Both PR and journalism have evolved over the last 10 years, and with it the relationships between PRs and journalists has changed too. Whilst there may be significantly less cocktails, little black books and visits to the Ivy, we can now take advantage of new technology and combine it with old-fashioned charm to build fantastic working relationships with online journalists.
Whilst digital PRs may not need to know every journalist they pitch to personally (if your story is good enough they’ll cover it regardless) it is still really beneficial to have a good relationships with a few key contacts that go beyond cold pitching emails.
When is it useful to have a pre-existing relationship with a journalist?
- Follow-ups: At a recent #DigitalPRLinkUp, the journalist panel remarked that follow-ups to pitches only tend to be successful when the writer already has a pre-existing relationship with that PR (theory being that that a PR they know will only push stories that are super suitable to the writer).
- Last minute requests: The same panel also agreed that, even if they’ve not met face to face, they will have a number of PRs’ names in their memory that they know they can rely on to help with last minute requests for products or info. And when you’re at the point where the journalists are emailing you for help, you know you’re golden.
So, how do we get to this magical place? How can you build a strong relationship with someone you’re unlikely to meet, and who you’re going to pester with pitch emails over and over again?
Here’s three ways we’ve tried and tested that help digital PRs build brilliant relationships with journalists:
EMAILS: remember the three P’s
- Polite: This includes the little things, like making sure you’ve got their name and publication correct in a pitch email. Whilst journos understand a pitch will be sent out to multiple writers, they’re filtering through 100+ press releases a day, so getting their name wrong means your release will probably be filtered to their trash folder before they’ve even read your opening sentence. Other instant turn-offs for journalists are PRs not delivering content they’ve promised, getting gnarky at follow-up requests from the journalists and just not being pleasant to communicate with in general. Whilst it might seem obvious to be courteous, ‘rude PRs’ are something that journalists have called out time and again in panels and workshops with us. At the other end of the scale, don’t be overly sweet either (keep an eye on excessive use of exclamation marks, smiley faces and kisses). Be polite and professional and you’ll be remembered as a pleasant PR to work with. Oh, and always remember to say thank you to your journalist when they do cover your story!
- Prompt: Don’t leave your journalist waiting. Even if you need time to pull things together, proactively keep them updated on when they should receive everything. Online writers have a lot of pressure their end from editors and deadlines, so if you have a hot lead with a journalist make sure you’re present and available to give them what they need when they need it.
- (Don’t) Phone: Now this isn’t a hard rule, but from my experience, every online journalist I’ve spoken to has said the best way to get hold of them is on email. At a recent journalist panel Q&A, Olivia Petter from the Indy commented that lifestyle desks are notoriously bad at picking up their phones and that “when you do get us on the phone we’ll just ask you to email us”. The same panel also agreed that they do read everything that comes through to them, but that they just delete/ignore it if it’s not of interest.
FACE TO FACE: Still super important… it’s just harder to arrange
Seeing a journalist in real life is crucial to building a successful relationship with them, but the workload of digital writers and the constant deluge of new news into their inbox, means that a long time spent away from their desk can be costly to them and during the working day it’s a near impossible request. We may have moved on from the glory days of long lunches, but there are still a couple of ways to get face-to face time in with your key contacts, you just have to make sure they are as convenient, and as mutually beneficial, as possible:
- Office visits
Instead of a two hour lunch, arrange a pre-scheduled office visit where you only take 15 mins of their time, either in their office or at a café close by. Don’t use the time to try and sell-in any pre-made ideas, use it instead to properly understand everything the writer needs to make their work life easier and find out more about their personal goals at work, and what hobbies they like outside of the office. For example, whilst they may not initially be a travel writer, if you find out that they have a passion for skiing that’s useful to know for your winter sports client!
Creating an event with your client that offers real value to a journalist can tempt them to see you outside of working hours. From a professionally guided trail run, or a HIIT session at the Ministry of Sound, to a 5K urban run around London, some of the events hosted by Sportsshoes.com that I’ve worked on have enabled me to nurture great relationships with health and fitness journalists. These kind of events provide a great experience that suits the journalist’s personality and professional niche, (with lots of fun and free food thrown in!). These kind of events also help to reveal common interests and can break down the wall between PRs and journalists. Getting to know each other by doing something you both enjoy is also a more natural and longer-lasting way to build a relationship.
The way digital PRs use social media to contact journalists differs from person to person, and whilst some people love to use it to pitch ideas, I prefer to use it as a way to maintain relationships, rather than start them.
That said, I find Twitter is great for identifying opportunities – journalists use #journorequest and #prrequest frequently on here, and if you follow your key contacts you’ll notice when they turn to Twitter for help in locating case studies or data for their stories. If a writer’s Twitter profile is public, and if they tweet a lot then they may be more open to a pitch on the platform – but use your common sense and don’t start sliding into the DM’s of a journo willy-nilly.
Instagram is a great way to get to know a more personal side to a journalist (and also see how much they are or are not in the office!). It’s also useful to see when key contacts have moved titles or cities. Again, I think Insta works best when you use it with a bit of common sense. Don’t go creeping or getting over-familiar, remember journalists are just human beings who enjoy getting a like, or comment or story reaction – but won’t particularly enjoy an over-familiar PR ‘friend’ using the platform to communicate as if you’re old buddies. Your social media interaction with a journalist should properly reflect how well you actually know them, and always be professional.
Good journo relationships can mean securing bonus links with adhoc coverage opportunities, getting feedback on campaigns and securing a great exclusive on a high DA site, and I hope the above has been useful in giving digital PRs some ideas on how to approach building and maintaining relationships with online journalists.