Media relationships: 3 simple rules for connecting with journalists

by | Feb 3, 2023 | Public Relations

Imagine for a moment what reporters are tasked with daily—the endless pressure of new deadlines, sourcing stories, scheduling interviews and quickly turning around multiple stories. If that’s not enough, journalists can receive nearly 100 PR pitches each day, most of which are irrelevant, uninteresting or careless enough to deserve the dreaded #PRFail public shaming on social media.

As media relations professionals, we should build lasting relationships with reporters by demonstrating and delivering value over time, not just when we want coverage on the latest product release, company announcement or trend story.

To effectively forge a working rapport with reporters, it’s imperative to remember these three simple rules:

1. Engage and check in

I’m embarrassed to admit that as a junior PR practitioner it took me a long time to realize “pitching” and “media relations” weren’t the same thing. Pitching is merely one aspect of well-rounded media relations, which should extend far beyond the act of sending out a pre-approved pitch and making a follow-up call. Ensure the relationship is a two-way street, that you’re not only approaching them when “you” need something.

Consider planning coffee meetings with reporters to learn their focus areas and interests, as a journalist and as an individual. Set up periodic check-ins so they can learn about new changes with your company or clients, and to get a sense of their preferred method of communication for various stories. Do they prefer written comments or interviews? Do they want phone calls or texts for breaking news, or would they prefer an email?

Additionally, read their articles and let them know your thoughts. Identify stories you find interesting and engage in a dialogue via email or on social media platforms. That’s it—no catch. Don’t plug a client or spokesperson. This is a genuine way to share that you appreciate the work they’re doing and show that you recognize their work, whether it includes your subject matter expert (SME) or not.

2. Be authentic

Of course, if you’re going to tell a reporter you liked their article, it would be wise to have actually read it. You can’t fake authenticity. Be sure that whenever you’re communicating with a reporter (or anyone) you truly believe what you’re saying.

Find a mutual interest, and don’t be afraid to mention it when speaking with or emailing them. If you went to the same university or like the same sports team, add a P.S. to your pitch. A simple gesture like this can show you took the time to learn a bit about them and adds a flavor of personality outside of seeking coverage for a client.

3. Listen to them

Lastly, pay attention to what they share with you. If they tell you not to offer interviews, don’t offer interviews. If they prefer to receive pre-drafted statements, send them pre-drafted statements. This seems like the simplest of the three rules, but I’m surprised to hear stories of reporters constantly receiving pitches in categories they’ve already indicated aren’t a fit. Pay attention to their preferences and adjust how you interact with them accordingly. This means you’ll need to tailor your outreach based on who you’re pitching (a novel concept, I know).

As a communications professional, the ability to build relationships with members of the media is one of the most valuable skills you can have in your portfolio. It can launch or further a career and will help elevate your company or client’s presence in the media. However, like any other relationship, media connections are built on trust and experience working together. Put yourself in a reporter’s shoes and remember that a successful working relationship is a two-way street.

Mike Atkinson
Mike Atkinson is an Account Director at Sage Communications, where he works to establish Sage as a trusted advisor to clients in the cybersecurity, government and technology verticals. He’s led strategic communications efforts for major technology and cybersecurity companies, including Splunk, Okta, Dell Technologies, SpyCloud, Lookout and more. Outside of the office, Mike volunteers PR services to Homeward Trails Animal Rescue in Fairfax, VA, and is an engaged mentor for future PR professionals at his alma mater, West Virginia University.