Let’s admit it: there’s a certain thrill we receive when we get a positive reply to a pitch, or a reporter drops an email in response to our latest press release. No lie; I have double fist-pumped the air a time or two.
It can kind of feel like hitting the lottery. “Yes, that idea worked,” we might say out loud, followed by a hearty, “Woop woop!” “Huzzah!” or your exultant interjection of choice.
And while it’s exciting to get a media hit, if I walk away from that experience and don’t follow up, I’ve missed out on a very important media relationship development opportunity. Let me explain.
My former boss, Mark Weinstein at Cedarville University, did a phenomenal job serving the media. He would anticipate their interests and send them story ideas he knew fit their beat. And he was responsive to their last-minute requests. Even if Mark could not fill a media inquiry, the journalist knew that he had gone the extra couple of miles to find a high-caliber and respected expert.
Mark had many high-five moments getting important stories about the university on local, regional, and national media. But for Mark, it went beyond the fact that he had a media hit. In fact, he often talked about various reporters not as colleagues or business associates, but as friends. Some of the journalists he regularly interacted with were among his best friends.
Which raises a good question for us as PR professionals: Are we moving from a transactional business-only relationship with at least some of the media to genuine friendliness?
Having a welcoming, polite, and kind demeanor should be standard in our field, and not just when it’s convenient to respond. Those stellar character qualities should especially be evident when the media come to us at an unusual time of day with a request that may be difficult to fill.
But beyond this baseline professionalism, we ought to be pushing beyond a pitch-only connection with a writer, radio show host, or TV reporter, to something that acknowledges our shared humanity. Especially as people of faith in this field.
Friendship is not easily attained. True friendship requires building trust over time, and the willingness to look beyond your needs to the needs of others. It is more than being personable or popular but being the kind of individual others can count on. It involves taking a sincere interest in someone else’s concerns and plans and being a real, genuine person.
As you form that friendship, it becomes easier to send a story pitch, but there is another benefit: the reporter also finds it easier to reach out to you when they need a quote.
So how can you develop this next-level relationship with the media?
- Take the time to learn a journalist’s beat. You would probably do that anyway but sending emails to reporters that acknowledge past work indicates that you are paying attention. And that is huge.
- If a reporter runs a story about your organization, follow up with a thank you. Make sure you have read the story or watched the clip so you can reference specific points in the journalist’s report that you appreciated. Details matter.
- If you see a story online that relates to a journalist’s beat, forward the link or video. This shows a desire to help the reporter even if the story you forward is not directly related to your organization’s interest.
- Pass along tidbits of professional development. If you see a story about the profession of journalism—e.g., most journalists cover four beats—pass it along as a personal item of interest with no expectation.
- Do not overwhelm. Once you sense that you are developing a friendly relationship with a reporter, do not take advantage of their kindness by inundating them with ideas. We still need to be strategic and timely with stories we suggest.
- Dig a little deeper. As a Christian PR person dealing primarily with Christian media, I recently sent a Bible passage (Proverbs 20:5), sharing how interviews can be more than information collection, but a form of service to the interviewee. I did not receive many replies, which was not my goal, but I did hear from one media member saying the email encouraged her.
In your PR efforts, may you have many fist-pumping moments of success, but may you also find that members of the media trust you, trust your judgment, and know that you are a genuine person who is sincerely interested in their success as much as the success of your organization.
Let Infinity Concepts help you forge lasting connections with the media.
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