3 tips for building better relationships with reporters

By investing in the stories that matter for reporters, you can become an essential partner and trusted resource.

To have real success in the world of media relations, it’s essential to pay attention to a timeless classic: building relationships.

Building mutually beneficial relationships with journalists based on trust, transparency and professional courtesy will get you a lot further than any specific pitching technique or trend ever will. We all need a little extra empathy these days, and we all want to work with people we like and trust. That’s human nature.

So how can we as communications professionals build those relationships?

1. Pay attention to the what’s going on in their world.

This goes beyond paying attention to the news in order to “news-jack” for your client. News-jacking is important, but the real magic happens when you pay attention to the news surrounding the communities the journalists you are targeting are a part of.

From criminal justice to racial equality to natural disasters, there’s a lot going on in the news right now, and it’s important to remember that journalists, at the end of the day, are just people with feelings who are impacted by events happening in their communities. For example, if you’re pitching a Dallas-based journalist and there was just a major weather event, it’s time to pump the breaks on your outreach unless you’re asking them how they are personally or you have a client who is actually helping the community—and not at an abstract level.

That empathy and situational awareness will go a long way.

2. Know the answer to the question: “Why now?”

The journalism industry has not been immune to the economic effects of the pandemic. Smaller publications have shuttered, and layoffs in larger newsrooms still happen regularly.

This is why it is so important to know the answer to the “why now” question. In a world where news is always happening, it’s important that any pitch you send to any journalist can answer that question. Why should the person you’re reaching out to write about this now instead of six months from now? If you can’t answer the “why now” question, don’t send the pitch until you can.

Journalists will greatly appreciate that the only emails that they see in their inbox from you are ones that are both relevant to them and extremely timely. This helps to build real professional relationships that benefit both you and your client as well as the members of the media you’re working with. Everyone is happy.

3. Not all data is created equal.

A couple of years ago, any sort of proprietary data made it a lot easier to sell the merit of a story. The word got out that “data is king” and while it still is, not all data is created equal.

A survey isn’t an easy ticket to a front-page story anymore. Every company with even a little extra budget can produce a survey that helps support their messaging, so it takes a little more work to really stand out. Are we asking different questions? Is our sample size big enough to make this data hold water? These are important questions to ask when producing surveys with the hope of garnering media coverage.

All that said, here’s where relationships can help. If you have created relationships with journalists who are important to your client’s industry, you can reach out and ask your journalist friends if a survey on a certain topic would be of interest, if they feel there are any gaps, etc. Because you’ve established a pattern of not just reaching out when you need something, but also to see how they are doing during hard times, to ask them what they need, your professional colleagues in the journalism world will be a lot more likely to give some of their precious time to answer your questions, and that could really help your client out in the long run.

At the end of the day, success within the world of media relations is 25% paying attention to trends, and 75% being a good colleague, extending a little extra humanity, and putting yourself in your target’s shoes. Give it a try; you might even make a couple new friends.

Kristina Corso is an account lead at Hot Paper Lantern.

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