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Building Great Reporter Relationships

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PR is a relationship business. I’ve read plenty of articles written by PR pros giving other PR pros advice on how to build great relationships with reporters, but I’ve always wondered what reporters actually think. So I asked two reporters – one whom I’ve worked with numerous times, Amberly Dressler of Website Magazine, and one whom I’ve never spoken to before, John Brandon of Inc. Magazine – about what they think about PR pro-reporter relationships. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Q: Aside from strong pitching, what makes a PR pro stand out from the rest?

Amberly: When I think of standout PR professionals, I separate their best qualities into two interaction types: when they need something and when I need something. When they need something (i.e. interview set-ups, coverage, etc.), I respond positively to the PR pro who anticipates my needs and part of that is, of course, knowing our coverage areas and editorial calendar. In terms of when I need something from a PR rep, I think highly of those pros who manage my expectations. At times, I’ll need a very last-minute interview. If it’s not going to be feasible, for whatever reason, I appreciate those who manage my expectations and offer an alternative.

John: A relationship – get to know the journalist. Buy him or her a coffee. Follow posts on Twitter and actually read the article links. If you know the writer, and you find a really good lead, you can match it up like a puzzle piece.

Q: What is the number one thing you dislike that PR pros do?

Amberly: Pitch confusing (and sometimes contradictory) jargon. Even though I work in the tech news/media field, my background is in journalism. And if a PR pro is throwing out words and phrases they seemingly don’t understand, I am not getting it either.

John: Excessive reminders. It's an unfortunate fact of the Internet age that no response means no. I don't like this, either. But there is so much digital overload that we often don't have time to respond. There are days when I receive over 300 emails. One or two check-ins makes sense. If you check-in each day for a week, it's probably going to get a little irritating.

Q: Do you communicate with PR pros via social networks?

Amberly: My communications with PR pros on social networks is limited to LinkedIn. Some client managers add me the minute I reply to their email for the first time and others wait until before or after a client interview. I don’t find one tactic to be more professional than the other. In fact, several PR pros have viewed my LinkedIn profile before initially contacting me, as one media specialist did. She was able to find shared commonalities; she led her correspondence with the fact she grew up near where I went to college. I respected her for doing her homework, and there was a personal connect that merited a response and ultimately action.

John: My dirty little secret is that I have personal and business accounts on Twitter and Facebook. On every other network, I just have a combined account. I don't do a lot of chatting on Facebook because I tend to keep my personal Facebook feed open. But I am really good at replying on Twitter. I tend to be more communicative with folks who have done a fair amount of RTs because it means they are more attuned to what I'm writing about

Q: Advice for PR pros looking to build relationships with reporters?

Amberly: There’s no magic equation to developing strong PR pro-reporter relationships, but as an editor, it’s difficult to be excited about a product, launch or story if the account manager isn’t. While genuine enthusiasm cannot be manufactured and may appear phony if it’s insincere, I advise PR pros to look for an element of their client’s products or services that excites them and use that to motivate both themselves and reporters.

John: Help us! This is not a profession that works without the help of others. A sure way to hurt any relationship is to forget about something, say you will deliver and then miss the mark, over-promise, or provide too little info.

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So here are some tips that I’ve gathered from their responses. (Yes – they all start with “H.” No – that wasn’t intentional. But I do kind of like it.)

1)     Be helpful

You want their help getting your client coverage, so be a good person and help them, too. Connect reporters to other sources. Do the best you can to find them last-minute commentary when they’re in a crunch. Make their lives easier by providing images or executive bios before they even ask. Like John said, this is not a profession that works without the help of others. Let’s steal a line from High School Musical: we’re all in this together. Help reporters and they will help you.

2)     Be honest

Make an authentic attempt to build a relationship. As John mentioned, actually take time to read reporters’ articles. Don’t just skim the page and make a general “Great article. Agree with all your points,” comment to get noticed. Reporters will see right through that. And when it’s time to actually contact that reporter, be upfront. I had a client who really wanted to get into a certain publication. After hearing crickets from that publication, I sent an email basically saying, “Hey, my client loves your publication and he really wants to get into it. How can I make this happen?” Immediate response from the editor.

3)     Be human

In my opinion, this point is most important. Believe it or not, reporters are real people, too. Talk to them normally – not with jargon that even you don’t understand, as Amberly pointed out. Show them your excitement about a client or story idea. Talk to them about shared commonalities. A few weeks ago, I worked with a reporter who I saw attended the University of Kansas, just like me. Bam. Shared interest. Relationships are that much more meaningful when you can connect on a personal level, despite sitting behind a computer screen.

What about you? How did you become BFFs with your reporter friends? Feel free to leave your tips and stories in the comment section or tweet at me – @TineCurtin.