Twitter, email, texting, LinkedIn.
There are many ways to connect with journalists without talking to them, and none can match the value of speaking one on one—in person or on the phone.
When you converse with someone, you can pick up nuanced cues—body language in person, vocal inflections on the phone—and you gain context that you wouldn’t via digital means. Perhaps more important, nothing enables relationship-building like the human touch, and digital communications fall short in that regard.
Above all, being human is the foundation of relationship-building.
So, what does happen when you speak to a journalist?
1. Your call will be given more attention. Even if your phone call lasts less than three minutes and the reporter is curt at the outset, just the fact that you’ve talked increases the likelihood that the reporter will remember your points. It’s also likelier that your contributions will result in coverage.
2. You’ll find out what the reporter wants and needs. No media database or amount of secondary research compares to what you will learn directly from a journalist. She’ll tell you what she likes, what her editors want and what they all need. She might even tell you about a separate story she’s working on and ask whether you can help. You’ll never know unless you pick up the phone.
3. You could make new media connections. Sometimes you call and the reporter tells you, “That’s not my area of focus, but I’ll put you in touch with my colleague who may be interested in this topic.” That might seem like the reporter’s passing the buck, but it could work to your benefit. Sometimes in PR, we are like private investigators chasing one lead after another until we find the right journalist for the right topic.
4. You will learn more about how journalists think. Many journalists complain that PR people don’t understand deadline pressures, nor how newsroom decisions are made. By conversing with reporters whether you have a story or not, you will become savvy over time about how they think. This will come in handy when you are assigned to get publicity, but it may be even more valuable if someone needs your counsel in a crisis.
5. You increase the chances of that reporter calling you at some point with a need. Once you’ve started to build a relationship with a reporter, the calls and emails go both ways. Maybe you initiated contact, but by building a solid relationship with the reporter, you make it likelier that he’ll call you about a future story.
When you talk to a journalist, you reduce or even eliminate guesswork, wrong assumptions and confusion. You have a solid point of reference, someone who will offer ways to achieve mutually beneficial results.
Multiply this by the number of reporters you meet over time, and you can become an expert on how media outlets function.
Ready to create better media relationships? Just pick up the phone.
Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy. A version of this article originally appeared on Muck Rack, a service that enables you to find journalists to pitch, build media lists, get press alerts and create coverage reports with social media data.