Media relations is a central component of a public relations campaign. Educated and savvy sources can determine just how successful that campaign is – they can bolster it by providing thoughtful and timely insights during an interview, or they drive it into the ground with impractical demands and a one-sided perspective.
The most effective reporter-source relationships are symbiotic. The reporter gets advice, background and expertise that’s critical for churning out an objective and credible story. The source gets third-party validation of his/her expertise, as well as broadened awareness of a brand, service or product.
To foster this symbiotic relationship and become a go-to resource, sources need to come to the table with realistic expectations and take care to understand the reporter’s point of view. As a source, it’s important to consider the following:
Journalists Operate with Urgency: Journalists must abide by strict deadlines. If you want coverage, you must make an effort to accommodate the requests as quickly as possible (sometimes within minutes). That could mean moving a meeting or squeezing in a call during a brief break. If not, journalists have many other sources (competitors) they can call upon.
Relationships Take Time to Foster: It takes to time to become a regular source for a particular expertise. The best way to speed up this process is to respond quickly to requests, be approachable and provide quality insights during interviews. Once reporters know they can trust and depend on you, they will rely on your expertise and be open to proactive story pitches.
Lengthy Interviews Do Not Equate to More Quotes: It’s fairly common to speak with a reporter for 30 minutes or more and end up with a single quote or 20-second sound bite. It doesn’t necessarily mean your interview was poor (although it could). It may simply mean a single quote was needed, and possibly additional background information. It could also be a space issue, or the fact that other sources already filled out the context. Don’t despair. A lengthy interview also provides you with an opportunity to build a rapport, strike a chord for another story idea, and demonstrate your timeliness and expertise for the future.
Reporters May Not Have Background on the Story: Don’t expect reporters to know who you are and what you do. The reality is that tight deadlines often leave little time for research and preparation. Plus, journalists are working on multiple stories at once. Take time to educate the journalist, if necessary, and be as accommodating as possible. Some reporters work beats and possess industry knowledge, while others cover any and everything.
You May be Interviewed by an Intern or Student: Journalists have to start somewhere. Since the Recession rocked the media landscape, many news organizations increasingly rely on interns and journalism students to fill out news coverage. These interviews may require extra education, and you may need to repeat your quotes. It’s just the nature of the business. Be patient. Interns will remember your flexibility and professionalism once they get more experience under their belts and become leading reporters in the market.
You Won’t Be the Main Feature Every Month: Journalists have a responsibility to cover a wide range of news and sources in order to achieve objectivity. They can’t be objective or unbiased if you get all the attention. Expect your competitors to receive coverage too (especially if they have PR teams!).
Advertising Does Not Equate to More Editorial Coverage: While there are some exceptions to this rule (primarily with niche trade publications and newsletters), journalistic publications do not give preference to advertisers. In many cases, the advertising and editorial departments are situated on separate sides of a building and don’t even interact. Objectivity is very important to journalists (even if it doesn’t always seem that way). It’s considered taboo to raise the subject of advertising during an interview or pitch.
Sometimes Interviews Get Canceled: Don’t get discouraged or annoyed if a journalist needs to push or cancel an interview. When breaking news occurs, the entire day’s agenda is thrown out. It’s not personal.
You May be Asked to Provide a Client as a Source: In an effort to report all sides of a story, journalists may need a non-expert source or a client experiencing a particular issue. If you can, make the extra effort to reach out to your client (if appropriate!). If not, be prepared for the journalist to call upon another expert who can provide the resource. In some cases, it will be necessary to pass on an interview because disclosing a client is not in the company’s best interest.
Everything is “On the Record”: Technically, there’s no such thing as “off the record.” Everything you say before, during and after an interview may appear in a published story.
Sometimes Reporters Get It Wrong: Despite every effort to get the facts straight, mistakes happen. You may be misquoted. A retraction may be required. Your name may be misspelled. We all make mistakes, and sometimes we need to be forgiving in order to maintain a positive rapport with the journalist and media outlet.
Understanding the role and constraints of a journalist will give you better perspective into their needs – and how you can help fulfill those needs. Remember the key learnings here, along with the tips in these blogs:
- How to Build Beneficial Media Relationships as a Spokesperson: Fundamental tips on how to conduct the interview and what journalists need from you.
- How to Ensure Your Media Interview is a Success: Tips to prepare for an interview and adapt your key message points for each interview.