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Maintaining a Healthy Balance in the Public Relations/Journalist Relationship

It took me a few months to figure out her modus operandi. For four years, she called me once a month. It was always on the last Friday of the month, and always before lunch. We would chat for a few minutes I would ask a few questions; she would skirt around the answers. She would pitch me a story or two; I would sigh and act disinterested. Maintaining relationships with journalists is critical to long-term success in public relations. The journalist/public relations relationship must be fostered with trust and then fueled with consistent communication. Here’s a case in point.

I pitched a journalist at a major newspaper last week. I had not spoken to this particular journalist in almost a year. She ignored my pitch, and I don’t blame her. She’s busy and we don’t have much of a relationship. There was no familiarity and so no reason for her to call me back. I was just another public relations contact to her.

The key to maintaining relationships with journalists is to ensure that you don’t waste their time, and that you provide them with information, not just chatter. The woman from the opening paragraph was in charge of media relations for a lobbying group. I would often call her for official statements regarding legislation, and she would pitch me on stories about lobbying initiatives.

Eventually, I burned out on her quotes. She smartly kept the relationship going, however, ensuring that her organization remained on my radar. She fed me good tips unrelated to her organization, and would drop me emails praising or disagreeing with my stories. All that mattered was that her name remained in my inbox and on my Caller ID.

What I enjoyed about my relationship with this particular public relations contact was that she was unobtrusive. Her phone calls came well before my deadline, and always on Fridays, which are generally slow news days for someone covering business. (No business reporter wants to break a story in the Saturday edition.) Her emails were brief and to the point, always containing at least a morsel of new information, even they also contained a pitch.

Another key to maintaining a good relationship with a journalist is making sure that you respect his or her feelings. For example, when I pitched that story last week, I called up a business reporter at the same newspaper and told him that I was going to pitch one of his co-workers. I explained that we were hoping to get the story in the news section of the paper, as opposed to the business section. He understood, wished me luck, and kept the door open in case my pitch to his co-worker failed. Once my pitch did fail, he was still interested in writing the story.

I owed the reporter a heads-up. Considering that we’ve worked together on a number of stories, it would have been very disrespectful of me to woo his co-worker without telling him first. I know that when I was a journalist and public relations flacks dissed me, I got upset. “So, I’m good enough for B+ stories, but when you’ve got an A+ story, you go somewhere else?”

Keeping a relationship going with a journalist takes time, which is why I suggest putting aside one day a month to take care of relationship maintenance. I dropped an email on my old PR friend, and sure enough, she said that the last Friday of every month was her day to catch up with important media contacts.

“I learned that if you don’t keep a dialogue running with the journalist,” she said, “it’s funny how quickly they will forget who you are!”

This article, written by Ben Silverman, 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/.

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