Journalists say it again and again—the most effective PR pros are the ones with whom they’ve established long-term relationships. The trick, of course, is establishing those relationships in the first place. What’s the magic formula that makes them happen?
I wouldn’t call it magic, but there is a recipe that will work with many journalists. Here are the key ingredients:
Like any relationship, forging ties with journalists takes time. The time varies depending on the journalist and the party you’re representing, but don’t expect it to happen overnight. Recognize that you’re in it for the long haul. Patience also means recognizing that some pitches might not bear fruit for weeks or months after you send them. And If the journalist doesn’t respond, don’t badger them. Don’t argue if they tell you the pitch doesn’t work for them. Accept the loss and move on.
Read their work. Know what topics they cover. Know their audience. And then tailor your pitches so they realize that you’re communicating with them as individuals, not as random names on a mailing list.
3. News judgment
If you want to deliver pitches that are on target, knowing the journalist is only half the battle. The other half is news judgment: Recognizing what makes a good story. This is highly subjective; a journalist might think the idea is good, only to be shot down by an editor. Luck also plays a role: Your pitch might arrive on a slow news day, or it might hit when a journalist happens to be working on a compatible topic. And the cruel reality of PR is that some clients are more newsworthy than others. But even if your pitch doesn’t score, it should at least be in the ballpark.
Return calls and emails promptly, even if you’re not in a position to help, and even if the journalist isn’t from an A-list outlet. Today’s cub reporter from the Hicksville Post could be tomorrow’s New York Times correspondent. They’ll remember the PR pros who came through for them, and the ones who didn’t.
Honor your commitments, and don’t make promises you can’t keep. Keep the journalist in the loop if unexpected glitches prevent you from setting up an interview or coming through with requested information.
Journalists respect PR pros who are knowledgeable about the topics or clients they’re pitching. You don’t have to be able answer every question, but you should be able to answer the basic ones. Establish yourself as a valuable resource in your field, even if the query doesn’t necessarily involve a current client.
Keep the lines of communication open, even if the journalist writes stories that cast your client or organization in a negative light. When responding to negative coverage, be respectful and stick to the facts.
Take advantage of any opportunities to meet at conferences, trade shows or other events. When establishing relationships, nothing beats personal, face-to-face interaction.
This is the final ingredient: Doing the above on a consistent basis over time. It means being consistently trustworthy and consistently responsive. It means consistently delivering pitches that are on target or at least not too far off the mark. At a certain point, journalists will recognize that you’re in the elite as one of the PR pros who “get it.”