Media Training: Building relationships with journalists

Media Training – Work better with journalists

The quiet blog of late is a sign that we’re very busy. Lately it’s been nonstop training courses on blogging, online marketing and online PR and some consultancy in these areas too. Queries about media training have been passed on to other people. Still, you might as well have some of our knowledge, right? If you are looking for some help with getting press attention, here are some tips on building relationships with journalists. Once you read through this go over to Adrian Weckler’s blog where he has a whole section on how to work with journalists. Given he’s a journalist and an editor, he’s got the best advice out there.

A quick poll of journalists found that they prefer to get contact via email first. They absolutely despise getting a press release via email and then a call right after asking did they get that release. For relationship building with journalists, it’s better to introduce yourself and say what you’re doing and include a bio of your company in an email that quickly says you have a clue and you’re not wasting their time. Nothing is worse than an email saying “see press release”. In your email suggest doing a follow-up call.

Most journalists prefer an initial email but you will find yourself resorting to the phone as you build your relationship with journalists. One journalist pointed out:

If it’s ‘the President’s been shot’ then just call them up immediately. If it’s ‘my scout troop is going camping’ then perhaps an e-mail is best.

If you have a good phone manner and are a good talker then a phone call is always good, even for an initial introduction. Always, always ask is it a good time to talk. 3 minutes before a deadline might get your head bitten off.

catcubed instructs the tweeders on etiquette
Photo owned by greenkozi (cc)

Know your journalist.

Profiling is not stalking. Who are the business and technology journalists you want to reach and work with? Pick up copies of the daily and Sunday newspapers over the next two weeks and find the coverage of areas that align with your product or company. See who the journalists are. Note their style and figure out what areas they have a bias/like for.

Build profiles of these journalists and note their previous work (by searching newspaper archives). Find out their level of understanding of the areas they’ve covered. You don’t want to get too technical and you don’t want to treat a journalist like a five year old either.

Try and become a regular source for the journalist. Knowing what you know about the journalist you will spot their style and will see things that might interest them and send it on to them.

“Mary, did you see this report on X? The Government snuck it out on their website but never released anything about it. Might be worth looking at. The gist of the report is …”

Don’t ring someone up on some topic that they have never covered. For example, some journalists will cover consumer issues but some will only cover pure tech issues. Sometimes these do not mix. Pointless selling a story to someone that will never buy it.

However, sometimes you might find something that is irrelevant to you and the journalists that cover your industry. It might still be valuable to their media organisation though. Pass it on. It becomes valuable to them if it helps their paper or station and they were the ones that introduced it. Knowledge is a commodity after all.

Know your media.

What are the daily, weekly, monthly deadlines of the media organisations and the journalists? It’s pointless pitching a story to the Business Post’s Media and Marketing on a Thursday if they finish writing it on the Wednesday evening for example. If you press release on a Monday, a Sunday paper will invariably not cover this. It’s old news for the Sunday papers. However, a piece first seen in a Sunday Newspaper can be picked up by the daily papers for the Monday as well as radio stations.

Who are the editors for business and technology? Perhaps a features editor could use your input? Have a basic understanding of who these background people are and try and work with them too.

Initial introductions

Breakdown of sample email

  1. Get your introduction and headline into the Subject
  2. Expand on your headline at the start of the email. Do two lines if needed.
  3. Do a personal introduction.
  4. Offer an exclusive if possible, if you are ready to launch. Or else offer an advanced look at your product.
  5. Establish your credentials “We’re not nutters”
  6. Add more details on jobs/financials if available

The first introduction to a journalist is important. Remember you are competing with potentially a dozen or dozens of other people to get their attention. You’ll need to engage with them in a personable manner while still getting down to business.

Here’s one way of emailing a journalist for the first time.

Subject: Introduction – Cork Cola / New fizzy products

Cork Cola enters fizzy drinks market

Hi RockingJourno,
My name is Mr Corcaigh, I’m the CEO of Cork Cola, a new company that hopes to turn the fizzy drinks market it on its head. We’re going to be launching our product in the next few weeks, details of which are below. I read your pieces in the Bunratty Times quite a bit and I wonder would you be interested in having first coverage of this? We’re quite excited with what we’re doing.

More on Cork Cola:
Cork Cola is a fizzy drink with a difference. It’s all natural, all our ingredients are Irish including the coca beans which are grown in the Lee Valley. We have 1/3 of the sugar in our products compared to other colas yet in extensive field tests, teenagers like our product just as much or more than rival products.

The Cork Cola Team:
We have a great team on board – together with the founders (myself and Johnny Tayto) we also have Tammy McTiger as Chairperson and Batt O’Brien as an advisor. My background is in the candy business where I was Director of Innovation for Toffee Apples Inc, Johnny worked in King Crisps as Marketing Director, Tammy worked in the Dept. of Agriculture and Food and Batt is a senior researcher in the Food College of Ireland.

Contact Details:

There is still no exact template for this though. Some journalists react well to these methods, some do not. Keep trying though and amend to what you think has worked and what has not worked. Good luck!

5 thoughts on “Media Training: Building relationships with journalists”

  1. Good points Damien, agree with almost everything said.

    Can I add one extra point? It’s not as concrete as those in your post, but it can help a lot.

    Try to trust the journalist you’re contacting.

    This might feel weird; many people are nervous dealing with the media. They naturally wonder how they might be represented or quoted.

    But a journalist of decent reputation will generally look after and protect you. If you approach them with a respectful and open attitude, you’ll find that you have more control over the situation than you might have imagined.

    For example, you might soon find that you would like to speak freely about something that would give much-needed context to your story or situation.
    But you might prefer not to be quoted on the subject (for a number of reasons, mainly your own political or strategic ones).

    So you will ask for something to be ‘off the record’.

    Now is the time when your initial trust will pay off: the journalist will almost certainly have no problem with your request.

    (This is not to say that you can ramble on for half an hour and, at the end of the conversation, casually say: “oh, by the way, that’s all off the record”. That infuriates journalists.)

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