How to sharpen your relationship with journalists

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The rules of relationship building with journalists (or anyone, really) have not really changed, but the rise of social media seems to have emboldened PR pros when it comes to cold pitches. Has social media made us so lazy that we have forgotten the rules about etiquette?

It’s a great time to “sharpen the saw,” as “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” author Stephen Covey put it.

Here are a few ways PR pros can sharpen their relationship-building skills with journalists:

There’s no golden ticket

Social media is not your golden ticket to a journalist. There are no shortcuts in life, and that definitely applies to relationship building.

Yes, thanks to the openness of social media, it’s easier to reach out and touch someone. I’ve been able to engage with people I never thought I might, but with that access comes responsibility.

We can communicate with people, including journalists, but that doesn’t mean the common rules of courtesy do not apply.

Send a clear message that you care about the relationship by starting on the right foot, being courteous, and showing respect.

Relationships with journalists are neither sprints nor marathons, but journeys. They are long-term investments that must be nurtured.

Show them you care

After you have researched the journalists (remember to add bloggers to this list and treat them with the same courtesy you would treat a traditional journalist; journalism has morphed into a much wider ecosphere) you want to develop relationships with, ask yourself some questions:

• Are you listening to them?

• What are their passions?

• What are their likes and dislikes?

• What is their preferred method of communication?

Many relationships start out as a social connection and then, after you build on that, they evolve into a business relationship.

Case in point: I work with a lot of tech journalists. I discuss restaurants with one, and TV and film with another. That’s how our relationship started and grew. Both journalists wanted to be communicated with via email on the tech-related items they write about.

Get to know them beyond their writing and when it is time to pitch them, do it in the manner they want. When you engage with them, be genuine. They will remember that later.

Walk in their shoes

I get it. You have a great product. You want to build buzz for it. But pitching The Wrap when TechCrunch is a better fit is a waste of the journalist’s time and your own.

Worse, that faux pas may leave a bad taste in the journalist’s mouth regarding working with you later. It’s an extreme example, but you get my point.

It helps to look at things through the journalist’s eyes. A journalist is writing for a particular audience. Journalists must continually provide content that is compelling and resonates with their audience.

Journalists are salespeople, too. They are trying to get eyeballs on their product—whether it is a blog or media outlet—and they need content to help them.

We need them, and they need us. Helping them now will earn you points for the future.

Help me help you

That scene in “Jerry Maguire” where Tom Cruise utters those magic words to Cuba Gooding Jr. is important here.

Researching the journalist and following them on social media are your guides. They ask a question, and you are right there with the answer that helps them. Do you have information for them? Do you know someone who they can interview that will answer their questions?

Journalists are on tight deadlines. Respond quickly. Just being at the right place at the right time to help them will help you.

[RELATED: Ragan’s new distance-learning site houses the most comprehensive video training library for corporate communicators.]

Reap what you sow

Helping a journalist now will convey that you are to be trusted, you are thoughtful and sincere, and you get them. They will help you when the opportunity is there.

Remember, when they do write about you, the story doesn’t end there. Keep your eye on building that relationship, and rewards will follow.

Sharpening your relationship building skills is like polishing a diamond. The work will lead to the reward, and you’ll shine brighter.

Sue Duris is the president of M4 Communications, a marketing strategy and communications firm based in Calif., that helps technology, entertainment and nonprofit organizations build and extend their brands. A version of this story first appeared on Spin Sucks. 

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