How to build a relationship with a reporter
A relationship with a reporter doesn’t guarantee your story will be picked up, but it’s a good start.
Multiple collaborations with a reporter build trust and expand your network with connections that can help you pivot to other reporters when you’re in tough jams for news coverage.
So how do you start building relationships with the right reporters? What makes their jobs easier and get your stories published? And how do you navigate stressful pitches and collaborations without burning bridges?
Here’s a recap of #15 of the Mind Meld PR vlog series, with extra insights on building relationships with reporters.
What start does a relationship with a reporter give you?
“Some people watching this might be incredibly surprised that not everything pitched gets written about or that the majority of things pitched don’t get written about.
“Recognizing your name, and having a familiar association with that name, goes far in terms of anyone prioritizing their inboxes.”
Douglas and Jonathon have actually known each other for years. Does that mean Beta Kit picks up every single pitch from Mind Meld PR, no questions asked? If only. But, nope.
Don’t take it personally if a reporter ignores or declines your pitch. Reporters are swamped with hundreds of pitches each day. But a relationship with a reporter might first get your pitch an extra five seconds glance in their inbox. It helps...but you have to bring a dynamite pitch and also get lucky with timing. Of course, you can make your own luck...
How is building relationships with reporters like sales?
“Just stepping back to this idea of the assumption of the value of the relationship versus all the other things that you need to do to make sure that you’re forming the right relationships with reporters...just because you have a relationship with a journalist, doesn’t mean its the right journalist for your outcomes.
“So who you should be forming relationships with, how, and what you should be presenting them with, I think, are all important things.
“Customer profiling: think about it like sales. You need to profile not only the reporters but publications and audiences you want to reach in exactly the same way you do your target customer...if you fail to do that you are just stumbling around flying in the dark.”
The right reporter and publication for your outcomes are key here. But so are the right stories for a reporter or publication. You need to find the right fit for both of your outcomes.
Let’s say you’re an early-stage startup in Vancouver. You may want a senior staff writer at TechCrunch to tell your story, but it might be a better fit for a junior reporter at Beta Kit, in Canada, who has been covering your scene. Each time you match the right reporter with the right story, you build trust. Better yet, give the right reporter an exclusive, meaning the first crack at a story which other reporters may want as well, and you’ll start building a long-lasting relationship for future collaborations.
Further, creating and updating media lists can help you keep track of hundreds of reporters and publications in different niches, markets, and audiences.
But a media list shouldn’t be your end-all source for finding the right reporters. Sometimes you’ll find the right one from memory, by having worked with or followed the reporter in the past. And according to Douglas, profiling and relationships go both ways:
“Maybe the expectations that the client has have failed in some way, and it’s only through the value of that relationship whereby you are getting a pivot, a repositioning, to actually get you where you want to be, which is to a reporter or publication that is actually interested in the information and wants to write about it.”
How do you protect and cultivate relationships with reporters?
“While your background preparation process can be as heavily researched and technical as you want it to be...if it’s missing that human element you’re going to fall short. If I receive a form email that I know you’ve sent to 20 other journalists, which I can obviously recognize, because who can’t, then you’ve kind of dropped the ball at the one-yard line.”
The comms people we really value are like ‘Hey, we don’t think you’re interested in this but wanted to maybe flag it past your way.”
You can’t miss the human touch in building relationships with reporters. Don’t make the mistake of sending a reporter like “Douglas Soltys” a pitch with “Hey Frank.”
Remember reporters are human beings with feelings and problems. Be polite and make sure whatever pressure you’re under doesn’t get unfairly passed onto them. Take it from Douglas, if you’re “weird, stupid, or entitled,” you risk burning bridges and landing on a blacklist.
How about cultivating relationships? Perhaps fresh ones? Well, sometimes senior reporters already have their network built and may not want any more “coffee dates” or “zoom calls” within the industry.
If they ignore you, remember what Douglas said: “there’s a bunch of junior reporters who start every semester graduating, who don’t have a network, and who would love to get inundated in that world, have contacts and learn, that you can be targeting.”
How to clearly set expectations with a reporter
“For the communications people listening to this: it’s about setting expectations of actually what this process looks like, how it’s going to happen, and not just the lead up to publication of a story, if it happens, but what happens afterward. “If you’re on the executive side working with communications professionals, before you hire them...understand what it means to have something published and what the process looks like and what happens after the fact and what is acceptable to ask or expect. Gray area tactics can help you set expectations and prevent disputes. If you want to tease a story to a reporter but don’t want it to be public yet, make sure you clearly state whether your teaser is “off the record” or “under embargo.” These gray area tactics are not rules of law but are built on trust with reporters.
And if you notice something is wrong with a story after its published, clearly explain to the reporter why changes need to be made. This doesn’t mean you can get a company slogan inserted into a story but applies to things like getting the proper facts right.
Should I ask a reporter for pricing for sponsored content?
“If you are trying to pay someone to write something that you would hope they would write about without paying, consider how that aligns to your overall objectives.”
One of the easiest ways to ruin a relationship with a reporter—or to never begin one in the first place—is to ask: “how much would this story cost?”
Reporters are not in the business of paid media coverage. If you’re thinking of paying for a media placement, you should first figure out whether a publication has a separate sponsored content section, and if so, who’s in charge of that role.
At the end of the day, reporters are objectively writing the news of the day. They are not marketers.
Are you looking to build relationships with the right reporters, who can tell your story? We know and work with them every day -- and we can help you meet them.