“It’s not you; it’s me.”
It’s one of the greatest relationship cop-out lines ever, so commonly used that it has its own Urban Dictionary entry. In my single days, I would have loved to have used it had every girl I ever dated not dumped me on my rear.
Beyond the obvious use, it’s also reflective of why many media relations pros struggle to land the quality placements demanded of them by clients and superiors (on the corporate side). Indeed, a self-absorbed approach to media fails to focus on the all-important you—or what the reporter cares about—and instead tends to start with their own needs at that moment and what they are pitching—in other words, the me.
“Frankly, many media relations people appear to be just going through the motions,” one longtime NPR veteran told me. “They need to stop confusing their lame-ass event or pitch with news.”
Lame-ass? Sadly, yes, oftentimes. But while it’s easy to criticize, it’s harder to recognize that we all must deal with our own pressures. A client or senior executive says they want to have a “steady flow of news announcements”, and we are often left to attempt to manufacture that news.
“[The media relations people] contact a list of reporters at major publications or journalists who have covered something even territorially related to their client’s field, and they think it’s sufficient,” the NPR staffer added. “Those folks couldn’t be more wrong.”
Whether it’s a specific amount of news releases per month (ee-gad!) or pitching the same reporters ad nauseum over and over again, the list of bad ideas goes on and on. So what’s a more effective approach? Effective alternatives require three primary attributes:
- Begin by making your approach about the reporter. Try to actually care about what they care about first and foremost. Write an email introducing yourself, and say you work with a company in the vertical they cover and want to understand what they look for in a quality story topic.
- Be patient. Rome was not built in a day. Neither was Delaware. So, condition your clients to know that building reputation via earned media takes time—sometimes several months or even years, in the absence of major news.
- Invest in the relationships with reporters. Have coffee, lunch, drinks or whatever you can get. Human beings are three dimensional, and any relationship—professional or otherwise—requires work and a focus on getting to know one another rather than simply thinking you’ll hop right into the sack.
Recently, I was asked to help pitch a feature story about a well-positioned, yet little-known industrial company to media. My approach? Instead of trying to convince reporters they were the greatest thing ever, I took the slow and steady route. This is what I wrote via email to a senior editor at a major daily whom I know fairly well:
“Hey, sorry to bother you but I’m looking for some direction. I’d like to broker an intro conversation between a client and someone there. I’m not looking to pitch a specific story—just start a relationship and intro their management.”
The next step is to connect the CEO of the client with the right reporter—in this case, someone who focuses on manufacturing. Again, you’re not pitching the “Hail Mary” story—just the introduction, the get to know you, the slow dance. Next, perhaps you get a quote in a round-up story. It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s progress and it positions management as thought leaders. Finally, in theory, you build that relationship, the reporter finds a nugget that interests him or her, and perhaps you get a larger, more significant placement or an ongoing series of pieces that better position the company or brand.
“Most people I talk to aren’t giving me any reason to care at all,” said the NPR reporter. “But good PR is very much influenced by personal relationships that give me a reason to care.”
Ultimately, patience is the key in this dating game of effective media relations. Just remember, it’s not you, it’s me.
Guest contributor Aaron Perlut is Founding Partner at Elasticity.