PR Insider: Making Contacts in the Newspaper Newsroom

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Making contacts in a newspaper newsroom used to be straightforward: find the reporter covering the topic you are pitching and go for it. Nowadays, it's gotten more strategic and more complicated.

Many newspaper newsrooms these days still have a beat system, but there are also web sites, video and a constantly changing media landscape to contend with.

Andrew Blum
Andrew Blum

One way to cut through the clutter is get to know a reporter you want to target. Read their stories and make sure they are the right reporter for your client. Unless you have breaking news that can't wait, think strategically: offer your client or company expert up as someone the reporter might want to meet with or talk over a cup of coffee.

Yes, reporters in newspaper newsrooms are still busy but they often appreciate a get-to-know-you meeting rather than a pitch on deadline that might not work.

Having said that, it's still important to figure out your goals in making contacts in the newsroom.

Are you looking to make ongoing contacts in news, business news, politics, sports, general assignment? Or is it the op-ed page or editorial board you client wants?

These days there are also web site editors and video producers who should be on your radar as many newspapers now have dedicated web site staffs and more print publication web sites are creating and posting their own video contact.

It's also important to figure out the nature of the newspaper in your contacts strategy and overall media plan. Is the paper you want to reach the hometown paper, or a regional or national one?

If it's your hometown paper, you will be dealing with them on just about everything if your client or company is important enough in their coverage. So you will want to get to know just about every reporter and editor who might figure into coverage.

If it's more of a regional or national paper, you need to think much more strategically about who you make as contacts and how often you need to be in touch with them.

Another ongoing phenomenon is the newsroom expert syndrome. Often, a reporter who has covered the same story two or three days in a row, becomes the newsroom expert. But that may cut both ways for you as the PR person. You may not like the stories they have done so far or you may need to educate the reporter.

Additionally, with never-ending beat changes, job-hopping or media layoffs, often a contact you have spent time getting to know is no longer there and you start over again. I suggest you subscribe to one of the PR services that tracks press comings and goings.

Another thing I have found is that once you have made a good contact, you can pitch them at their next job. If you have had a good enough relationship with  them, they will welcome the fact that you have noticed their new job and that you want to stay in touch.

Reporters and editors all have one thing in common: they want the story and they want it first, and they will follow the media food chain when they have to.

So, it's your job as the PR person not only to get to know them but how to manage them; how to deal with them on a positive story and on negative coverage. Once you have developed a contact and a relationship they will know you can deliver; they are also more likely to listen to you when you have a complaint or are dealing with a crisis on behalf of your client or company.

My advice is always get back to a reporter – even if you don’t have any comment or any information. They will remember you got back to them.

Like other media, newspaper newsroom staffers are often very busy, but you can take the time to get to know them over a cup of coffee. Or if you have an annual PR/media event like the Financial Follies, in New York, invite the reporter as a guest at your table and get to know them outside of the news cycle. Or invite them to be on a panel at an event speaking to PR people.

All of this helps in making and nurturing newspaper newsroom contacts. But you have to keep at it day in and day out. The news never stops and PR has to keep up. Your contacts are key.

Andrew Blum is a PR consultant and media trainer and principal of AJB Communications. He has directed PR for professional services and financial services firms, NGOs, agencies and other clients. As a PR executive, and formerly as a journalist, he has been involved on both sides of the media aisle in some of the most media intensive crises of the past 25 years. Contact him at ablum@ajbcomms.com or follow him on Twitter: @ajbcomms