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Media Relations 101: Don’t Make Spam, Build Relationships Instead

By on Monday, February 7, 2011

Having good intentions to improve the world, is not an excuse for sloppy media relations. One of the most common media relations mistakes I hear about is using a blast email list to distribute a news release. The nonprofit may have an email list from the last communications director on file or subscribe to one of the media databases with access to thousands of email addresses for journalists.

Before you start hitting send, consider who you are sending your news release to and what result you want. You should only send your release to reporters or assignment editors who are covering this type of event of topic. If the news release for an upcoming event in your community, local media assignment desks should be top priority.

I’ve heard many a reporter complain about having to mass delete dozens, if not hundreds, of news releases that are completely irrelevant to what he or she actually covers. Don’t add to the spam news release logjam. Wanting to solve society’s ills does not excuse mass-email bombing.

Don’t send your release or story pitch to the sports desk, if the event has nothing to do with sports, or to the station meteorologist if it has nothing to do with the weather. Clogging email inboxes of reporters with news releases they don’t need, only wastes their time and causes them a lot of headaches and aggravation.  It may also guarantee you and your organization’s domain name a fast track listing on a spam filter.

Instead, you want the opposite reaction. In the harried world of today’s 24-7 feed the beast media outlet, you want to stand out as a helper, not a pest. You want to provide a story idea (typically by email or phone) that is compelling, newsworthy and interesting, to a journalist who covers the topic or shows some degree of interest. You don’t want to overwhelm with information, but provide enough material so they have a sense of what’s possible. If your topic is timely or links to a national trend or story, you’ll want to mention those too.

The goal should not be just a story about an upcoming event. The goal should also be building a relationship for your organization with the reporter. Over time, a relationship with a journalist who understands your organization and the issues you work on can be incredibly valuable. He or she may ask your opinion when a story breaks, cover events your organization is holding, introduce you to other reporters and also explain what types of stories will work for the media outlet.

The only way to target your media pitch to the right journalist – is to do research. That means you need to read the newspaper, watch the local news at 6pm, or listen to the morning newscast. Listen to how the reporters are identified in the stories and what topics are covered.

If you subscribe to a media database, use this as a starting point. Even if you don’t, news media websites often list reporters and their beats with contact information. Search the online story archive or google a reporter’s name to see what types of stories he or she covers. If it looks like you have a match, add the reporter to your list. Note how often this person is publishing stories and what topics are covered. Send him or her your story idea or news release. Follow up with a phone call.

Is this time-consuming? Yes. But 5 good relationships with reporters, are worth way more than 5,000 off-target spam emails that infuriate the recipients.

Everyone wants to know what you think.

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