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PR 101: How to Build Relationships with Journalists

PR 101: How To Build Relationships With Journalists

Media relationships have become integral to most public relations professionals’ roles. So much so, organizations have created roles and even started departments for this specifically. From my observations, a large majority of PR now falls underneath media relations, and studies suggest earned media is one of the best ways to build trust with an audience.

While there are numerous examples of people having success with cold outreach, many of the journalists we interview on Coffee with a Journalist stress the importance of making genuine connections with sources and companies well before they work together. One journalist, in particular, told us they have a direct connection with an agency owner, and this journalist will flag and forward pitches to the owner if they “miss the mark.”

Regardless of the example above, more often than not journalists simply aren’t opening cold emails as often anymore and relying more heavily on connections they’ve made. Let’s explore the ways you can start building relationships with journalists which, in turn, could increase your chances of working with them.

 

Read Their Work

A tactic we hear quite often and also one that should be standard practice for today’s PR and media relations pro. Reading a journalist’s full article (yes, not just the title or headline) can offer a glimpse into a number of ways they craft stories. Since every journalist is unique in their own approach, this can inform you about what’s compiled in a story such as quotes, images or video, hyperlinks to a company page, and even how they position people and companies.

As a good rule of thumb, I recommend reading at least 3-5 articles for each journalist you want to connect with. While for some this might seem like a major consumption of time and for others standard practice, this gets you into the mindset of the journalist and helps clarify some of the points above. As an added practice, develop a framework that you can replicate for stories and start crossing off boxes for any variable you want to track.

 

Leverage Twitter

At this point, if you aren’t actively engaging with journalists on Twitter in some way whether that be liking their Tweets, commenting on their article posts, or sending them GIFs of their favorite TV show then you’re behind the curve.

The majority of PR professionals know that journalists live and breathe through their Twitter (not literally) and that this is one of the best places to start facilitating a conversation let alone a relationship.

One easy way to begin is to start creating Twitter lists, which are essentially custom feeds of specific profiles. You don’t have to follow them either in order to get started. Be mindful that anyone added to a Twitter list receives a notification and sees the title of the list.

BONUS: share their content on Twitter! This benefits you as well as the journalist.

 

Send an Introduction

If you’ve done your homework, researched the right journalists and know they’re a good fit to talk about your pitch the next step is to send an introduction email. I highly advise against using this as an opportunity to pitch them a story but rather to use this as a stepping stone to making them your bestie.

From the over 100+ conversations we’ve had with journalists on our podcast, many of them have told us blatantly about saving emails or flagging them for future use. While an intro might not have an immediate impact nor may it drive immediate results, it allows you the opportunity to connect in a way that quite simply doesn’t piss them off or land you as a blocked contact.

Our team at OnePitch practices this philosophy and we’ve found that it works well if you’re willing to stick it out for the long haul. We try to plan anywhere from a month to 6 months in advance of our news and, yes, we do have results to show for it.

Starting with the subject line, consider using terms such as “intro” or “new contact” to distinguish your message from the other 99% that are most likely mistargeted and irrelevant. From there, share a few details either in bulleted form or in an easily ingestible way to share who you are, what your company or spokesperson does, and why that fits within the beat of the journalist. End it with a personal message, a compliment, or even an offer about the point below.

 

Invite Them to Coffee or a Virtual Hangout

We saved this for last since the pandemic has really affected the PR pro’s ability to connect with journalists outside of digital means. If you have a stellar list of clients you want to share, a question or two you want to ask, or even some free time to devote to relationship building this might be an option to consider.

Be reasonable with your request, offer flexibility, and make it worthwhile for the journalist so the only answer they can provide is “yes!”

 

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If there’s one thing you take away from this post it’s that building relationships with journalists should start well before you ever pitch them a news story.

While the 3 examples above are great in theory, there is really no other way that we’ve found to learn about ways to connect with journalists which is why we’ve launched a new video series designed to answer these questions and more. Subscribe to the podcast newsletter and get exclusive access to journalist tips via video directly from the pros themselves.

Jered Martin

Jered is the co-founder, COO and support manager at OnePitch. He handles operations for OnePitch; along with strategy, support, business development and hiring. He studied Communications with an emphasis in marketing at Cal State University Long Beach. In his free time, he enjoys surfing, eating cheap street food, cooking, and exploring the outdoors.

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