Getting to Know Them: The ROI of Reporter Relationships
I’ve come to the conclusion that the PR industry as a whole seems “anti-media relations” even though that’s precisely the service most companies want from their agency of record. It takes a level of understanding, research and empathy to build lasting relationships with the media that PR professionals — especially those that are new to the industry — often fail to value.
In my own experience, I’ve come to realize the value in forming genuine connections with reporters, even if it means that they never end up covering a story for you. These types of relationships can outlast client contracts and the many roles a PR professional might have over the course of his or her career.
Unfortunately, a lot of people in PR don’t want to take the time to cultivate these relationships if there are no immediate short-term gains for their clients. They feel client pressure to get results now — and as efficiently as possible.
When you try to force-feed story ideas with a one-size-fits-all approach, without first getting to know the reporter and figuring out what it is they actually want to hear about, you fail to bring value to the client. And frankly, by extension, you’ll only damage your own reputation in the industry.
Oftentimes, rookie PR pros enter their first roles with little guidance or mentorship, making entry level roles a breeding ground for poor habits and bad practice. One trend I’ve noticed in particular is the pressure many young publicists feel to to “play dumb” when communicating with reporters. In an effort to be charming, some will use the tactic of acting like they don’t have all the information. Reporters don’t have time for that.
They’re our colleagues in the broader media industry, and in order to have a successful relationship, we should be mindful of what subjects truly make a reporter tick. Have a genuine, informed conversation — it’s more interesting that way. Not to mention, it’s more effective.
My advice is this: Don’t play dumb; instead, do your research. Read about the reporter and his or her beat, even for just a few minutes. Refer to their past, relevant stories to show them you know what you’re talking about, and that you specifically chose to pitch them because they’ve covered the topic. This will yield better results in the end.
I’ll leave you with a challenge. Book a short meeting with a target reporter, and just listen. Ask them 3-5 questions about what they need for a story to get their attention. Make it about them and their organization, and how you can fulfill their needs, not yours. You can certainly share client examples if they fit into the conversation organically, but otherwise, don’t push any client-specific details or ask for any favors in return. Use it as an opportunity to get to know the reporter on a more personal level. It will pay off in the long term.
Interested in hearing more about the dos and don’ts of media pitching? This topic was covered in depth on Episode 21 of the PR Wine Down podcast, PR Pitfalls and How Not to Pitch.