Media Relations 101: Talking to Journalists at Events

Reporter Interviewing a PR Professional.

One of the best things about going to live conferences and other events is meeting the media who attend them.

In my past career as a political reporter in New Zealand, I spent untold hours standing around bored at such events wishing someone in the pertinent industry would offer an interesting quote, or explain some technical policy detail in a way for readers to better understand it.

Sometimes it happened, but other times potential sources or their PR reps were needlessly defensive—scared off by the sight of a journalist getting out a dictaphone or asking how to spell their name.

There's an easier way to interact. Here’s some top tips on how to make the event-media connection work.

Do some event prep.

Try to find out from event organizers which media is attending. Familiarize yourself with the interests and faces of the journalists you would most want to speak to. Being recognized by a stranger who says they “love your work” never gets old, especially for younger reporters without much of a reputation.

Craft an angle.

If you have advanced knowledge of a news release happening at the event, create an elevator pitch about it—two sentences max. If not, prepare something else to say—remember it should be about a newsworthy issue that is related to the event/conference, not just a sales pitch. It has to be a perspective or bit of information that is useful to the reporter and their audience. If it is only useful to you, it is unlikely to get printed.

Spot the reporters.

This should be easy if prep went well, but if not, look for the well-dressed, made-up people standing near the big cameras (TV reporters), or the sometimes-more-casual ones with notebooks and phone or digital recorders (other reporters).

Introduce yourself.

When the moment is right—i.e. when a journalist isn't busy talking to a competitor—walk over, introduce yourself, and say you’d love to talk to them about [the event/announcement], in case they’re looking for another voice for their story. Make clear that you are free right now, so the “interview” could be done in a matter of minutes. This has a much higher chance of succeeding than trying to set up something later, when the reporter will be busy filing the story. Even if they assure a chat later on, trying to actually lock down a journalist’s time is extremely hard—especially as an editor could just suddenly decide they want them to do something else. Use that moment with them to a maximum advantage.

Always bring a business card.

The number-one fear most journalists have when talking to the public is spelling their name wrong. Make it easy for them by handing over a business card so they can see how things are spelled. Especially if the event is loud or you have a long last name. And, if they like the quote enough they might call for another later!

None of this guarantees that you will be included in any writeup of an event or industry story. But if you offer something interesting enough, you have a great chance.

Henry Cooke is Head of Content at Brazil.