How to Build Relationships with Journalists – from Scratch

On the PhoneHow in the world do you build a relationship with a new journalist? How do you go from just a name in an inbox to a trusted resource? 7 expert communicators (from around the country and globe) answered this very question. I’ve compiled their answers here to share their tips on building the kind of relationships that will lead to repeat coverage for your business or your clients.

Robert Sax, Los Angeles – First, read the journalists who are covering your category and get to know what they write about. Connect any way you can to introduce yourself and your company and give a few examples of the news that you will have to offer in the future, and make sure it’s what they are interested in. These days it’s hard to reach journalists by phone, so email, LinkedIn, etc. are the best ways to start. Go to events, trade shows, etc. where you might be able to meet the journalists in person. Don’t expect a journalist to respond to every press release, and don’t pester them by following up on releases. It may take a while for them to get to know your news and find it interesting…many of them get hundreds of releases a day! Remember that you are starting a relationship and that takes time.

John Kalkowski, Chicago – Try to develop ongoing relationships with key journalists who are deeply involved covering areas that involve your clients and their products. Press releases can be sent to many news outlets, and some will pick them up. However, if you plan release of a new product or an announcement, you might be able to turn to some of these key journalists and prepare them in advance to achieve better coverage. This might include an advance interview that is embargoed until the news is released. Another possibility is to offer them an exclusive case study. This is worthwhile if the journalist represents the best outlet for your information to reach a maximum targeted audience. You will also be surprised how this builds loyalty with those journalists. They will listen when you make a pitch.

Sally Falkow, Los Angeles – I just moderated the media panel at the PR News Media Relations Next Practices conference in DC. This question was asked and everyone on the panel said 1. Know my publication and my audience 2. Connect with me on social media first – comment on my blog, follow me on Twitter and/or LinkedIn. 3. Start the relationship – don’t pitch right off the bat. 4. Send an intro email, without a pitch. If you have sources or experts let me know. 5. Once I know who you are send me a relevant, newsworthy pitch.

Mike Shamrell, Boston – It’s always helpful to postion yourself as a resource, someone who can provide them with information to help them do their jobs – for instance, when reaching out to a new contact it might be helpful to say “just spotted your article on (topic), we have some recent research in this area” or “we have several clients that would be willing to discuss their experience in this area.” Once they view you as a resource it will be much easier to build a relationship and, hopefully, secure more coverage for your company. And I would agree with previous posts – email is the best method to initiate contact, and a follow-up phone call is not a great idea (despite what your marketing counterparts may tell you)…the “follow-up phone call” is usually the #1 pet peeve among journalists, and be counter-productive in your efforts to establish a relationship.
As for finding them – do a Google News and Yahoo News search for your keywords and see who writes about that subject.

Ken Gullette, Illinois – Google can be your friend here. When you find out who covers your beat, Google them and read some of their articles — find out how they write and look at the focus of their stories. And if there’s one you think is really good, keep that in mind. Once you realize they really do cover your type of stories, send an email and introduce yourself briefly, tell them briefly about the stories your company might generate, and let them know they will hear from you occasionally. One time, I set up a cup of coffee with an Associated Press reporter in New York City. He came outside and we talked while they were filming an episode of Law and Order behind us. We told war stories about being in news and connected. There was no pressure. As he was walking back into the building, I asked if he would be interested in coming out to Iowa to go inside meetings where they were creating a new ACT test. He said that sounded interesting and I promised to follow up. I did and he convinced his editors to let him fly out. It was amazing publicity in papers all over the nation. But it started with a personal contact — no pressure — and I tried to find a story no one else had covered. It worked. We are still friends even though I’m not at ACT anymore.

Sean Crowley – @EveryDayFactoid As a former journalist, I think the most important thing you can do is make yourself valuable to journalists by providing new story angles, helping them personalize stories and providing unique information. For top priority journalists whom you don;t have time to reach out in advance, I suggest sending news release with a brief intro of three sentences or less of why story is relevant to their previous coverage and their audience. Since journalists get hundreds of emails every day, they tend to delete or dismiss emails from unknown sources, so I would call to introduce yourself, and explain that you just sent an email and wanted to ensure he/she saw it and repeat the email intro. Even if you get voicemail, leave a message as if you were speaking to them live, but keep it very short, under 30 seconds, preferably 15 seconds. Some may disagree with calling journalists, but as long as you’re respectful of their limited time and especially deadlines (don’t call late in the day), I think you won’t offend them and build a personal relationship sooner.

Zindziswe Morris-Alleyne @zindziMATrinidad Always start with the relationships and end with the work. I find that the editors who put my stuff in the press are always people that I took the time to get to know at events. I work in economic development and oftentimes people focus on networking with power players and they don’t take the time to get to know the media people. I also check up on my journos from time to time when I don’t need their help – a quick phone call or a short email is fine, it’s really the courtesy that matters.

PR does have a certain element of science to it, and there are metrics believe it or not, but it is still largely about relationships, and genuine ones at that.

What are your tips? Share in the comments.

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