As a public relations professional, you’ll hear it time and time again: the key to getting a journalist to answer your e-mails or phone calls is to build a relationship. What is often missing from this advice, however, is how to build the relationship. Here is a five-step recipe to building the relationships that will lead journalists to your doorstep.
Start with A Dozen: The best way to start to build these relationships is to identify a dozen top journalists from media outlets and beats that are important to you and/or your clients. Read past articles carefully as beats can often be broad and deceiving. For example, a travel beat doesn’t necessarily include destination coverage; perhaps the writer specializes in industry coverage or where to find the best deals. It will go a long way if your pitch dovetails well with the journalist’s coverage area.
Follow—and Comment—on Their Work: One of the most powerful phrase that you can tell any print reporter is: “I read your article.” When you come across an attention-grabbing article from one of your key journalists, send an email or even better call them. And don’t just say “Great story.” Share a meaningful comment that demonstrates that you’ve really digested their story. Most journalists receive very little feedback on their work. You’ll truly stand out from the crowd.
Make Face Time: There is no better way to get on the media’s radar than by having a one-on-one meeting with them. If you are located in the same city, offer to take the journalist out for coffee or lunch and learn more about his/her coverage area. This gives you the opportunity to share more than one story idea based on what writer or producer actually needs, during a time that isn’t cutting into their deadline. And putting a face to your name automatically makes you stand-out in their inbox.
Share Your Contacts with Your Colleagues: At our agency, once a staff member hones a media relationship, we invite that journalist into our offices for a roundtable lunch to give other teams a chance to pitch their stories to the journalist face-to-face. These roundtables also allow you to bounce ideas off the journalists to get a more defined idea of what appeals to them, which leads to more effective pitching in the future.
Be Helpful, Not Manipulative: In our industry, the right relationships are more valuable than gold. So strive to keep a solid professional relationship with each and every journalist that you come in contact with. Stay in touch to hear about their new endeavors and make every effort to be as helpful as possible. And forget about manipulation or story spinning. Our job is to “tell the truth effectively.”
So remember, identify your top prospects. Be familiar with their work. Meet face-to-face. And, most importantly, be a resource for the journalist. Once you have built the relationship, the real work begins.
Andy Levine is the President and Chief Creative Officer of Development Counsellors International (DCI), a New York-based agency that has worked with over 350 cities, regions, states and countries.