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Building relationships with the media

15 September 2014

Getting to know a journalist, earning their respect, trust and, eventually, becoming their go-to person for stories, information and quotes is of crucial importance to successful media engagement.

How do you initiate and sustain these good relationships? Have changes to the media landscape and the emergence of social media changed the rules governing interaction with journalists?

Here are a few pointers:

Relationships matter but good stories matter more

Although this might seem like a counter-intuitive place to start an article about relationships, it should be said at the outset ‘knowing’ a journalist will count for little if you cannot give them what they want. Journalists want interesting angles, compelling case histories and fresh information.

Be realistic and don’t fall into the trap of thinking because a journalist ‘knows’ you, they’ll do your bidding. Journalists are not publicists and even the most attentively nurtured reporter or editor will not want to write about your every announcement, report, fundraising event or milestone.

Take advantage of social media

Make sure you’re following your key journalists on Twitter. This has two advantages. Firstly, you can keep up to date with stories they’re working on. If it’s a subject or issue falling within your area, you can be proactive and helpful – perhaps by offering a case study, a quote or by putting them in touch with an expert. Secondly, a journalist who you engage with may follow you back and through your Tweets be kept informed about your work.

Flattery works

Have you seen an article you like and wish you’d been able to provide input? A quick email to the journalist telling them how much you enjoyed the article and how you’d be delighted to help should they want to cover your area of expertise in future is a way of keeping on their radar. The key thing is to look helpful, not pushy.

Meet and greet

With journalists increasingly wedded to their desks, the prospects of reeling a journalist in for a chat over a long lunch are somewhat diminished. Fortunately, other opportunities for meeting and greeting the media are there for the taking. Even the most cursory bit of research will turn up a list of conferences, workshops and seminars with journalists on panels, giving talks or chairing discussions. A bit of confidence could well bring you some time with a journalist or editor that could be the start of a long and fruitful relationship.

Do your homework

This really is the first rule of any successful professional relationship with a journalist and therefore bears repeating – however obvious or self-evident it may seem. This means knowing and understanding the journalist and outlet you are pitching to – and preferably reading it on a regular basis. You need to know their audiences and what they’re interested in and how they like to receive information. A good grasp of their deadlines and publication cycle – such as whether they publish daily or need stories several weeks in advance – is a must. There are no shortcuts.

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Alex Goldup

Third Sector PR

Alex Goldup is a director at Third Sector PR, an award-winning public relations consultancy focusing primarily on the not-for-profit sector in the UK and overseas.

Contact. Alex Goldup e. t. 020 7250 8291