Media offers chance to show relationship-building acumen

I was recently asked if I had advice for young pros trying to make lasting relationships with members of the news media.

I was recently asked if I had advice for young pros trying to make lasting relationships with members of the news media. As this person explained it, junior staffers are usually assigned the quick pitches e-mailed to a list of targets with whom the staffer may not be personally familiar. "Each of these pitches carries with it both the agency brand and my personal brand," he said. "How can I use this opportunity to develop a longer-term professional relationship?"

While the answer isn't simple, the question itself reveals that this young man has already developed a valuable insight. One of the lasting keys to professional success is developing and maintaining personal relationships with stakeholders, and some of the most important relationships are with reporters, producers, and other journalists.

In responding to his question, my starting point is the very process he describes, that is the "e-mailed quick pitch." When I have spoken to reporters about pet peeves, one of the biggest gripes is with the blind pitch, whether by e-mail, fax, or phone. Young pros will add true value to any pitch by taking time to dig more deeply, researching the list of reporters, studying the publications and broadcast outlets on the list, and ensuring that the release is properly targeted.

Of course that presents a management challenge, in that the junior person must be candid with his or her manager about time commitments and deadlines, while management must allocate enough hours to do the research a quality pitch requires.

The staffer should spend time narrowing the list to those who have the most credibility and influence. In the age of new media, one must cast a wider net, considering the most influential bloggers along with more traditional journalists. Most critically, the staffer must learn as much as practical about the overall context into which this pitch is being thrust. When I speak to journalists about their frustrations with young pros, they very often state most don't do enough homework. As one seasoned editor told me, "So often when I speak to junior people, it is apparent early in the conversation that they have never looked at my publication, and they have no idea what interests our readers."

Once the e-mails and phone calls begin, the staffer will gain credibility by citing some relevant articles the journalist has written that relate directly to the client's product or service. The closer the match the more likely the conversation will last more than a minute.

To foster sustained relationships, the staffer must be responsive, accessible, and absolutely honest in promising only what he or she is certain can be delivered. Journalists will usually forgive honest mistakes, but they will long remember a broken commitment.

Building meaningful relationships with journalists provides many lessons that can later be applied in developing networks with employees, shareholders, customers, and community leaders. Those who recognize this and act on it are ahead of their colleagues in establishing strong foundations for their careers.

Tom Martin
is an executive-in-residence, Department of Communication, The College of Charleston. He also serves as a senior counselor for Feldman & Partners. He can be reached at martintr@cofc.edu.

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