Media Relations – The Aikido of PR

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By Jason Ledder, VP/Media Relations, R&J Public Relations

As our agency grows and the training of new employees continues, I find myself constantly reminded of the subtle techniques that can separate a really good media relations professional from the pack.    I have always preached to our team that there is rarely a need for an over the top, hard sales pitch; if you find yourself in that dire need for a hit, you’ve already failed your client.  We are media relations professionals and a large portion of our jobs is dedicated to building long lasting, fruitful relationships with the media.

I spent the recent long weekend with some friends and we got to talking about work, our careers, family, new activities and such.  One of my friends has recently gotten into Aikido, the martial art of redirecting the force of the attacker rather than opposing it head-on.  As he told me more about the pushing and pulling of energy to change his opponent’s direction, I got to thinking about how this applies to media relations.  All too often we are so eager to land that big story in the media, that we forget to pull back and listen to what the journalist is actually saying to us.  The trick is to understand that your story may not happen today, the way you would prefer, but if you listen closely and react, it will often pay benefits for you and your client down the road – resulting in many more stories later on, and a much better and deeper relationship with that journalist.

Here are a few things that I try to keep reminding our staff (and myself) when approaching the media:

  • Journalists are people too.  They are overworked, under appreciated and seriously underpaid.
  • Most are not mean spirited; they are just extremely busy and are constantly defending their jobs, stories, numbers of click-throughs, etc. – all while trying to keep pace with more and more online competition arising every day (not to mention the constant pressure of monetizing their content via ad sales).
  • Whether they work for a small blog or the New York Times, they are still a professional and need to be treated with respect.   You have information and they need information to fill interesting stories that their readers/listeners/viewers will find relevant.  Find the right balance, shut up and listen.  More on that here: and here:
  • Their day-to-day is NOT like yours.  I am well aware that 9 to 5 may not exist in your world (and in PR it rarely does), but your deadlines are different than theirs.  If you catch them at a bad time, apologize, ask what time would work better, follow-up professionally – and again apologize.
  • Remember what my mother always told me, you can change the world with a smile, a please and a thank you – As long as you actually mean it.
  • Don’t beat them up; they have a bigger voice than you (no matter how many social media followers you have).

Interestingly enough, as I continued my top-level research on Aikido, I learned that one of the ultimate goals is to create an art that practitioners could use to defend themselves while also protecting their attacker from injury.  I may be drawing some crazy parallels here with attackers and PR/Media people, but the next time you pick up the phone, consider all parts of the equation, protect yourself, your client, your agency and the individual journalist.  And remember: we all need to live to fight another day, even if we get put on the mat a few times.

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