Think Like a Reporter: Eight Ways to Improve Media Relations

Posted by Kassy Perry

In today’s changing media landscape, building rapport with reporters is a major component of day-to-day work at PCG. With fewer reporters and fuller inboxes, it is important to approach media relations knowing everything possible about a reporter and their audience.

For us, this means thinking like a journalist. On a day-to-day basis, reporters are working to meet deadlines, be fair and just in their reporting, tell good stories and maybe go home at a reasonable hour.

So how can PR professionals help journalist perform their job better?

1. Be a storyteller
When “cold calling” a new reporter, there is no need to be nervous if you have a strong story with compelling voices and an interesting conflict. Journalists are working day-in and day-out to find the conflicts emerging in different industries. You will be remembered and valued if you don’t bombard journalists with mediocre marketing pieces and push real, valuable and interesting stories.

2. Introduce yourself before you “want” something
Meet without an agenda, pitch or complaint. Seek out the new reporters entering the scene and take them to coffee. Broadly mention the issues you work on or clients you serve but think about building a foundation before asking for stories. Get to know a reporter’s interest area and offer to help for stories that do not directly benefit current clients. Continue to follow-up at reasonable intervals to remind them you are a resource they can tap into.

3. Research, research, research
Read everything on a reporter’s Twitter feed. Peruse past articles. Look at what they wrote about before their current position. Try to find out everything you can so you come to a reporter knowing they will be interested in your story, not just hoping they will be interested in your story.

4. Respond immediately to questions (and be honest)
The best people in PR respond to phone calls or emails quickly and completely. Even if you are still coordinating with spokespeople or adjusting schedules, let reporters know you are working on getting them the information or contacts they need to move their story forward and meet their deadline. Responding rapidly ensures you maintain control of the timing of a developing story. When coordinating with a producer on a time sensitive radio or TV interview, don’t continue to follow-up for logistical details. Let them coordinate their entire show and then follow-up with information. If they say they want to talk to your client, trust them and let them perform their job on their own timeline, not yours.

5. Seize opportunities (that you aren’t getting paid for)
Often over coffee or on Twitter, a reporter will mention they are looking for a specific type of consumer, patient or expert to finish out a story on a topic unrelated to any of your client accounts. If you know someone who would fit their needs, connect them. They will remember you as a resource.

6. Read and praise
When researching journalists or following up after a coffee meeting, remember to praise them for the work you liked. Steer clear of false accolades, but honestly and genuinely express your interest and attention to their work. This ensures they know you aren’t just sending emails; you are invested in finding them stories that meet their beat/interest/expertise. In addition, when a reporter writes a story for you – even if it highlights the opposition or you think your client should have had a quote closer to the top – thank the journalist for the attention, for speaking with you or your client and carefully reporting on the issue.

7. Don’t always go for the biggest name in the room
Make friends with the new journalists, the recent college graduate at your local paper covering local sports, or the new-in-town reporter trying to get a feel for the lay of the land. Help them understand where to go for what resources, how to reach you and what you can provide. By assisting them early and often, you will be in have a strong relationship as they are promoted or move around in the media world.

8. Be professional
“Reporters are not your friends” is an old adage that still rings true. A relationship with a reporter is a professional one and should be respected. Despite having mutual friends or running into each other outside of work hours, do not assume that they are “off” work and never try to ask for coverage “as a friend,” ask them to violate ethical code or give you favorable treatment. This not only disrespects the role journalists play in our society, it belittles the professional relationship you have worked to build.

Journalists provide an invaluable resource for any PR professional, most often without writing anything. They can be the voice that tells you your story is biased, your pitch needs to be tweaked or your message doesn’t resonate. They can also be the voice, in a crisis, that tells your side of the story.

For more tips on media relations and communications, follow Kassy Perry on Twitter at @KassyPerry.