Tools Abound for Media Relations, but Personal Relationships Continued to Dominate in 2020


If 2020 taught media relations professionals a lesson, it’s about the importance of relationships.

Meeting media contacts in person, securing press tours and catching up over coffee have taken a backseat amid the COVID-19 pandemic. For savvy practitioners, though, continuing to build relationships with the media endured, and in many cases, thrived.

Tracking Relationships

It’s not a surprise that 2020 wreaked havoc on media. With declines in advertising and subscription revenue occurring prior to the coronavirus’ economic debacle, it was inevitable that local and national publishers would experience layoffs in 2020. In addition to furloughs and layoffs for journalists, entire departments were killed and, in some cases, publications closed. In other instances, some content creators–whether by necessity or choice–launched newsletters on platforms such as Substack in an attempt to monetize their brands.

Despite this, relationships remained more important than anything else in media relations, said Nati Katz, Honeywell’s senior director of external communications, during the PRNEWS Media Relations Virtual Event last month.

To that end, it’s best to get to know reporters beyond their beat, said Lauren Young, an editor of digital special projects at Reuters. Such relationships can yield dividends “down the line,” Young added, noting that she has contacts at many organizations she can turn to for sources or introductions.

Clearly, with so much movement in the industry, sending regular check-in emails is a best practice. Be prepared, though, for bounce-backs. A new year definitely calls for an update of your digital Rolodex.

One relatively simple way to track journalist movements is through Twitter profiles, which reporters tend to update more frequently than other platforms, said another speaker at the event, Laurie Goldberg, group EVP of PR, Discovery and Science Channel.

A new tool in this area is Cision Connect, which, according to the company, allows users to discover “profiles of journalists and influencers that are most relevant to them” through “intuitive searching and intelligent filtering technology.”

According to the product description, the tool works similar to customer relationship management software. It allows users to manage media relationships “through automatic team activity tracking, pitch performance metrics and the ability to measure the outcomes of their outreach.” In other words, data provides a grander look at what pitches are working, which lets media relations pros to adjust their strategy.

Source Verification

Another aspect of media relations, of course, is pitching thought leaders and their content. This demonstrates that your company’s executives or those you represent are experts in their field.

For years, universities and educational platforms like ProfNet or HARO helped connect journalists to expert sources. However, much outreach today happens either directly or through a Google search.

Especially with today’s war on disinformation and the public’s loss of trust in the media, journalists are working hard to ensure sources are legit.

Along comes Vetted. The platform, which completed its soft launch at the end of November, “makes it easier for experts to be more of a media magnet, and less of a media megaphone,” CEO Jon Amar claimed. Instead of mass-distributing a press release about a launch or project to reporters, encouraging them to reach out to you for more information, Vetted does that verification work for journalists.

This doesn’t mean media relations pros don’t have their work cut out for them in this area, though. Making executives media-friendly remains as critical today as it was prior to the rise of social media.

“People who are knowledgable, charming [and] educated...get invited back,” said Kristal Howard, director, corporate communications and media relations at Kroger. In preparing for a televised interview, it’s critical to “understand the planned topics and some of the unexpected topics [and] ensure [your executive] is equipped and prepared to address any question that might come at him.”

Targeting the Pitch

It’s a tale as old as time: targeting the pitch. But a new media landscape calls for renewed attention to correct targeting.And with the rise in popularity of tools such as Muckrack and Meltwater to help streamline the process, media relations pros have no excuse not to do their homework and know who is covering what beat.

Creating a multi-tiered approach is a good place to start, said Michael Lamp, SVP, social & digital media at HUNTER. Micro-lead media opportunities are a must-have consideration in your approach. These allow you to secure broadcasts on Reddit or chats on IGTV, for example, much more quickly than long and short leads in more traditional media allow.

Regardless of which tools you utilize, it’s important not to forget the fundamentals of media relations, pointed out Deshundra Jefferson, chief strategic communications officer, Credit Union National Association. Oftentimes, she says, media relations pros may use software to create a list, and then turn around and spam the list.

“You don’t want to be the person who is known for spamming and having irrelevant pitching. [Otherwise], when you do have something good for a relevant reporter, they won’t read it,” she said. “You have to create a relationship.”

Contact: [email protected]