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Posted on 08.18.2011

When it comes to working with reporters, relationships rule

There are many factors that determine whether a reporter covers a story. Is there a news hook? Is the story compelling? Is it relevant to that media outlet’s readers, listeners or viewers? And so on. As a communications professional, you unfortunately can’t control all variables that determine whether a reporter covers your story. But one thing you can do to improve your chances is to get to know the reporter(s) in question. In my experience, reporters are more likely to pick up the phone or return an email if they’ve met the person on the other end of that communication than if a stranger contacted them about the same topic. And once you’ve had a positive work experience with a reporter – meaning the reporter got a good story – that journalist is even more likely to work with you again. Here’s a little advice from a reporter turned PR-pro: 1. Identify the target(s) Pick the publication or publications where you’d like to get some press. Then start reading so you can get a feel for the publication’s tone and topical preferences – and identify which is most likely to write the stories you’ll pitch. If you work for a health care company, find the health care reporters. If you work in finance, figure out who covers banking and finance and read up on the types of stories that reporter has written in the past. 2. Dangle the carrot (or … the cup of coffee or the sandwich) Basically, send the reporter an email and offer to buy him something to eat or drink. Tell him you want to chat because you think you could be a good resource for him. Ethically, a lot of reporters can accept this sort of “gift” as long as it’s nominal (below $20), and most won’t turn down a chance to do so. (This step is much more difficult if you and the reporter live in different cities. In that case, I suggest an introductory email that providing some brief information about what you do and a couple of timely and relevant topics you can speak to and/or a specific news story you will be able to pitch to that reporter in the near future. This will help the reporter become familiar with you and your work without feeling like they’re getting the hard sell. From here, your relationship’s strength will be based solely upon the merits of your pitches and how easy you are to work with – i.e. how long it takes you to respond to questions and whether you provide substantive answers.) 3. Don’t push Keep your date, and don’t lead with the hard sell. Ask the reporter how he got to his current position, what he covers, the kinds of stories he likes to write. Then tell him about yourself or your company. What do you do? What are your areas of expertise? What insights or news might you be able to provide to the reporter? Discuss a couple of upcoming developments or topics that you think he might find interesting. If he’s glued to the conversation, and you’ve got a specific story pitch, go for it. And you don’t have a specific story, that’s fine – end the meeting with an invitation for the reporter to call you with any questions on your company or the industry and promise to send them anything you think they’ll want to know about. 4. Follow up Sometime in the immediate days following your meeting, send a short email thanking the reporter for his time. Remind him that you’re happy to be a resource for his work and provide your contact information. It might seem unnecessary or overly formal, but given the staff-strapped state of most newsrooms, reporters have a lot on their plates and in their inboxes. This simple message will remind the reporter that he had good time talking with you and help solidify your relationship. 5. Stay in touch The first four steps alone will help you get a media mention when you’re ready to pitch a story because the reporter can identify the person who’s sending it. But if this is a reporter you think you’ll want to pitch frequently or who you know will be covering your company/clients on a regular basis, you should make an effort to stay in touch. This can be as simple as sending a short note at the top of emailed press releases (‘Sending this along because I figured you’d want to be in the loop’) or dropping him a line or phone call once a month to say hello and see if you can offer any help on the stories he’s developing. By developing a relationship with a reporter beyond the standard pitch and follow-up, you’ll increase your chances of landing coverage.   photo credit: http://bit.ly/o3X9Fm

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