PR TECHNIQUE: MEDIA RELATIONS - Attention! How to get on journalists’ radar screens. With the proliferation of media outlets, there are more places than ever to place stories. But that doesn’t mean getting journalists’ attention ha

If knowledge is power and time is money, few professions endure greater imbalance than journalism. Reporters wielding the might of the pen suffer acutely from information overload, and we all know Bill Gates never wrote a lead on deadline.

If knowledge is power and time is money, few professions endure greater imbalance than journalism. Reporters wielding the might of the pen suffer acutely from information overload, and we all know Bill Gates never wrote a lead on deadline.

If knowledge is power and time is money, few professions endure

greater imbalance than journalism. Reporters wielding the might of the

pen suffer acutely from information overload, and we all know Bill Gates

never wrote a lead on deadline.

Through the barrage of press releases and the din of perky voices, the

reporter yearns for what will make her job easier if not more lucrative:

less useless information and more time. Providing both is probably the

best way to get in - and stay in - a reporter’s good graces. In

addition, there’s a panoply of things you can do to get on a

journalist’s radar screen.

Saving reporters time and providing them with information they can use

boils down to solid media relations basics: Do your homework, both on

the reporters you target and the subjects you pitch. Present your

message well, whether in an inverted pyramid press release or a

carefully planned verbal appeal. Above all, always respond promptly.

Media relations is less a who-you-know business than a what-you-know

business, theorizes Edward Segal, author of Getting Your 15 Minutes of

Fame and More! ’It doesn’t matter if you are a lifelong friend of Dan

Rather if you don’t have a good story,’ Segal says. Nuisance calls

threaten friendships, agrees Bodine Williams, Hill & Knowlton’s New York

media director.

On-going relationships are important, however, especially in a


Reporters are more likely to take your calls if they know your name,

Williams notes.

Trade shows and professional association meetings may not be ideal

venues for getting to know journalists. Charles Bellfield, marcomm

director for Sega of America, notes that his staff scheduled more than

600 meetings with reporters during a recent trade show. Making lasting

impressions in a wholesale ’meet market’ isn’t likely. And busy

reporters seldom have time for such events. Even at a Society of

Professional Journalists meeting, you could end up encountering more PR

people than reporters, says John Gonzalez, an Austin correspondent for

the Houston Chronicle.

’See them in their own surroundings,’ advises Bellfield, who advocates

personal visits to newsrooms. But please call first, Gonzalez asks. ’We

don’t like it when they just walk in.’ Jade Boyd, managing editor for

M/C/C in Dallas and a former UPI reporter, says he is more likely to put

a face with a name if he has heard the voice on the phone first.

Making contact when you don’t need anything can help build

relationships, just don’t call on deadline. Williams sends thank yous

for well-written stories, invites reporters to events and introduces

them to potential sources. PR pros can also earn Brownie points by

following industry trends, keeping up with reporters’ interests and

forwarding relevant tidbits, Boyd notes.

As with any other relationship, trust is the cornerstone. Beyond the

obvious (not lying), building trust means making good on promises and

meeting reporters’ deadlines.

Don’t promise your clients what you can’t deliver, either. An

infinitesimal percentage of press releases get covered in The New York

Times. Holly Hagerman, a partner with Connect PR in San Francisco,

preaches precision targeting. ’If you are going after a journalist, a

shot-gun or a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work.’ Do your homework

to identify publications that might realistically cover your story.

Provide opportunities for exclusives when you can.

Blanket e-mails also are no-nos, unless you are sending out media

advisories for bona fide press events, writes Susan Kohl of Sierra

Communications in her book Getting Attention. Nonessential messages will

be deleted as spam. An effective e-mail query is written like a good

news story - an attention-grabbing head (the subject line) and an

informative lead (the first two sentences). Include details in the first

e-mail contact instead of waiting for reporters to reply, suggests Doug

Levy, senior editor for

PR pros shouldn’t bother calling if they aren’t prepared to answer

journalists’ follow-up questions and provide materials necessary to do

the story. TV producers need visuals and radio reporters need sound.

Make sure both are immediately available.

Being known by reporters is often more important than knowing them,

Segal points out. He recommends buying listings in directories like The

Yearbook of Experts, Authorities and Spokespersons. Boyd says he most

often called PR firms as a reporter when he needed expert sources. A

good Web site also is essential. ’The Internet has revolutionized the

way we research, and that includes how we find spokespeople,’ says

Gonzalez, who likes sites with archived press releases. ’A lot of times

the Web pages eliminate the need for human contact.’

But a common pet peeve among journalists is Web sites that don’t list

phone numbers. ’If you are not willing to put up all appropriate contact

information, it’s not worth doing in the first place,’ Segal says. ’It

will frustrate the journalist and put you in a bad light.’ Levy picks a

bone with ’online press rooms’ that require passwords, although he

understands the occasional need to provide more information to the press

than to the general public. The longer it takes the reporter to find the

information the more likely he is to drop your story and move on to the


Any good relationship is built on mutual understanding, including those

between publicists and reporters. Journalists claim too few PR pros

understand what they do all day, and news sense can be hard to teach. It

all goes back to information and time - the time it takes reporters to

weed through dozens of press releases, voice messages and e-mails every


’You’ve got to make a good impression to begin with, i.e., not wasting

their time and not pitching them stupid stories,’ Boyd concludes.



1. Come up with a feature angle and try again in a couple of weeks if a

reporter isn’t immediately interested in your story.

2. Read what a journalist has written before pitching them a story.

3. Put your press kit on your Web page.

4. Pitch what you can provide - artwork, b-roll, executive interviews,

expert analysis, etc.


1. Bombard a newsroom with faxes, individual e-mails and repeat phone


2. Send out a broadcast fax on a new product unless you are announcing a

newsworthy event.

3. ’Bury the lead’ on your Web page; make important details hard to


4. Call a radio reporter unless you can immediately provide a

spokesperson for a taped interview.

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