Over the course of my communications career, I’ve partnered with hundreds of reporters across many outlets and beats. Creating an idea, working with a journalist to develop the story, and seeing a finished piece is truly rewarding every time it happens. Read on for 6 ways to build better relationships with reporters.
I’ve been fortunate to grow my reputation as a trusted source with the national press. In one year, I had seven placements with The Wall Street Journal, six with U.S. News and World Report, and three with Associated Press. Other memorable highlights: One visit with Business Insider resulted in four stories. One phone interview with Inc. resulted in two. I helped a New York Times best-selling author with ideas for his book, and he graciously included me in the acknowledgments section.
What does it take to be successful in working with the press? Six points have helped me, and they may give your efforts a boost as well:
Relationships with Reporters- Tip #1: Be a resource
This is the most important tip of all. With every interaction, keep one question top of mind: “How can I be a resource?” It’s a great way to frame your mindset and daily activity. The biggest mistake? Treating press relations like a faucet, turning the spigot on only when you have news to share, and turning it off when reporters ask for help on a story that might not land you direct coverage. Do you want just one press hit, or a relationship that can benefit both of you over the long run?
Relationships with Reporters- Tip #2: Keep it brief
Streamline your pitch and bullet the content to make it easy for the reporter to read and respond. Don’t write paragraphs – people don’t have time to sift through all the details. Some of my most successful pitches have been three lines of copy – nothing more. You can cover the specifics in subsequent emails or an interview.
Relationships with Reporters-Tip #3: Keep it simple
Don’t assume that every journalist is familiar with your industry or organization. Eliminate all jargon, acronyms and abbreviations from your initial email. If recipients don’t understand your note, they’ll stop reading and move on.
Relationships with Reporters-Tip #4: Don’t mass e-mail
Take a look at your own inbox and count the number of messages not written personally to you. Sure, they might address you by name, but the rest of the email is cookie-cutter content sent to hundreds or thousands of others. Even worse, these messages often promote something that’s of no interest to you whatsoever. Every day, reporters get inundated with cookie cutter pitches that have nothing to do with their beats. Placing value on the number of pitches sent – instead of the quality and relevance of the pitch – is a losing strategy. Take the time to research the right press contacts and customize your message to each one.
Relationships with Reporters-Tip #5: Choose your spokesperson wisely
Who should represent your organization with the media? Those with the loftiest titles or most impressive credentials are not necessarily the best representatives. Look for people who have deep knowledge about the company/industry, can respect the reporter’s process, and are open to doing interviews on short notice. Steer clear of rigid personalities and those who get flustered easily by the unexpected. Line up several potential spokespersons who can be ready to go at any time.
Relationships with Reporters-Tip #6: Pay attention to the basics
It always amazes me when reporters talk about how often people don’t return calls or emails. Or how someone agrees to an interview but then tiptoes around all of the questions without providing meaningful content. Be respectful and responsive. If you’re not the best source to address a topic, say so. Better yet, offer someone from your network who is more qualified to discuss the issue. If the reporter asks for a phone interview, set that up. If email responses are preferred instead, send them. This all seems like PR 101. But, since many aren’t paying attention to the basics, you’ll stand out when you do.
Public relations is an exciting, fun, and challenging field. I love what I do. There are plenty of rewards, successes, and meaningful relationships to enjoy when you play the long game, with a steady focus on serving as a resource to your colleagues in the media.