Media Relations: How to Forge a Positive Relationship with the Media
You’ve put countless days and nights into building your brand, perfecting your product and coming up with a killer story. Now you’re ready to let the world know about it.
You’re excited to send your pitch to the media. After all, your business proposition is brilliant. Journalists won’t be able to resist writing about it, right? Wrong.
I’m not saying your business isn’t brilliant, it may well be. The problem is creating something brilliant isn’t enough to guarantee you media coverage. Sometimes less brilliant businesses get more media coverage because they’ve invested the time and effort into building relationships with the media, otherwise known as media relations.
This is a savvy move. Think about it. Journalists get bombarded with hundreds of pitches every day. When they’re up against it and need to fill some space or grab a quote for a story related to your industry, who are they more likely to turn to? A random stranger or someone they’ve developed a rapport with? It’s a no-brainer.
So how do you build relationships with the media and ensure your brand is top of mind when they need a story or quote? With a killer public relations and media relations strategy.
What’s the definition of media relations?
Media relations focuses on building relationships between brands and the media, whether that’s editors and reporters at online and print media outlets, or producers from TV and radio stations.
So what’s the relationship between public relations and media relations?
Media relations and public relations are not the same thing. Media relations is employed by public relations pros as part of an overall PR strategy, in order to build relationships between brands and their stakeholders.
How to improve your media relations
Lay the groundwork
As media relations is a subset of PR, it relies on strong relationships to be effective. And, as we all know, any meaningful relationship takes time and effort to build.
To earn the trust of the media, you need to play the long game. So, it’ll serve you well to invest time and effort into getting to know your media contacts way before you have a story for them.
Start by familiarising yourself with their work. Connect with them on LinkedIn, follow them on social media and take the time to read, like and comment on their posts.
This doesn’t just go for social media. If they have a personal blog, follow it. Comment on their articles if you have some value to add. This will not only help them recognise your name, it will show you’re interested in what they’re writing. Do this over a period of months and they should start recognising your name.
When you’re reading the journalists’ work, take note of the tone in which they write. Are they dry and factually driven? Do they write with a sense of humour? You’ll want to use this information and match their tone when you reach out to them.
Take it offline
Once you’ve touched base online, it’s time to take the relationship offline. After all, nothing trumps face-to-face interaction. Seek out opportunities to meet key journalists at industry events, tradeshows, and conferences. They’re always looking to build new connections in the industry or niche they write about, and industry events are a great place to strike up a conversation. But be respectful. If you manage to grab a journalist’s attention, don’t assume they have time to talk there and then. Ask them when is a good time to call or offer to meet at a time that suits them.
If you’re pushy, the relationship might be over before it’s started.
Nail your pitch
Once you’ve laid the groundwork, it’s time to take your relationship to the next level and pitch your story. But you need to tread carefully, as one rookie mistake could ruin all the hard work you’ve put in so far.
Before you even think about contacting reporters, you need to nail your pitch. If it’s not concise, compelling and engaging, it won’t see the light of day, no matter how friendly you are with the media.
A good place to start is the elevator pitch: a 30-second overview of your business, products, services and story. Whether you’re pitching by email or phone, you only have a short amount of time to make an impression, so, knowing exactly what you want to say will ensure you don’t fumble, go blank, or say something irrelevant.
If you’re struggling to do this, think about how a journalist might introduce your story. Try not to get bogged down with jargon; imagine you’re telling a friend your story over coffee.
For more on perfecting your pitch, read: How to be Pitch Perfect: 5 Golden Rules for Pitching to the Press
Six golden rules for ongoing effective media relations
You submitted your pitch and got a call saying your story has made the cut – congrats. But the way you handle yourself now is crucial.
Here are six golden rules of effective media relations to keep those journos onside:
1. Be nice
This might seem obvious but being frosty with the press will get you nowhere. Even when they’re difficult to deal with, you should always treat them with the same politeness and respect as anyone else, even if you’re not getting it back. Remember, they are doing you a favour by covering your story.
That’s not to say you should be a pushover or pander to them. But if you’re easy and pleasant to work with, it’ll work in your favour.
2. Be timely
As mentioned earlier, journalists are extremely busy people with strict deadlines. If you leave them hanging, you’ll lose credibility and they’ll move on to another story. If they’re doing you the courtesy of including your company in an upcoming piece, you need to respond promptly and have all the information readily available.
What information, you ask? Usable quotes, high-quality images of your workspace and employees, or a media kit are useful. Also, you should always be available to hop on a call with a journalist. No matter how busy you are, making the time for an urgent 15-minute phone call can mean the difference between a full-page article or your story only ending up on the company blog.
Be mindful of the fact that journalists are up against it by respecting or beating their deadlines.
3. Be yourself
If you want the media to trust you, be your authentic self. Don’t spin, overhype or be disingenuous. Editors and journalists are no-nonsense bloodhounds when it comes to sniffing out insincerity. They know a media-trained façade when they see one. Be polished and professional but let your personality shine through.
4. Be transparent
Being transparent isn’t the same as being yourself. Being transparent with the media means being forthcoming, open, and honest. If you get caught withholding information, using evasion tactics or hiding facts, the truth will come out and it won’t bode well for your media relations.
Have integrity in all your dealings with the media. It’ll earn you respect in the short run, and trust in the long run. Exactly what you need for a strong working relationship with the media.
5. Be patient
Once you’ve sent a press release, it’s tempting to make a follow-up phone call as it’s pinged across. Don’t. There’s a very clear line between being persistent and being an irritant. Try to keep the bulk of your contact restricted to emails and keep phone calls to a minimum.
If they don’t get back to you immediately, don’t fret. Journos are bombarded with press releases daily, so it might take a while to see yours.
Also, if they choose not to run with your story, accept it, don’t challenge it. The best way to get yourself into the media’s bad books is by harassing or arguing with them.
6. Be proactive
One of the best ways to keep the media sweet is by making their job easy. Do this by anticipating their needs. What might they ask for in addition to the information you’ve sent? Statistics? Images? Video? Testimonials? Also, make sure your spokesperson is trained, rehearsed and available to speak whenever a journo comes knocking.
You need to be ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice, as that might be all you get.
Don’t forget: You need the media more than they need you
Through all your dealings with the media, remember that they don’t owe you anything. If you get some coverage, be thankful for it.
Media relations no-no’s
As well as knowing what to say and do to keep the media onside, you also need to know how to avoid incurring their wrath. If you rub them up the wrong way, there’s a queue of other businesses waiting for their moment in the spotlight.
With this in mind, here are some things to avoid saying and doing to keep your media relations on track:
‘Can you call me back about this another day?’
Nothing brings forth the gnashing of journalistic teeth quite like being asked to call back. With rapidly diminishing newsrooms and mounting pressure to write more and more stories, journalists have far less time on their hands than they used to.
When a journalist asks to interview you about your product, service or company, don’t let the opportunity slip away. Ask the journalist to call you back, or come to the office another day, and you can kiss your media coverage goodbye.
So, treat journalists as you would a well-respected venture capitalist thinking of making an investment in your company. They’re doing you a big favour by including you in their publication.
Quite simply, ‘no comment’ smacks of guilt and suggests you have something to hide. There are many ways to handle a tricky question, but ‘no comment’ is not one of them. It will pique the journalist’s interest and they’ll probe you further until they get an answer they’re satisfied with, whether you like it or not.
‘This part is off the record’
If you don’t want to read it on the internet, or in a newspaper, don’t say it. Unless specifically agreed upon, anything you say is fair game. And, believe me, if it’s juicy, it’s going into the story. Need evidence? We all know what happened to Donald Trump and Billy Bush back in 2005, when their disturbing conversation about sexual assault was caught on tape. Trump was alleged to have bragged about kissing, groping and trying to have sex with women, saying ‘when you’re a star, they let you do it.’
Despite his attempts to sue, it was perfectly legal for these comments to be made public.
Of course, this is an extreme example, but the same goes for emails, text messages, even post-it notes: anything you say or write down may be included in the article. Those angry Tweets? They’re going in. Those private Facebook messages? Front page news. In fact, anything you say may be used for or against you, so always think before you speak, Tweet or email.
‘I want to approve what you write before it goes to print’
Although it may be nerve-wracking, once the interview has ended and the notepad closed, you have no control over the outcome. Of course, you want a great write-up. But it’s a journalist’s prerogative to write his or her own story, and you can’t expect to have any influence. Their loyalty isn’t to you, but to their editor and readers.
Occasionally, a reporter may call to double-check a fact for accuracy, but that will be as far as it goes. So, avoid the temptation, and just wait for the story to come out.
If there are genuine mistakes, by all means get in touch and politely explain what should be corrected. Most journalists will gladly add a note and correction to the article, indicating that errors occurred.
Get professional media relations advice
Building strong relationships with the media and delivering killer pitches will go a long way to getting your news in the limelight. Put these media relations tips to use, and you’ll be well on your way to accomplishing both.
Want some expert help? Get in touch with PR Superstar and I’ll work my media relations magic.