Developing beneficial media relationships should be at the core of all you do as a communication specialist. Too often, the media is seen as 'the enemy' but there are ways to shed this outdated way of looking at things and really get the most out of a mutually beneficial relationship.
Like any good relationship, it takes time, honesty, professionalism and integrity. Here are some tips on how to work on those all-important media relationships.
Focus on your core contacts
Although you are likely to have any number of outlets contacting you depending on what's going on at the time, try to keep a focus on those that you do regular work with and that you are more likely to be able to build a relationship with. If you end up dealing with a national or international story, you probably won't want to be in regular contact with those outlets after everything has returned back to business as usual.
Instead, focus on those people that are turning up for everything no matter how big or small, because when you need them they are more likely to return your call.
Be mindful though, that fostering some sort of relationship with a contact at a news agency such as Reuters or Associated Press is always helpful because in a pinch, their story is going to be disseminated far and wide and it always helps to be able to have some sort of input.
Focus on those people that are turning up for everything no matter how big or small
Be aware of, and respect journalists deadlines
There's an understanding that if you get things to journalists in a timely fashion that they too will most likely respect how pressed for time you are. If you are considered to be reliable and act on your word then you'll most certainly build that relationship so that when you need some leverage or support in the future, you're more likely to get it from an ally in the media.
Always ask what the deadline is, even if it's not volunteered. If you can't make that deadline, be honest - don't tell them you can even if you're not sure you can. Try to negotiate and understand that there's a trickle down effect and actually, they are under pressure from someone else. Start negotiations and see where you get. Can't get a full response? How about a holding statement with a promise of something more substantial down the line.
Keep it real
It's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that all journalists are out to get you. All they are out to get is the story, and that's where you doing your job well will ensure it's a fair and professional process.
The most important thing is to be yourself and be honest with how you do your work as well as creating boundaries that are understood and adhered to. Try not to be over friendly to try to get things done your way as this never usually ends well.
It's usually obvious to anyone, journalist or not, if you're being a fake, and this is when you'll get caught out. Don't try to play journalists off against each other because like in any industry, people move around and your reputation will always precede you.
Don't try to play journalists off against each other
Make your website into a news hub
The main source of research for journalists is the internet, so make it easy for them and you'll always be their first port of call. Make sure you have a PR-friendly website by creating a press kit.
Get everyone in your agency or organization to be media friendly
You don't need to give everyone media training, but by giving them a one page brief on the media and how to deal with them you'll set yourself up for success. Do you know what people really think about the media? Everyone has some sort of bias, unconscious or otherwise, so you need to be sure that this doesn't leak when they need to speak with the media. This means anyone who might take a phone inquiry or be out on the street. They need to be just as professional and courteous as you would be.
Know their angles
Every news outlet will have an angle - whether it's political, policy or issue driven. It's better to work with them on this and play to their interests. That means really understanding not only them, but their readership. Really get to know outlets by reading and watching across the board. You can guarantee something will come across your desk that will fit perfectly into one of their
Hold regular events
You know the feeling when someone only gets in touch when they want something? It's the same with journalists. It doesn't have to be cloak and dagger drinks in a dive bar somewhere, but regular, say quarterly, casual media meet-ups can be a great way to foster relationships and be transparent. It may be an opportunity for them to speak to your leadership in a setting that's less formal than a press conference.
Remember though, just because the setting might be more casual, it doesn't mean your conduct shouldn't be as professional and consistent as it always is.
Appreciate you aren't the only source of information
You wouldn't keep going back to the store that treats you badly or seems like it doesn't want your business, so why would a journalist keep coming back to you if you're hard to work with. You are by no means the only source, so if someone choose to go elsewhere you're on the back foot because there is always someone else to fill the gap.
Understand their lead times
You may feel like you're only working on very short deadlines and reactive news cycles, but there will be times when you have to plan campaigns in advance. Knowing the lead times of the outlets and publications you want to work with will stand you in stead to getting more coverage. You can be more prepared to provide exactly what they are looking for and also ensure that what you have planned fits in with seasonal changes in editorial content.
Most mainstream US magazines would have a two to three month lead time. If you're concerned about embargoes being broken, you could get a legal agreement, but if this is your first tactic, be prepared to not get a second call on your content pitch.
Needless to say, it doesn't hurt to give a basic pre-briefing to outline that there will be something of interest coming down the line that they will want to keep in mind. If you've been working on building those relationships, then you're more likely to get support.
Remember that their time is valuable
You may not know if you are dealing with a freelancer, but for a freelance journalist time is really money. They get a fixed fee to do a story and the more time it takes, the less money they make, so be respectful of this and this will get you remembered for all the right reasons.
The same goes for overworked staff reporters and yes, interns, who aren't getting paid at all but will undoubtedly remember you when they do get to that all-important decision making role a few years down the line.