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Building Relationships with Reporters: Change Up Your Mentality

By on Wednesday, July 20, 2011
The New York City newsroom for the Associated Press

I’m often asked by other nonprofit public relations professionals, how I know so many reporters who cover stories relevant to my clients. So often people seem fixated on the media outlet names, and not the relationships. The relationships are what matters.

Tip #1: Change your mentality. It’s not just about who you know. It’s about connecting with journalists who cover topics and stories you and the organization you represent work in.

My contacts with reporters who cover military families and veteran’s affairs, will not be useful for a story about a children’s book. Unless the book is related in some way to care for the families of the fallen,dealing with deployment for military children, or has a unique angle related to someone in the military or a veteran – those journalists I know working in this field will probably not be interested in this story. Even if the book has a military tie-in, a compelling author story and great visuals in real-life that relate to the story, may be needed for a successful story pitch.

Tip #2: Don’t just blast out your news releases to any reporter at whim, regardless of what they cover. Only send your news releases or story pitches, to journalists who cover those topics. Read and watch what they write and produce, and cultivate one-on-one relationships. There are plenty of people hawking media lists and offering to blast out your news release to thousands of reporters NOW. Blasting does not build relationships. It actually drowns reporters in piles of crap not relevant to what they cover. It gives everyone doing promotional work a bad name. Blatant abuse of these media databases¬† is common¬† in the industry. Don’t do it.

One reporter I know at a major national daily newspaper, loves to share periodically on her Facebook page, what off-the-wall news release she received that day that is completely irrelevant to what she writes about. They’re hilarious to read for their insanity – but would you like to be the one who makes that mistake?

Know what a given reporter or producer works on typically. You can often see full story archives online by author on newspaper websites now. Watch and listen to the stories they create for radio or TV.

Local television and radio news are different animals. It seems I find fewer reporters at the local level in the broadcast arena who are specialists. But you may notice a TV reporter or radio reporter who, even though he or she covers a huge array of story topics, does amazing interviews that stand out. Or they are especially sensitive about talking gently with trauma survivors. Their pieces just resonate more with you. If you are confronted by a sea of generalists who don’t seem to specialize, try to work with journalists doing work you admire.

I’ll be sharing some tips tomorrow on my blog.

Everyone wants to know what you think.

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