The PR industry has more competition than ever – even more so with figures from the Office for National Statistics suggesting that there may soon be more PRs than journalists in the UK. With agencies competing more and more for coverage and print media slowly declining, its easy to see how relationships between PRs and journos can become disjointed – especially with frustrating technological advancements such as automation and mail merging.
PRs seem to have lost the key attribute that clients hire them for and that’s the ability to build relationships with influencers. Here is a brief Relationship Building 101 which will help you become more targeted and valued in your approach.
1) Get to know their work
Journalists receive countless emails per day and claim that only a handful of these pitches are relevant to their area of expertise.
Before contacting any journalist, you should research them thoroughly and see what topics they cover and why they should care about your client. In today’s digital age, they may also have personal blogs, and may write short or long form frequently on social networks (examples of long-form being LinkedIn). Therefore, reading a journalist’s work requires locating multiple sources.
Once you find these sources you can subscribe to them via RSS feeds or subscribe for alerts. For extra brownie points. you can also show your support for the writer’s content by sharing it through social media and commenting.
2) Be respectful of their time
A lot of PR agencies pressure their execs to build relationships with the media at any cost. However we know that journalists are busy, so we need to get to the point. Begging them to establish great relationships where you regularly go out drinking together are pretty unlikely. Chances are they’ll be chasing another deadline and don’t have the time. At most, you might be able to snag a coffee with them, but don’t set high expectations.
Without anything relevant to what they’re working on, a PR is not very useful to a journo – likewise, contacting them on the phone with a lengthy pitch is unlikely to inspire them, rather annoy them so avoid at all costs.
Ensure you are clued up enough about their style of writing and features so you can bring them focused pitches when required. I.e. Response Source, #journorequest etc.
3) Get social!
I’m quite flabbergasted by the lack of activity that PRs do on Twitter. Twitter is the number one source for breaking news so of course all nearly all journalists are on the platform. PRs can see what topics they’re covering, find out what they like doing and lots of other titbits to help build a focused pitch.
It is important to remain authentic. I.e. responding to a journo who says they have a cold with “Well you should try out our fantastic client’s new cold tablets” is pretty tacky. Share real thoughts and experiences with them so they see you are human and not another PR robot.
Bloggers/Vloggers are often responsive to blog comments as well, which is another way to interact while being respectful of time and context. Again, remain authentic to ensure you’re not being too promotional and you could establish a real relationship.
4) Meet them face to face
I sound like I’m contradicting myself after point two but there really is nothing quite like a face to face relationship with a journalist. It makes such a difference when they know their face compared to when you are just another voice on the end of the line – you can get more information from them and they are a little more patient with you if you’re being a little bit irrelevant.
Although inviting them out for a coffee may not work due to their schedules, you could also see what trade shows they’re going to and ask if you can have a quick face to face at one of the stands – be careful not to come across as too much of a stalker though!
5) Pitch the agency not your client
Always remember that you are representing the agency, not your client – clients may come and go but it is your agency that is remembered.
When meeting journalists or approaching them for the first time, be sure to mention that you cover a whole host of brands that fall under their topics rather than just the one. Segmenting a PR team by their media contacts rather than their clients is a great way to ensure it’s always your name the journalist sees which gives you familiarity rather than 5/6 from the same agency.
Journalists are more inclined to arrange a face to face when you have a few brands to cover as it gives them the opportunity to see what news they can write about over the coming months and have a real opportunity to understand what sort of clients your agency looks after.
6) Be careful with technology
Gorkana, Cision – whatever you use as your database is an amazing tool but can also hinder our success in becoming more focused with our approach.
Journalist beats can change or be miscategorised, or their niches can be narrower than their categories which means you may be completely irrelevant. Although it’s important to use technology to inform your communications, ensure it is used as a tool to aid with your overall research process.
7) Establish yourself as a helpful resource
One of the most popular responses to the question of how to build relationships with journalists is to help them do their job better. This doesn’t mean pushing an irrelevant pitch but being on hand when they need help.
The key to this is responsiveness – I made it KEY to never wait more than five minutes to respond to a journalist with an enquiry, even if it’s just to say, “I’ll be able to get this to you by lunchtime”. The more reliable you are, the more credible you become.
Did you see someone else in another publication write a similar story to your journo – forward them a link for their info. This will establish yourself as an expert on their topic area and you’ll suddenly become very valuable to them.
Taking a step back and really focusing on relationship building offers a challenging premise but with a high reward. The biggest challenge when building relationships with journalists is to offer as much value to a journalist as you would like in return. This requires a high level of proactivity and empathy – the same qualities necessary to build relationships with anyone.
Although this approach doesn’t suit all agencies – particularly ones that measure media contact as key deliverable for their clients (number of calls, emails etc). It is highly effective and highlights why specialist agencies get it so right. Take some time this evening to identify your key journalists and start building an information bank around them.