Practical tips that drive engagement, relationship building and credibility
The media landscape has forever been disrupted by innovation, as technologies re-frame national conversations and democratize news coverage via citizen journalists, YouTube stars, social media darlings and their related ilk.
Still, the traditional newsroom and established media giants remain The Fourth Estate, vis-à-vis national television networks and local affiliates, daily newspapers and talk radio programs, vetting facts and sanctioning the headlines of the day. Just as the old and new ways of media collapse and converge, connecting with reporters, editors and news producers likewise demands an ability to finesse tried-and-true media relations practices with the novel and new.
It’s a Good Time to be a Friend to the Media
Media consolidations, newsroom layoffs and staff cuts have augmented the way that news arms function. For example, as the Poynter Institute notes, venerable news institutions The New York Times and the Chicago Sun-Times announced plans to slash staffs in 2015 – to the tune of 100 voluntary buyouts and reducing headcount by 22 percent, respectively. This is part of a sustained pattern that has been occurring for more than 10 years. From 2003 to 2012, according to the Pew Research Center, more than 16,000 newsroom jobs went the way of the dinosaur. And trends do not suggest that the industry will recover the number of full-time reporters, editors and photographers of a generation ago.
This means that resources are increasingly shared, and remaining staffers have been forced to become jack-of-all-trades media whizzes in the unending quest for relevance and job security. Yesterday’s beat reporter is more of a generalist today – not only covering multiple topics but also understanding and executing digital media, design and photography tasks in addition to reporting.
Make Their Job Easier
One of the top ways to become and remain an asset to media is by making their jobs easier. This often translates into preemptively removing roadblocks and employing strategies that make reporters want to pick up when you call (or, better yet, drive them to contact you first when opportunities and needs arise).
Roll out the welcome mat. Roles, titles and faces change within media organizations. The reporter you talked to last year may have moved on, and the new contact may have no knowledge or awareness of your previous connection. Work to create a relationship by initiating contact. Email the reporter (or editor, or producer) and introduce yourself as a source for commentary related to their beat. Be brief and provide specifics about your subject matter expertise relevant to their needs. Be sure to have read/researched them by reading a few columns or interviews to make sure you have an understanding of their style and approach. Follow up with an email of thanks or a friendly reminder about your conversation. Reach out periodically, proactively offering story ideas and interview opportunities about your organization or the cause you represent, or just to let them know you’ve enjoyed something they wrote. This leaves a positive imprint that, like seeds, start to root themselves in the reporter’s brain bank.
Be a reliable source. It’s always fun to chat it up with the media when times are good. But when the potential story is simply neutral or downright challenging, some organizations put the media on “ignore,” disconnecting the lines of communication, letting calls go to voicemail and not issuing any emailed statement. [tweet bird=”yes”] If you want to become a solid and sought-after source for reporters, level with them in prime and not-so-prime times. [/tweet] Be accessible. If what you can say is limited due to legal or other reasons (i.e. confidential information, under investigation, pending review), let them know. But don’t shut them out entirely. Media-organizational connections, just like other relationships, are strengthened by reciprocity.
Toot your own horn. Leads and sources for reporters don’t exist in a vacuum; they ply and mine websites, social media, online videos, archived articles, old press releases and more for research and ideas. One way to help media, indirectly, is by keeping your social media profiles and timelines active and current. Post links to press releases, CEO messages and coverage by media outlets. Promote events and note important milestones. Follow and fan reporters, producers and editors, too, so you can keep an eye on what they’re working on as well as extend the contact you’ve already fostered.
Understand the landscape. Monitor and read the stories by the reporters who cover you. Even if the articles don’t pertain to your organization or industry specifically, this exposure creates a baseline of knowledge that helps you better understand the outlet’s editorial bent, the reporter’s voice and trending topics that get real estate within that space. This better positions you to make relevant pitches and secure valuable real estate.
If you’re a reporter – or have ever been one – what do you think are the most helpful ways for organizations and companies to work with you? As a nonprofit organization and up-and-coming business, share with us the “secret sauce” that’s been effective for you.