In order to conduct media outreach effectively, it’s essential to build meaningful relationships with reporters. As with any relationship, there is a give-and-take aspect. You shouldn’t ignore the reporter’s interests and needs as you seek to accomplish your own goals. Journalists are just as busy, if not busier, than you are. They also receive hundreds of emails each day from companies looking for coverage, the majority of which are untargeted and self-serving.
Reporters have become more vocal about the habits that get on their nerves when working with sources and inexperienced PR teams. The following issues tend to be universal:
Not respecting their time
Media relations is a two-way street. Respecting a reporter’s time is a key building block for strong media relationships.
Reporters work on tight deadlines and are often juggling multiple stories at once. Keep this in mind when working and communicating with them. It’s important to arrive at or call into interviews on time, if not early. Be prepared with talking points, supporting examples and answers to potential questions.
Journalists also appreciate sources who respond to requests for additional information, photo assets and other materials very quickly. If you take too long to submit requested information, don’t answer calls or lag with interview requests, reporters won’t wait for you—they will find another source (likely a competitor) who can meet their deadline.
Reporters like reliable sources—those who provide solid expertise and follow through with scheduled interviews and deadlines. Cancelling an the last minute puts reporters in a tough position, and is a quick way to be blacklisted from future stories. Media outlets can’t change their publication dates, so it’s important to be sensitive to that and avoid last-minute changes if possible.
People who come to interviews with a sales pitch
An interview isn’t always the time or place to try to sell your product or service. If the story is about a new product or service, feel free to discuss it in a sales-oriented manner. In other cases, reporters are looking for expertise from someone in the industry they are covering. Determine the reporter’s angle and needs, and delicately weave in your own talking points.
Similarly, your goal with media relations shouldn’t be just to increase sales. It should be to increase brand awareness, credibility and thought leadership, which can indirectly lead to more sales. You can elevate your audience’s perception of your brand and keep it top-of-mind by aligning with and commenting on relevant issues and trends in your industry.
Sometimes a reporter won’t ask any questions directly related to your product or service, and that’s ok. For example, say you work for a technology company that just released new software. Your CEO is eager to promote the product, and a reporter requests an interview with her to discuss trends in artificial intelligence and how the space is evolving (a topic she has extensive experience with). In her interview prep, the CEO identified ways to connect the new product to emerging trends in AI. This allows her to meet the reporter’s needs and story angle while still calling out the new product (and positioning herself as a thought leader).
People who ask to review stories prior to publication
Reporters strive to provide objective, unbiased coverage. If they allowed sources to review stories before publication, reporters would lose their objectivity. Don’t do it.
To help ensure accuracy, always prepare ahead of time, take advantage of media training and define your key messages ahead of time. In some cases, reporters at niche trade media outlets will allow sources to review stories in order to verify technical information. However, it’s best to assume that this is not the case. The reporter will be proactive if they need the extra review.
Saying “no comment” or avoiding questions
Prior to interviews, review speaking techniques to help you deftly navigate difficult questions. These strategies, such as blocking and bridging, have proven successful for media spokespersons, politicians and other public figures who need to maintain control of their messaging.
In some cases, the information a reporter wants is not ready to be released to the public, or it is proprietary and will never be released. In these situations, it’s best to acknowledge the reporter’s question and explain why you can’t speak about it. Then, “bridge” with what you can speak on. If you know that reporters are going to ask about a certain event or controversial topic, prepare a strategic response that will allow you to answer questions without revealing confidential information.
In crisis situations, it is important to tell the truth and to tell it quickly, rather than saying “no comment.” It is often the cover up, not the crime, that receives the most backlash.
Off topic or untargeted pitching
While some reporters are considered “general assignment,” meaning they cover anything and everything, many others cover specific “beats,” which can be topics or geographic areas. When engaging with reporters, it is important to understand a reporter’s beat so your talking points resonate.
You can learn more about a reporter’s beat by reading the publication and watching or listening to the programs you may be working with in the future.
Reporters remember brands that are difficult to work with and, in some cases, will refuse to write a story about certain companies that don’t take the time to understand where they are coming from. However, they also remember brands that consistently provide high quality information and meet their deadlines. If you avoid these common media relations “no-no’s,” your chances of building meaningful relationships with reporters increases exponentially.