It’s become a public relations mantra: build relationships with reporters. But journalists don’t want relationships. They deal with dozens of contacts and demanding deadlines each day; they don’t have the time or energy to “do lunch,” especially with public relations people. But it’s not impossible to build relationships with reporters, provided you can meet two or three of their basic conditions.
Reporters will always want the following:
A.) What they (not clients) consider a good idea for a news or feature story.
B.) Instant access to quotable experts while they are working a story.
C.) Someone to do their homework/legwork for them.
Meet any two of these conditions and you will obtain media exposure for your clients. Continue to meet any two of these conditions and you will have journalists coming to you.
When working with reporters, it’s not difficult for public relations firms to meet Condition A. Sometimes companies actually have news in their press releases. A real estate client recently sold an out-of-town property for an impressive sum. The client naturally would not disclose the sale amount in the press release. No problem. The price was virtually the same as a sale that took place about six months earlier, a sale that was a matter of public record. I made sure that every reporter I contacted knew the earlier sale amount. I satisfied the first and third conditions and obtained coverage in three dailies.
Unable to meet Condition A? The next best way to gain media exposure is to offer a top company executive as an expert spokesperson. Condition B can be a quagmire, however. Many executives are woefully ignorant about industry trends and shy away from potentially controversial big-picture issues. They can also be inarticulate and unaccustomed to fielding penetrating questions. Specific training in how to handle media interviews can be helpful, but it goes only so far.
Aloof executives who do not have any insights or opinions simply should not be paraded to reporters as candidates for media interviews. Their lackluster performance will do their companies more harm than good and they undermine the public relations representative’s credibility.
Although clients may not know much about their industry, that doesn’t stop public relations firms from doing some of their own research, finding experts, and pointing journalists in the right direction. This is meeting Condition C. Make a reporter’s life easier and get favors in return.
I once gave the web addresses of a client’s two major competitors to an editor who asked for them. It saved the editor a great deal of time and aggravation in researching an important trend that was new to him, one that he needed to get up to speed on quickly. My client most likely would have been angry had she known what I did. Instead she was delighted when her company was prominently quoted in a cover story of a major trade magazine read by her ideal target audience. The editor never would have run a cover story solely on my client, so I did some horse-trading.
Really good, high-level dealings with the media are a lot like sausages. It’s best not to reveal everything that goes into them to your clients. It also helps to think like a reporter instead of a businessperson or a public relations consultant. And if you really want to build relationships with reporters, spare them the company line and just get down to how you public relations firms and your client can help the reporter do his or her job better.
This article, written by Candace Talmadge, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.