Building Relationships with the Media

Building Relationships w MediaBy Arleigh Vasconcellos, Principal at The Agency | @ArleighGV

Building and maintaining relationships with the media is a key tool to an effective media relations strategy. It is important to note though, that while it is important to build good relationships with journalists, it is not the be-all and end-all of media relations.

What matters most when reaching-out to the media is having a good story to pitch. After you’ve established the story you need to research your publications and reporters to make sure that you are pitching a story that is relevant to them and their readers, and that it is of interest to their ‘beat’. The most important part of media relations is being cognizant of the fact that as much as the journalist is there to help you to get news out about your client, you’re there to help them do their job by giving them relevant and timely content to write about. If you give them good content, and you make their job easier, that’s what is most beneficial to them.

There might be some misconceptions when it comes to “building relationships with the media,” that it means you need to build friendships with them in order to have an “in” next time you want to pitch them a story. I have good friends who are in the media, but I would never call them up to ask for favours for coverage. On the other hand, I have reached out to journalists that I didn’t have prior relationship with, knowing that I wanted to build one, and successfully pitched them because I knew my stories were on-target and relevant to them.

In this rapidly changing media landscape, especially in Canadian media as of late, we can see that there are fewer journalists working to cover more stories. The best way for PRs to be a good resource for journalists is to make sure that you are helping them make the best use of their time. Good PRs should do the following to prepare:

  • Identify what is newsworthy – Some stories might be exciting for your clients, but maybe not to the general public. Is it something that we can send out to stakeholders as an announcement? Or is it something that we could pitch to the media?
  • Identify and segment media outlets – Different outlets in different mediums will have different definitions of what is newsworthy to them. Is it a pure business outlet that covers earnings reports? Or perhaps a more personality-driven publication that would like to interview your inspiring CEO?

Once you have this done, you should also research the journalists themselves. What do they like to cover, and what interests them? It’s also important to learn about how they want to be communicated with. Do they prefer to be pitched via their direct email, a contact form, the newsroom, or perhaps even Twitter DMs? Journalists appreciate that you have looked into their beat and their preferences.

It’s also good to find new journalists, whether they are up-and-coming writers just out of school or others who are freelancing. Some might be striking out on their own and following new career paths, or moving on to different publications. They will also appreciate that you know of them and their work and that you understand why they are a good person to pitch.

Once you are past the initial contact, try not to bug them too much. Journalists are busy people (now more than ever in the new leaner newsroom), so it’s important to remember that, but do keep up with what they are doing. We like to send holiday cards out to journalists for example, or reach out to them every once in a while on social media – maybe sharing links that may be of interest to them, congratulating them on personal news, or just to say hi.

In terms of maintaining media relationships, it is best to keep up with changes in the industry, personnel, and even editorial style and focus, and being able to adapt to that. For example, when the tech blog All Things D became WSJ.D, its editorial style changed, especially when many of its staff, including founders Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg left to start Re/code. An even more recent, and more relevant example to us here in Canada, is that of Postmedia and the massive layoffs and merging of the newsrooms in many Canadian cities, including here in Calgary. They may not cover certain beats anymore, or have centralized coverage of certain news to Toronto.

And lastly, when in doubt, ask journalists for honest feedback. Everybody has their own preferred working style. Maybe they just haven’t picked-up your story because it’s no longer part of their editorial focus. Or if they did accept your pitch, ask them if and how they’d like to be updated about your news. It’s essentially asking, “How can I best use your time?” which they will appreciate.


What tips do you have for building relationships with the media? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter at @PRTheAgency!