How to build great media relationships

How to build great media relationships
November 9, 2018 Graham White

6 November 2018:  In PR and communications, we often talk about the importance of building and maintaining relationships. Take a quick scroll through the online job boards and you’ll see it called out as a must when applying for any role in this industry.

But what does it really mean?

The Oxford Dictionary defines a relationship as: “The way in which two or more people or things are connected, or the state of being connected.” It sounds simple, but you’ll know from your own experience that it takes time and effort to build and maintain personal and professional relationships.

It’s no secret that everyone in this industry is busy. Whether you work for an agency, in-house, at a media outlet or as a freelancer, you’ll hear words like slammed, crazy and swamped thrown around every day.

We also have so many ways to communicate today – face-to-face meetings, phone or video calls, emails, instant messaging, and text. Yet there’s been a huge shift to email as the preferred (and often only) method of communication, especially when it comes to pitching a story to a journalist.

I’ve seen confident people squirm at the idea of picking up the phone. I get it. We’ve all been on the other end of a call with a time-poor journalist or producer who’s just not interested in your story. They’ll often tell you in no uncertain terms but don’t take it personally.

In an increasingly digital world, the importance of human connection has never been more vital – especially when it comes to building and maintaining relationships. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Journalists and producers are people too and the same simple tips apply to establishing and building relationships with them:

  1. Listen– Actively listen to what they’re saying, making eye contact and showing genuine interest makes a difference. Remember their name and use it. It’s so simple but easy to forget in the haste of trying to get a story up.
  2. Ask– Questions show you’re engaged with what they’re saying. Don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about how they like to operate, what content they’re looking for, when they prefer to take calls or receive pitches. This will make the process easier for them and help you avoid those more challenging conversations or common mistakes.
  3. Research– Make sure you understand the journalist’s audience, media outlet and preferred content before picking up the phone. See what they’ve covered this week, what they’re saying on social and what topics they’re passionate about. Taking the time to do your due diligence will stop you getting off on the wrong foot.
  4. Personality– Most importantly, be yourself. Show your quirks and personality. Journalists don’t want to deal with a robot or someone who blurts out the same “hope you’re well” message to 30 different contacts. If they told you last time that they were going on holiday, ask them about it.

Once you’ve made a concerted effort to better understand how a journalist or producer likes to work, and how you can add value or make their lives easier, there’s every opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship to grow.

Like a new plant, you must nurture your relationships. They won’t stay healthy if you only ever get in touch when you need something. Check in to see what they’re working on and find out if there’s anything you can do to help.

The simple things often get overlooked when you’re focused on getting results quickly.

But quick wins often come at a cost so take the time to get your relationships right.

Graham White, GMD Howorth