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Posted on 10.25.2011

The “Secret Sauce” of Good Media Relations

There are many ingredients that go into effective media relations. Having a good story or a knowledgeable and authoritative source to offer are, of course, two critical components. But responsiveness is the “secret sauce” of good media relations. It’s that key component for securing media coverage and building the kinds of reporter relationships that keep them coming back for more. Of course, one person’s responsiveness may be another person’s what-the-heck-took-you-so-long, so let me elaborate. When I was a reporter, my definition of responsive was replying to a reporter’s request as soon as you physically can. That means, if you get an email from a reporter who wants to talk to your CEO or, if you’re a PR pro, one of your clients, you should reply to that reporter as soon as you get the message. Depending on the nature of the reporter’s email, your reply may be one line saying that you’ll check into it and get back to them as soon as you can. That reply lets the reporter know that you’re aware of their story and you’re trying to help.  It’s even better if you can let the reporter know when you’ll get back to them, and it’s better still if you can provide any guidance to the reporter on whether you think you’ll ultimately be able to fulfill that request. There are two major benefits to this kind of responsiveness:
  • If the reporter knows that you may provide the interview or information he needs for his story, he’s less likely to seek out alternative sources. In the case of a positive story, that increases your chances of getting a favorable quote or coverage. In the case of a negative story, it may lessen the chances that the reporter will go digging around for alternative sources that may have inaccurate or unflattering information to share (though it certainly can’t prevent him from doing so).
  • The reporter will appreciate your responsiveness and be more likely to come back to you in the future with other story opportunities. I strongly believe in this point based on first hand experience. I was a reporter, my go-to contacts in the public relations world – the first people I emailed or called when I needed a source I couldn’t reach directly – were the ones I knew would get back to me. Even if those people ultimately couldn’t or wouldn’t comment on the story, which happened frequently, I still called them first because I knew I could trust them to communicate quickly.
And if you get a reporter inquiry from a reporter with whom you don’t already have a relationship, pick up the phone and give that reporter a call. Unlike the calls you make to follow up on news releases – the ones where the reporter sounds busy, annoyed or plain confused at who you are – the reporter wants to talk to you. It’s a great way to lay some groundwork for a good relationship. (See our earlier post on the importance of cultivating relationships with reporters). In a few minutes you can find out more information on the kind of story the reporter is planning and the reporter’s deadline. You can let him or her know who you have in mind for the interview and let them know next steps. It sounds simple because it is. But it’s also the thing that can take your media relations work from adequate to great.    

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