It Doesn’t Have To Be a Love/Hate Relationship
June 28, 2016
Journalists and public relations professionals seem to have a type of love/hate relationship. The two sides need each other, but they sometimes interact with an us-versus-them attitude.
Just as PR pros are not simply “flacks” who want to spin nothing into a story or cover-up a corporate misdeed, reporters are not just a necessary evil that invades your privacy and takes you out of context. The key to successful media relations is to get beyond stereotypes and try to build relationships. Why be adversarial? It’s better to understand each other’s needs and work together. That way both sides benefit.
Reporters are people too.
Get to know the media professionals you want to target. Do some research. Follow them on social media. Get to know the most influential media people who would cover your news. What types of stories do they write? Do they usually approach them from a particular angle? Do they have any other interests that you could leverage? What do you know about them on a personal level? Try to see them as individuals, as human beings. It’ll make it easier to build a good working relationship.
Let them get to know you too. Proactively offer yourself as a trusted resource. Give them access. Invite them for an informal visit to your organization. Introduce them to your star players. In today’s digital 24/7 news environment, they may not have time for lunch, but there are other ways you can try to forge a positive connection.
Understand the reporter’s world.
Recognize that reporters are not the enemy. They’re not out to get you. They’re not out to deliberately burn you. They’re just doing their job. And that job is not always easy. They have to get their heads around a topic, research it, find interviews, pull together a story, make it fit their primary format and then feed several social media platforms… often in a day or less.
One of the first things you can do to build a better relationship with reporters is to be mindful of the unprecedented pressures they face trying to feed the insatiable media machine. More than most professions, their work is extremely deadline-driven. That’s why it’s so important to understand and respect a reporter’s deadlines.
Help them do their job. If you’re the contact person noted on the press release, be available not only when you’re on the clock at work or when it suits you. The media should always be able to reach you. Having to leave numerous voicemails or having emails bounce back because you’re now on vacation is frustrating for someone scrambling on deadline. And, if there’s a request for an interview or more details, you should be able to accommodate them in a timely fashion.
The focus for many media relations practitioners is often restricted to “pitching”. PR professionals try to persuade, charm, influence reporters to get the coverage they want for their company or their client. Unfortunately, they’re often not as friendly or helpful when the roles are reversed and it’s the reporter who initiates a story that may not be as positive.
Realize how important it is to also be accessible when the news is not necessarily good. Return their call. Work within their deadline. Use the opportunity they offer to provide them with accurate information. I’ve heard of so many cases where reporters get the runaround. They exchange several emails with the PR person during the course of a day and end up with no interviews, no answers and no statements…nothing of substance to use in their report. The lack of a timely response never reflects well on an organization. And, trust me, the runaround will likely become a key element of the story.
It’s not always easy to respond quickly. Sometimes the people you need to connect with aren’t easy to reach. Sometimes the information is simply not available. If that’s the case, why not say that rather than leave a void. Transparency is another way to forge better relationships with journalists. The same can be said for being truthful.
A little respect goes a long way.
It all comes down to attitude and mutual respect. Cross the Great Divide…it’s worthwhile to build relationships with the media. It makes it easier to pitch positive stories and so much easier to manage negative news.