Media Relations: Advice from a Pro

Media Relations - FBOne of the biggest challenges for any company can be getting publicity.

For a startup, the barrier can be even higher, because it’s often less likely the parties involved have developed the appropriate relationships with the editors, bloggers and journalists necessary to get the word out.

Even the most experienced public relations maven can be stymied when writers change beats or move on to new publications. All the time and energy put into those relationships may be transferred to a new entity, or can be lost completely, depending on the circumstances.

And I can tell you as a veteran newspaper journalist – journalists and bloggers change jobs a lot. The media has always been a very fluid business in terms of personnel. The best and most effective public relations folks were the ones who took the time to get to know you before pitching you.

In fact, there were spokespeople I dealt with who I’d bend over backwards for to get a mention in the paper for them, because they bent over backwards to get me the information I needed at other times. That’s not to say I ever ignored a good story from a bad PR rep, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to make sure we wrote up a small item in the briefing column about their boss’ pet event, either.

You Scratch My Back…

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for building those relationships – trust me, the bloggers/journalists know full well this isn’t about friendship, but about a mutually agreeable relationship – to give you the best chance of getting coverage when you need it.

?? Read that writer. Know what he or she actually writes about, and what they’re unlikely to cover. If someone covers the fashion tech vertical, they’re unlikely to be interested in writing about your fabulous, new petfinder app. If you approach a writer too many times with stories off their beat (too many = twice, if you’re lucky), your chance of coverage even if you target correctly is decreased considerably, because the chance that they’ll even read your email is slim to none.

?? Get to know writers before you need to share any information with them. Meet them for coffee. Introduce yourself as a person. Don’t come to pitch anything. Just get to know them as a person. If they’re new to town, offer to show them around, offer to introduce them to someone they need or want to meet. Show them that you can be an asset to them as much as they can be an asset to you.

?? If you have an item to share and don’t know the correct writer at a publication, reach out to the person you do know. But don’t pitch the story to them. Tell them you know they’re not the right person, and you wondered who they’d recommend. Give them the 140-character version of the story just so they know what it’s about and who would be the right person to talk to. Don’t ask to be connected to the person, just ask if it’s OK if you say they suggested this person might be the right person to talk to.

?? Don’t take rejection personally. If it’s the biggest story you have, you desperately need to get it published, yet you’re turned down, smile and say thanks. Sometimes it doesn’t strike them as something interesting. Sometimes they don’t quite get it. Sometimes their coverage priorities are not the same as your coverage priorities. It happens. If you take it personally, it will be harder to get coverage the next time. I mean, who wants to deal with a whiny PR person who gets whiny whenever their story is turned down?

?? Drop a line to your contacts every once in a while, just to say hi, if you’ve developed a relationship to that point. In fact, meet up for coffee every now and again, if your relationship is at that level. The cringe factor will be less when they receive a note from you if they know it’s not always about what you can do for them.

?? Let them know the types of topics you can provide sources on, so if they’re working on stories in those areas, you can help them out. Your job in public relations/media relations/social media/whatever element(s) of those areas you’re in is to help journalists and bloggers – and in the process help your company or client(s). If you look at it that way, the latter will become a lot simpler.

I’ll Scratch Yours…

There are some corollaries for journalists/bloggers on this, too:

?? Get to know people at the companies/firms/agencies in your coverage area. They’ll be more willing to help you find the right people on tight deadline if you don’t only call them up 5 minutes before you have to hit publish.

?? Be polite. These folks are doing their jobs. Are some PR/media folks bad? Of course. So are some journalists and bloggers. But most, on both sides, are trying to do the best they can, at the highest quality they’re able to. If you’re always a surly jerk, you’re gonna be the last reporter called on any news.

?? If you’re not the right person for a story and the PR rep hasn’t repeatedly pitched you incorrectly on the subject, help them – tell them who the right person is and offer to introduce them. It helps everyone involved, and even gets a stream of email out of your inbox.

?? Try to help out on the minor stories – you know, the ones that aren’t worth a whole post/article. If there’s some news value in it, even if it’s a short item in a roundup post, find a way to get it in. The Internet has limitless space, I hear. That’s not to say you should publicize things that are out of character or subject area for your publication, but what harm does it do to get a small announcement in about something? It doesn’t, and you’ve just made a friend.

So, when you need something 5 minutes before deadline, you have someone who’s probably going to bend over backwards to get you the right person you need to speak with.

What have your experiences been like, on either side?