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5 Tips for Relationship-Building with Reporters in the Digital Age

April 4, 2019
By Sara Steindorf

In honor of National Hug a Newsperson Day, we’re taking time to give thanks to the #FourthEstate for keeping us up to date and our democracy in check. As a newsperson turned PR maven, it’s also a good day to share tips for fostering journalist relationships in the digital age.

Gone are the days when PR pros must pore over heavy Bacon’s tomes to find the right reporter (I realize I’m dating myself here), babysit the fax machine, or snail mail press kits with photo slides to reporters. Technology and social media can make our jobs easier, but we have new challenges. Gone are also the days when reporters have ample time for editorial board meetings, visits to your client’s headquarters and events, or even phone chats about future stories to see if your organization is a fit.

Today, reporters are busy covering more beats with less time, as many media outlets struggle to survive. However, one thing has remained: relationship-building with reporters is still one of the best ways to secure coverage for your client. Following are five tips for doing so in the digital age.

1. Twitter lists are just as important as media lists. When targeting reporters to pitch for your client, don’t forget to build Twitter lists – and follow reporters’ tweets to keep track of what’s top of mind. A reporter’s tweet may provide fodder for personalizing your email pitch for a story idea, an opportunity to direct message a reporter to offer your client as a resource on a related topic, or a reporter may even tweet a request asking for an expert to interview for a timely story. The more you become a reporter’s resource, the better chance you’ll have of them covering your client.

2. Followers are the new currency. When a reporter posts a positive story on your client, be sure to have your client’s Twitter handle retweet or share the story. Doing so not only extends the story’s reach for your client but also for the reporter, potentially helping both gain more visibility as well as followers on Twitter or other social channels.

On a similar note, some reporters’ follower counts rival an outlet’s UVM. Thus, a reporter’s quick tweet about your client could have just as much reach as an article or video on the outlet’s website. This may come in handy when, for example, your client has a timely statistic to share but not quite enough to warrant a full story.

3. Don’t spray and pray. It’s easy to copy a press release or pitch into an email, add a bunch of email addresses to the BCC, and hit send. But that never works. Reporters hate being blasted. Do your homework to find out the specific topics they’re interested in, and personalize your pitches to them – be a resource, don’t waste their time. If a reporter is unresponsive, try to “add value” in a follow-up email, so that you have something more to say than just, “Did you see my email?”

4. Keep your pitches pithy. Reporters are often bombarded with hundreds of emails a day. Getting a reporter to even open your email is half the battle. Make sure your email pitches have a compelling subject line with the important details included such as an in-person meeting with the CEO who will be in town, or offering news under embargo (e.g. the ability to review news a day or two before it is announced, so that a reporter may report and time a story for when the client announces the news) or an exclusive (e.g. where only one reporter is given dibs on a story). In the body of the email, keep it concise. Use bullets and underline key details so that a reporter may skim the content to see if they’re interested. If you’re sharing a press release, write a brief, personalized, up-front note summarizing the news and hyperlink key resources, and then paste the release below your signature. This advice holds true for phone pitches: get to the point, pronto.

5. Be available to discuss industry trends. There will be times you don’t have news to share or the news you do have doesn’t fit what your targeted journalists are covering. However, oftentimes they’re interested in having a client comment on timely industry news or trends. While it may be just one quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. This will eventually lead to the reporter writing a story centered around your client.

If you follow just some of these tips, you will soon have media relations success. For starters, why not reach out to and thank your favorite newsperson today?