How to make friends with journalists
A journalist’s contacts book is their most prized possession. It is these contacts that provide them with the heads-up on a potential story, background information and opinion. Therefore, finding your way into this contacts book and becoming a go-to person should be a key goal.
The more trusted and reliable you are as a source of information about your sector the more journalists will turn to you for contributions, be it in the form of interviews, written statements or articles and blogs. Here are my ten tips for establishing good working relationships with journalists:
1. Introduce yourself
Send them a briefing document containing information about your organisation, key spokespeople and the topics you can comment on.
2. Provide them with the information the way they want it
Send them useful, relevant and new information that meets the needs of their target audience and is presented in an appropriate format. Most journalists prefer email as the first point of contact.
3. Know when NOT to pitch
Don’t be the person calling a local news station to pitch a story during the midst of a large fire at a nearby factory, or a national newsroom during a major terrorist siege. Breaking news stories can often consume the entire newsroom at which point no one will care about your organisation. Wait until things have calmed down.
4. Be fast and reliable
Provide them with what they want, when they want it. One good interview or comment piece can turn into many more if the media know that you are responsive, efficient and can comfortably handle an interview.
5. Make yourself available
News waits for no man or woman. Journalists need to know that they can call you at 7am or 11pm for comment and background information. Accommodating out of hours and urgent requests is essential if you’re to become the go-to person for interviews.
6. Hang out where they hang out
Conferences and events can be the best way to make that all-important first face-to-face contact. Invite them to meet you and your organisation. However, remember that journalists are busy and it has to be worth their while. The invite will only be accepted if you have something interesting to offer them that they couldn’t receive over the phone or via email, be it a press conference, the chance to meet a VIP or to see your work in action.
7. Become their ears on your industry
Feed them stories, provide on and off the record comment, and help them keep on top of the latest developments so they can break stories faster and better than their competition. This may include giving them exclusives and visual and audio elements, such as photos, infographics and video to accompany a story. Journalists are busy. The more you can package up for them to make their life easier, the better, and the more likely your content will be accepted.
8. Ask them what they want
If you secure an interview with a writer or reporter, it’s a great opportunity to strike up a conversation about what else they may be interested in covering. But do it at the right time. Wait until all logistics of your phone interview have been set up or after the TV filming has wrapped up. Let them know that you enjoyed working with them and then mention a few other story ideas to see if they would be interested.
9. Don’t forget about social media
Follow journalists on Twitter and Facebook, and try to find an appropriate but not obtrusive way to join in the conversation or provide them with answers to questions they may have raised.
10. Thank them
Just as you’d thank a donor or volunteer for their support, you should also thank a journalist for giving you great coverage. Be gracious.
This article is an extract from Effective media relations for charities: what journalists want and how to deliver it by Becky Slack. Find out more about the book here.