We all know what it’s like to see our phone light up with a call from a number we don’t recognize. Unless we’re having a really slow day or are desperate to avoid the work we have to do, we’re likely going to ignore that call. However, when we recognize a call from someone who we know, like, and have had good experiences with, then we know that it’s one we’ll be quick to answer. And that’s the answer we’re aiming for when we approach media organizations to promote our work, but to get there you have to know how to build a strong relationship with media personnel the right way.
So, if you’re a small business owner or PR professional struggling to get media contacts to respond to email or calls, here are some steps you can take to increase your chances of getting through.
Research first and pitch second
The ideal scenario is a win-win — one in which you are able to get great coverage for your business or client and the media outlet gets to publish a great story for its readers. If you can make that happen, you’ll have a much easier time getting the reporter to respond to you next time.
Still, orchestrating a win-win requires that you do a little research. What kind of stories does the particular reporter usually cover? What is their specialization or niche? If you can answer these questions, you’ll know what they need for a win and what kind of pitch will best connect with them.
Another approach is to track down reports on topics that relate to your client. For example, if you or your client is a thought leader in the education space, start by searching for articles — or setting up Google Alerts for articles — that report on EdTech or test scores. If you can identify reporters who are consistently covering that space, then you’ll know that you’ve found a good target for your pitches.
Additionally, while doing your research, be sure to make some notes on the articles your media targets have written. It will go a long way if you let them know when you reach out that you’ve been reading and enjoying their work, but you’ll be able to build even more rapport if you can cite some examples of what you liked.
Another important aspect of turning a pitch into a win is ensuring it’s both timely and relevant. Most media outlets are looking for fresh news on trending topics, so if you can provide them with something that aligns with a current trend, you’ll have a much better chance of having your pitch picked up and your article ultimately published.
Once you lock in a potential win with a reporter, you have to make sure you follow through. This step cannot be overstressed, and it involves you exhibiting three main traits: punctuality, responsiveness, and dependability.
Reporters are always on a deadline. If they agree to use something you provide, they’re going to need it from you by a particular date and time. If you aren’t punctual the first time, chances are low that they will give you a second chance.
If you are a PR professional, it’s also important to communicate to your clients well in advance the importance of punctuality. If a reporter needs a quote, video response, or a series of questions answered, your client needs to be quick in providing them with one.
Being responsive is another key to making great connections in the media. If a reporter texts, emails, or calls and you ignore it, they’ll move on to another contact in order to meet their own deadlines. A late response typically equates to a missed opportunity, so keep your eye on your inbox and make sure you respond.
Likewise, if you know you won’t be able to ultimately deliver what they need, let the reporter know as soon as possible. Even if it means a missed opportunity, being honest and upfront with them is far more professional than letting them know too late — or not at all.
Finally, dependability is a vital skill in the world of public relations. Letting a reporter down can irreparably damage your relationship, so if you say you are going to provide something — be it a quote, article, or interview — make sure you follow through.
Respect their silence
Even when you have a relationship with a reporter, it’s common to not get a response to your pitch. Many reporters are too busy to take the time to let you know they saw your pitch and decided to pass on it. If they don’t respond, consider it a “no” and move on. It’s poor PR etiquette to continue to pester a reporter when you don’t hear from them on your pitch.
In some cases, you may find another reporter who sees merit in your pitch. But even if you don’t, work to develop something new that is relevant and timely and start the process over.
Always express your thanks
Keep in mind that your goal with media connections is twofold; you want to get wins for your business or your client, but you also want to build a strong relationship with your media contacts. Making sure you thank them when they come through for you is a great way to strengthen your relationship. A heartfelt thanks, even if it’s conveyed via a quick text message, can make you stand out from the other publicists who constantly flood their inboxes with pitches.
Building relationships with media personnel requires a lot of effort, but it’s well worth the time and effort. You need a competitive edge that allows your pitches to float to the top. Showing you are respectful, dependable, and professional can give you that edge.
Melanie Parncutt is a publicist at Otter PR in St. Petersburg, Florida. Her success in media relations can be attributed to her knack for storytelling, knowledge of strategic communication, emphasis on relationships, and verve for trend-jacking. Having worked with clients in over 10 different industries, she has developed strong connections with journalists across the country and specializes in the future of work. She has landed her clients in The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune, USA Today, Business Insider, The Boston Globe, and hundreds of other respected publications.