The Art of Media Relations

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

Years ago, public relations professionals used to interview on the strength of their “book,” basically a compilation of business cards collected over the course of their career, contacts they had successes with, and hits they secured.   While technology has helped move us away from the physical book, the idea of touting your relationships remains timeless.

While I’ve often seen media relations done extraordinarily well by colleagues and peers, it pains me when I see some individuals in our industry disrespecting basic rules of civility, giving PR people a bad name.  These are the ones who are constantly pitching in an unstructured, haphazard way, pushing too hard and doing anything to simply get the hit that day.  While I fully understand the pressure these people can be under from their clients and superiors, it’s painful to watch.  If you get a quick hit to satisfy a client today, but burn a bridge by being too obnoxious or pushy, where is the value?  A strong media relations professional can build lifelong relationships with their contacts.  By showing a journalist real value and becoming a trusted source, go-to PR person or a friend, a truly strong relationship with a media contact can be one of the best tools in a professional’s arsenal.

So how do you do it?  Adjust the golden rule a bit; do you like getting phone calls at dinner from someone selling you a subscription to the Sunday Times?  Do you like your alma mater hitting you up for donations while you’re still paying off your student loans?  Probably not.  The key to building a long lasting relationship is understanding and respecting what your contacts are going through, personally and professionally.  With the changing pace of the news cycle, skeleton staffs and razor thin budgets, the media is under more pressure than ever to deliver timely content.  I always encourage my team here to think about several things before they begin an email or pick up a call.  Some of these are:

  • Do we have a real story to tell?
  • Will this call/email make the reporters life easier or harder?
  • When do they put the publication or show to bed / will they be on a deadline?
  • Are you providing them with a complete story – one that their readers/viewers will value – or just shamelessly pitching your product/service?
  • Why does their audience care about your client/product/service?

Yesterday I did one of my favorite things: a series of informal media meetings.  A colleague joined me as we went to meet a number of my closer friends in the media.  Together we knew the stories that we wanted to tell and pitches that we needed to sell, but because of the relationships that we have with the media we didn’t go in with a formalized agenda.  Over a cup of coffee we caught up on their personal lives, listened to them vent about their workloads, and talked about our clients’ industries in general.  From there, we collectively found ways to insert our clients into the journalists’ coverage.  As a result, the stories will be larger, more influential trend-type pieces and in the end our clients will win.  We didn’t over sell.  We didn’t over promise.  And we did what we said we would.  We got them the information they wanted, when they wanted it and how they wanted it.

Nobody likes pushy sales people.  If you want to be successful in this industry, don’t become a pushy PR person.

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