I’ve learned a lot of things about PR over the years, but one of the key lessons is that media relations is part art and part science. There’s no one way to sell a story, and there’s no guarantee that things will appear until they actually do. But there are best practices that can improve your odds.
Furthermore, we all know that journalists are busy these days, with more demands on their time and more work to do than ever before. It’s never been harder for us to earn ink, airtime, online space, etc. But it can still be done.
To that end, I’ve seen that journalists really only want two things from us. No matter what they say, or what your client or boss tells you to do, every conversation I’ve ever had with a journalist boils down to two important elements that make their jobs easier and help them get home in time for dinner:
- A good story. Of course, above all, they need a quality story with newsworthy elements that will resonate with their particular audience. What are the basic elements of your story? What is it that makes those elements newsworthy? Who is their audience, and what is it about the pitch that will strike a chord with them? Even more, what will their reaction be – will it improve their lives, tug on the heart strings, save money or time, etc? Knowing all of this before you ever pick up the phone or hit the “send” button, and communicating it well to the journalist, will make you much more effective.
- Responsiveness. Journalists don’t just want good stories, or interviews, product images, samples, etc. They want/need them NOW, so they can stay on track to hit their deadlines. The top complaint I hear from journalists (besides how bad some pitches are) is that they don’t get what they need from us when they need it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to compute our odds of success when we don’t help someone hit their deadline. On the other hand, it’s amazing how a simple phone call back with a status update, or sending a follow-up email in a timely fashion, or other basic responsive and listening actions can go a long way. And those of us who can deliver an executive interview well before deadline? Pure gold. Enabling a journalist to work efficiently is one of the most valuable services we can provide.
You’ll note that strong relationships are NOT one of these two items. Believe it or not, from the journalist’s perspective, relationships with PR people are grossly overrated. Sure, they get to know some of us over time, and sometimes there are personal ties that go beyond our professional encounters. But, quite frankly, the vast majority of journalists are simply too busy and stressed to spend the time and energy to build relationships with the vast majority of us. Because of that, our goal should be different: to earn their respect. And there’s no better way to do that than to deliver on the two items above. This is the trick to breaking through all the clutter of crowded inboxes, dense pitches, tight deadlines and more. When we’ve broken through and earned that respect, the relationships will come naturally…and so will the coverage we want.
Give it a try sometime, and see what happens. This media relations stuff is hard work, yet it can be incredibly rewarding. As always, I welcome your feedback on this, would love to hear how it works for you, etc.
(photo credit: Observer.com)