This topic is one that hits home for me – media relations and its relevance in our digital world. When I was in college at Kent State University (yes, an amazing school!), I was fortunate to be taught by some of the best practitioners I’ve ever met, even to this day. But one topic that surmounted them all – including top-notch research, strategic planning and writing – was media relations.
Now I am well aware that term can be interpreted in many ways depending on your education, or the type of business or industry you work in. But, at its crux, media relations is building and harnessing mutually beneficial relationships to reach and engage your target public/s. Remember that phrase “mutually beneficial relationships?” Yep, it’s part of, and has been a centerpiece of the Public Relations Society of America’s mission statement for 60 years now.
So, has the traditional media relations I so fondly remember bit the dust? The answer… NO.
What do I mean by traditional media relations?
When I use that term, I am referring to what most of us have done for years now – forging relationships with media contacts through pitching, editorial meetings, tours of newsrooms, etc. Remember the press conference or the media tour? It’s like we’ve forgotten about the all important two-way, face-to-face communications we had drilled into our minds in every PR class. That’s how we used to reach key people in the media – by showing some form of personality and tact. It didn’t matter if you were trying to attain coverage or to learn more about a respective media outlet, it all revolved around connecting with that person on some level. That connection remains of great importance to our field, even with the advent of social media.
Why is traditional media relations still important?
I will argue anyone that utilizing traditional media relations, like picking up the phone and calling a journalist to discuss a story idea or inquire about their needs, is still critical to our profession. Even now, I find myself garnering far better coverage – not to mention quality of coverage – by just calling a reporter and having a candid conversation with him or her.
These people don’t have all day to shoot the breeze though – even with shrinking newsrooms and less time to gather data. But let’s face it, we’re living in a time when these folks crave great content. When we package that content in newsworthy and practical ways, we will reap the rewards of story placement; and more importantly, build trust among the media.
Do college students or entry-level pros get it?
I don’t think college students or young practitioners right out of college really understand the importance of media relations from the perspective I am describing. Many students I’ve met are inundated with the power of social media and the infinite possibilities surrounding this exciting term. Yes, I’m an advocate of using social media tools to reach key media personnel and even score coverage, but that’s only part of the job. Social media platforms are a way to introduce yourself and learn about the person, but a balance of online, social media and traditional pitching are necessary to create a true relationship.
What’s my advice to students on old school media relations?
My advice is simple. Swallow your fear, think strategic (script with bulleted facts), know what you will say and pick up the phone! I assure you, it really works. For those of you who are so bold as to attempt this daunting and horrific task, let me offer my short-list of 10 ways PR professionals can still use media relations to build invaluable relationships with the media:
- Create a media list of your local or regional media outlets.
- Identify the key players you want to get to know.
- Call them up and ask what types of stories they’re looking for.
- Extend an offer to meet for coffee or lunch to learn more about them, and for them to learn about you.
- Setup an editorial meeting with section editors to discuss your news depending on the level of urgency and news value.
- READ their publications as much as possible! (Knowing what they write and how they present it makes a huge difference).
- Provide occasional recognition to a published piece. (Don’t pitch here… it’s just a way to let them know you’re paying attention).
- Keep them in the loop on what you’re working on as it relates to them. You’d be surprised by the mundane things that can skyrocket to the top of a journalist’s hot list without even realizing it.
- Follow their careers as they progress. People quickly turnover and change positions in this industry. Keeping in touch makes a world of difference! (They pass along contact names and other valuable information).
- DO NOT be afraid to pick up the phone and call them. Even with social media and email, a phone call goes a long way in showing you care and that you’re genuine. Email and social media can be impersonal and sometimes seem too forward.