Thinking Outside the Pitch: 10 Tips for Building Mutually Beneficial Media Relationships

By David Worthington

Understanding a reporter’s interests is essential, but what those interests are might not be clear to the uninitiated. Luckily, I know my way around a newsroom as I am a former tech journalist (and current energy reporter for SmartPlanet).  Here are ten tips to help you to build mutually beneficial relationships with the press.

  1. Don’t only surface when you want something, and don’t be standoffish. There’s no reason why a good reporter can’t become a part of your professional network – or even a friend. Mutual respect, honesty, intelligence, and uncompromising integrity build lasting relationships.
  2. Socialize with journalists when you get the opportunity. You can learn a lot when you have a beer with somebody. Don’t forget to bring your spokespeople along; PR people often make the mistake of creating a Chinese wall between the press and their clients. Some of my best articles resulted from these types of conversations. Don’t allow a pitch to become a conceptual boundary.
  3. Learn what you can about the reporter’s workflow and affiliation(s). Freelancers often wear more than one hat; other reporters moonlight selling snowboards or writing whitepapers anonymously. Newsrooms aren’t what they once were, and publishers are often more inclined to hire someone who is cheaper than retaining an experienced editor/reporter. Being perceived as helpful will ingratiate you with them, and they’ll appreciate it.
  4. Know what type of article the reporter wants to write and their audience. If it’s not a fit, don’t waste your ammo. Clients should have realistic coverage expectations. For instance, many online reporters are paid based upon their number of monthly hits with the possibility of a bonus for high traffic stories. Is your press release about XYZ’s release of Widgets 5.11 going to help them get there? Don’t waste your time (or theirs) overselling it. I turn down a lot of pitches for CBSi’s SmartPlanet that aren’t focused and aren’t interesting (it feels amazing to write a barnburner – especially if it gets linked to by the biggest outlets or explodes on social media. A few articles come to mind as the highlights of my career thus far, and that   includes a great experience on the vendor side. Writing product news stories can get monotonous).
  5.  Understand what you are pitching and be able to answer questions clearly and concisely. Also, know what you don’t know. That opens the door to a briefing. PR can be like sales (my previous job): knowledge helps you sell a pitch to even a seasoned reporter.
  6. Reporters talk to one another, and people gossip. Never lie, and don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Reputations are enduring.
  7. A rapid response that is never rapid, and statements that don’t add any value to an article, put you on the fast track to having little credibility. If your objective is to make the reporter wait, they won’t fall for that trick more than a few times. Sometimes you just can’t say anything, but remember that it may be better to get your client to get a word in edgewise – even if the tone of the article is harsh. Don’t let someone else define your client.
  8. You won’t always get the story that you want, but that’s okay. One statement that’s critical might just be honest. Strong reporting holds more credibility than a story that just parrots your talking points.
  9. Some reporters are jerks and will never change. Know the good ones from the bad ones, and don’t always assume that what is off the record remains off the record.
  10.  Tell your spokespeople to be friendly and passionate about what they are discussing – there is no such thing as a stupid question. One of the greatest benefits of being a reporter is to be able to speak to brilliant people that normally wouldn’t give you the time of the day. Leverage a good spokesperson as a valuable asset, and make sure that they are accessible
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