Master Class: What are the secrets to building effective relationships with today's modern media?

Treat members of the media as partners, and work to maintain long-term relationships.


David Gorodetski
Cofounder, COO, and executive creative director, Sage Communications

Jodi Maroney
VP, Access Communications

Daryl McCullough
CEO, PainePR

Katie Delahaye Paine
CEO, KDPaine & Partners

Nicholas Scibetta
Partner and global director, Global Media Network, Ketchum

David Gorodetski, cofounder, COO, and executive creative director, Sage Communications: Relationships are built on interpersonal communication, which is multidimensional and transparent. Even as the media turns to new technologies and journalism continues its evolution, a main goal of media relations remains the same as ever: getting the right messages to the right people at the right time.

  • Follow the rules of engagement. As obvious as it sounds, it is essential for corporate spokespeople to know how to communicate with the press. They must take the time to get to know targeted media outlets, editors, and bloggers. In today's 24-hour news cycle, we must remember that "transactional" interactions do not substitute for good, old-fashioned face-to-face time. A balance between online and in- person is needed to foster relationships built on trust.
  • This isn't a love triangle. As PR pros, we are responsible for identifying and engaging key media influencers with whom spokespersons should connect. Make no mistake, however - the PR agency is a facilitator of relationships. We start the conversations, but our clients must keep them going by offering timely, compelling content. It is ultimately up to the organization to supply the glue that holds that relationship together.
  • This is a courtship, not a one-night stand. The trick to developing a lasting relationship with today's media is to position your corporate spokesperson as a thought leader in the marketplace. Consistently providing reliable, valuable content is key. Just as agencies reach out to the media to provide expert sources, the media reaches out to those trusted sources when they need insight for their stories. It takes time and commitment to build a solid, quality relationship, but that time will always prove to be well spent.

Jodi Maroney, VP, Access Communications: The media landscape has changed a lot throughout the past several years, but the need for building relationships that lead to better results for our clients has not. Central to building those better relationships is the ability to understand that members of the media are being asked to cover more in less time.

In terms of making media relationships that matter, the person who ultimately wins will be the one who can make a reporter's life the easiest. There are three guiding principles that have helped me and my teams achieve results that satisfy our clients daily.

  • Be on point. Media members don't have time to read novels or long pitches. Getting to the point in your written and oral communications while demonstrating know- ledge of the content will earn you trust in the media's eyes.
  • Be smart. We're in an age of information overload. There's no excuse for not knowing the last five articles written by a reporter or what they posted to Twitter or their personal blog. Don't pick up the phone until you have checked out all the resources available to you. Furthermore, be sure to understand how your pitch ties to a broader trend or news cycle and that reporter's beat and publication - give them the points they need to sell the idea to their editor.
  • Be trustworthy. We've all heard stories of PR pros overpromising and under-delivering. As an agency person, you wouldn't do that to a client so you definitely shouldn't do it to a reporter with whom you're trying to build a relationship. Under-promising and over-delivering should always be your mantra.

By following these guiding principles, PR pros will be able to grow their relationships with key media despite the ever-changing modern media landscape.

Daryl McCullough, CEO, PainePR: It's important to understand how a newsroom works and to use that information to pitch the correct contact. With TV programs, senior producers green-light faster and get approval from an executive producer. Once booked, a producer develops the segment with you. It's vital to be concise and to pitch relevant information.

Transparency is essential. Be sure to disclose the client name in the first line of your pitch and prepare the client to provide meaningful access.

Producers work under extreme deadlines, so give them everything up front. Treat the media as your partner and understand the assets needed for a pitch. Include digital content to help them tell the story in multiple formats. Be sure, however, not to hound the media. Send up to two emails and follow up with one phone call. If they want the content, they'll call you.

Before pitching a spokesperson, conduct a media audit to be sure they haven't appeared on the show within the past six months or year. Also send the spokesperson's bio or other relevant background materials with your pitch, but avoid being excessive.

Offering exclusives is another good way to build relationships.

Finally, don't call a producer within two hours of the broadcast. If you do, you'll be remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Katie Delahaye Paine, CEO, KDPaine & Partners: Building relationships with journalists is still about meeting a reporter's needs or solving their problems in a timely manner. However, the mechanisms have changed, and, in turn, some of the rules have changed as well.

With a 24-hour news cycle and constant competition to be the first to do anything, there is no such thing as a "deadline" any more, so you have to be prepared to jump on an opportunity. There is no time to wait for 20 approvals.

Media relations isn't about pushing information, it's about listening for the opportunity. Today, journalists post their needs for information to Facebook or Twitter. Just be there to answer the need.

The key journalist who worked for your most important media outlet last year might be an independent blogger today, so keep track of your contacts. Conversely, the most influential person might be a blogger/fan who has a following as well as an interest in your area of expertise. Don't discriminate just because they don't work for a big media outlet.

Finally, because it's so much easier today to find the right journalist for your story, you no longer need to worry so much about the mechanism (the dis- tribution list, the press release, the SMT), and instead focus and spend your resources on the relationship.

Nicholas Scibetta, partner and global director, Global Media Network, Ketchum: Even with the fast-changing landscape and myriad types of evolving media, there are some basic tenets to building and maintaining deep relationships that work across any media outlet.

  • Be a true resource. All members of the media are under extreme pressure and many have to produce diverse content for multiple mediums, so understanding what reporters need in order to do their job is critical.
  • When pitching a story, ask yourself what you would need if the roles were reversed. Create a checklist to ensure you have the most essential assets to get the conversation started.
  • Know the outlet. Think of the volume of calls and emails you get a day and multiply that by 1,000. Now you can begin to understand the life of a journalist - this includes print reporters, broadcast producers, and bloggers. Before pitching, make sure you understand what types of topics the publication covers and how your story could fit in.
  • Lose the "all about me syndrome." You will become a trusted go-to source if you provide the media with ideas and re-sources even if it doesn't directly benefit, or even involve, your client. Join conversations and add value. Comment on blog posts, re-tweet a journalist's post to your followers, or suggest related sources or commentary. In the end, that will go a long way toward building credibility and a relationship.
  • Be up front and transparent. Always disclose your client, be clear about what elements of a story you can offer, acknowledge what information you don't have, and be straightforward about what missing pieces you can help deliver. Build trust and keep reinforcing it with your actions.

The Takeaway

  • Treat members of the media as partners, and work to maintain long-term relationships.
  • Keep in mind that journalists are very busy and always working to meet deadlines. Do your research to make sure the content you are providing is targeted, relevant, and useful.
  • Always be transparent and disclose the clients for whom you are working. Additionally, acknowledge what information you lack and what missing pieces you can help deliver. This helps build credibility and long-term relationship.

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