder of CloudSpark, an award-winning strategic communications and social media company. The microagency specializes in helping new and emerging companies answers the key questions of “What now?” and “What next?” With experience, expertise, inspiration – and a spark or two – the company provides answers that help business stand out and achieve results.  Jenny is a veteran public relations and marketing professional and a sought-after conference and keynote speaker who presents on communications and social media issues nationally. A frequent media contributor, she has been quoted in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, BrandWeek, among others; she regularly contributes to blogs relating to social media and public relations.

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  • Thank you for saying it – and putting it in writing. Great post.

    • Thanks Lindsey. Hoping to save other PR pros some money, time and gain confidence that what we know is what works.

  • First, a huge, big bear hug of a thank you for the headline on “MEDIA Relations.” All too often it’s truncated, misrepresented as “PR = publicity” so thanks for getting that right. 

    So tempting for me to just copy and paste and type, WORD .. but I’ll resist. Lemme just say yes yes and more yes to research, to targeting and having the tools (images, etc.) needed. And it’s ongoing – media lists are not static, boy do I not need to tell you. These are steps than cannot be skipped – not if we want to achieve results, which means strategy – done by one who knows how to develop, to qualify.

    One thing I think that may be happening is – that as the lines blur and the practices/tactics once associated with one discipline are now being used by others – is that these ‘bad pitches’ aren’t being made by PR pros necessarily, but by other MarComm types trying to do publicity. Just a theory, but like you I read these stories about idiotic pitches and shake my head; my ‘worst’ pitches is still more on target than some of these. 

    FWIW, as far as true ADVANCEMENTS I’d like to know more about: 

    1) Managing expectations. Companies/clients should not expect to be the only source quoted; or be shocked when the piece is more well-rounded and dares to include competitors, the ‘other’ side of the story. That’s where all that ‘edit/review’ nonsense comes from, publicity seekers thinking they have some sort of control. They don’t and that needs to be made clear, as does the need for media training. If they want their quotes and soundbites included, they need to know how to be interviewed, have a better sense of what makes for readable, interesting news.

    2) The ‘what next?’ part of the equation. The strategy behind seeking the publicity in the first place is part of that, as should be what a skilled PR and media relations pro intends to do with earned media exposure. This is where I get don my Integrated Communications hat and assert that ink isn’t enough, the campaign doesn’t stop there. There can be more to media relations than the ‘thud book’ and SEO links.

    • Davinia – a very good point to keep media lists “fresh.” I swear every 90 days I see reporter moves/changes at every single daily outlets (if not more often).  And certainly there are plenty of folks who read somewhere how “easy” it is to do media work. While media relations is relatively straight-forward, it does require the skill and finessee to build real relationships of value. 

      Like you, I’m looking for what’s next and how we all adopt integrated communications for better business outcomes.  Thanks!

  • To paraphrase Jeremy Pepper — “It’s the personal relationships, stupid.”

    The tools that have made our lives insanely easier can make our lives of our media partners insanely intolerable. 

    The problem is the people who think the tools do the work. Use the tools to do the things that tools do well, and STOP being a tool yourself.

    • Ike – I shall now quote you “Use the tools… stop being a tool.” I imagine as a former journo you got plenty of poor pitches from so-called PR tools.

  • Indeed. I’ve noticed the same trend in conferences/seminars/webinars discussing “how to use social media” for the past four years.

    Unfortunately, many PR pros get so focused on running down the checklist, that these basic skills are often overlooked.

    • Hi Kelly, There is a reason the basics keep getting taught since PR pros keep making headline-worthy mistakes. The challenge is that so many disguise these basic elements as advanced classes taught by credentialed pros. JR

  • Indeed. I’ve noticed the same trend in conferences/seminars/webinars discussing “how to use social media” for the past four years.

    Unfortunately, many PR pros get so focused on running down the checklist, that these basic skills are often overlooked.

  • Nora DePalma

    Funny how the same things I learned when I started 25 years ago haven’t changed. Maybe because the art of building relationships doesn’t change over time? Staggering how the bad pitches just keep on coming.

    I’d add one caveat to the blanket pitching: we work with new product editors in one industry. They more or less “opt-in” to receive new product announcements. So for those, we do have permission to do eblasts, but they are to finely honed and segmented lists. We don’t do follow up, since we know they will use what they need and leave the rest. 

    Story ideas? You should NEVER eblast. End of story (except that it never is). Great post, Jenny!

    • Good point Nora. The more you work with reporters and establish yourself as a resource, the more they’ll trust that kind of communication. They know you won’t spam them. JR

  • Kate

     Gone are the days of calling a paper’s main number and asking for a beat reporter. Lists are valuable for tracking down writers who’ve bailed from the papers but continue to work as freelancers. I don’t know what advanced media relations means. Be useful, remember who you work for and think in the long-term about your credibility.

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