Valentine's Day is around the corner. For PR professionals and marketers, it's the perfect time to remember best-practices for "showing the love" to the press—just as you would show love and appreciation to friends, family, and loved ones through words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, and gifts.
Here are a handful of ways you can build mutually beneficial relationships with members of the media.
Get to know them
Strong relationships are built on a solid foundation, and PR pros' working relationships with reporters are no different.
Before reaching out to reporters or editors for the first time, get to know the people you want to pursue. If you're pitching irrelevant story ideas, sending obviously mass emails or not reading articles written by the people you're pitching, you're moving too fast.
Instead, read their stories, follow them on social media, and subscribe to their newsletters first.
A quick skim of a reporter's work isn't enough; you should fundamentally understand the beat and coverage areas, as well as what he or she is not interested in covering. You should also get a sense for the type of information and materials the reporter needs to craft a story.
For example, if a reporter is publishing multiple times a day, then you'll want to include all data, photo assets, etc. with your pitches so the story can move forward without additional details from you.
Creating an informational foundation sets you up for success the first time you pitch a reporter. It keeps your story ideas from ending up in the "deleted" folder and can inspire story angles your clients will love and reporters will appreciate.
Building a relationship with a reporter isn't like using Tinder—it's more like eHarmony or Match.com. You're looking to build a long-term, mutually beneficial relationship, and that requires putting in the work.
While "courting" a special someone in your life may sound old-fashioned, it's certainly important when building relationships with media sources.
If you're constantly pitching stories to a reporter on behalf of your clients but not trying to get to know them outside of your pitches, it may feel like a one-way relationship.
Though sharing ideas relevant to a reporter's beat is a great first step, engage in other ways as well, such as by sharing genuine feedback on articles and commenting on his or her social media channels.
At our firm in Portland, Oregon, we hold a bimonthly "Coffee Chat" panel focused on a rotating, inspirational topic; anyone in the community can come learn and share ideas. A few times, we've invited members of the media to attend—or even participate on—the panel. Welcoming members of the media to take part in such events gives them an opportunity to build their own brand and connect with an audience—while you get to know them better. It's beneficial for everyone.
Don't take reporters for granted, no matter how many stories they have written about or including your clients.
Show reporters you care by spoiling them: Shower them with research related to their beat, tip them off on cool or newsworthy happenings, and share relevant ideas with them, even if the topic doesn't benefit one of your clients. Those actions show that you actually care about the work you do together and that you want to help them be successful.
In practice, "spoiling" the media can often lead to a story about your clients. For example, we were recently able to seal the deal with an influencer after proving that we didn't just see her as a way to get coverage. After a few attempts to work with her at our client's events—attempts that didn't work out or that she declined—we later stumbled upon a reporter's query looking for quotes to include in his story, and we felt she would be a great fit. Although it didn't benefit any of our clients and would create extra legwork on our end to submit, we offered to help anyway—after all, she was a perfect fit, and we didn't want to let the opportunity slip. Not long thereafter, we invited her to another client event; she accepted in large part due to the steps we'd taken to build a relationship with her. Afterward, she featured the client in an online travel magazine. Long story short, the great coverage we secured was accomplished through an additional story that didn't relate to our client at all.
Once you've developed strong relationships with the media, respect their boundaries. Don't forget email etiquette when pitching the reporters you've worked so hard to develop relationships with:
- Before the pitch. Now that you've gotten to know the reporter, you should have a strong understanding of the stories he or she will and won't be interested in. Don't assume that a reporter you've always worked with will respond to a mass-pitched or off-topic idea just because you've worked together in the past. Before hitting send, reconsider whether the story is truly a good fit.
- After the pitch. Reporters are constantly getting emails, so unless you have true breaking news, you can't expect someone to respond immediately. Be patient and wait several days, up to a week, before following up.
- When it's time to follow up. If it's been a few days and you still haven't heard back, it's OK to politely follow up. However, remember that the reporter doesn't owe you anything. In your email, politely recap what your story idea was and why it's relevant, but don't get demanding.
- If they decline or don't respond to your pitch. If you've developed strong relationships, it's likely a reporter will say why he or she is declining your idea to help inform future pitches. If this happens, say thank you for the time spent considering your idea. You can also ask for feedback on your pitch if it's not freely offered. Don't get annoyed; just keep bringing your media contacts good ideas. It's also important to keep in mind the shifting nature of the news cycle. Sometimes it's just not possible for reporters to answer every email.
The bottom line: Build a mutually beneficial relationship
Successful public relations programs are built on relationships—with clients, other firms, the community, and the media. Although social media interaction and targeted pitches are important, it takes time, patience, and intention to build truly meaningful connections with reporters.
As Valentine's Day approaches, it's the perfect time to reflect on all of the relationships in your life. Consider how you can incorporate these best[practices into your media relations efforts. PR professionals who do will find that their media contacts appreciate the effort, leading to improved results and happy clients.
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