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6 things I’ve learned about working with the media

I’ll never forget one of my tasks at my first “career” job. It was a work term at a PR firm, where I assisted with media relations for clients, among other things. I would draft a press release or media advisory, send it to a long list of media contacts, and then make follow-up calls two days later. Oh, the dreaded “follow-up calls”… they weren’t so bad when pitching something exciting or newsworthy, but even as a mid-20-something student in her first job, I knew when something wasn’t newsworthy… and still had to call a long media list asking if they were interested in the “news” I sent. I can still hear the “please don’t pick up, please don’t pick up” running through my head.

At this point in my career, I choose most of the news and story pitches I send to media, and they are ideas I am pretty confident they, and their audience, might be interested in. The great thing about media relations is that it’s extremely cost effective with high ROI for clients (when it’s newsworthy).

Here are six things I’ve learned over the past several years of working as the “media contact” for various clients and organizations.

1. Building relationships is key

Face-to-face communication is still alive – especially when it comes to building relationships with media. At a past job at an international company, we had annual “media nights,” where we’d wine and dine local media, and my executive colleagues would mingle with them. Story ideas swirled around the room, and relationships were built. We were one of the only organizations I knew of who did it, and guess what? We also had a high volume of media coverage.

PR professionals should also make an effort to meet media through meetings, coffees or lunches. They get lunch and a few story ideas, and you get one step closer to gaining editorial coverage for your company. There’s something to be said about making a face-to-face impression.

2. If the angle is interesting and new to you, chances are someone in the media will be interested

If an idea arises that has you saying, “I’d really like to read that story,” chances are others would too.

Not long after medical marijuana was legalized (but long enough after to see the effects), a former colleague, who was an employment lawyer, said to me, “What about pitching the effects of medical marijuana in the workplace?” and I thought, now that is an interesting story for a law firm to pitch. Turns out so did the media, and soon the employment lawyers were doing interviews and writing articles.

Try to not just pitch a company, service or person. Pitch a newsworthy angle about that company, service or person. What I call a “general” pitch sometimes works (“Dear so and so, I see you are writing an upcoming feature on XX and my client XX would be a great source, for XX reasons), but a timely and interesting angle will get you further. Encourage clients and colleagues to send story ideas whenever they think of them. You never know what great stories might surface.

3. Be clear, concise and quick

This is simple. Keep pitches and press releases clear and concise. The media doesn’t have the time to read long-winded pitches and they use the delete button, a lot. When you get a call for an interview, respond as quickly as possible telling them you’re on it, and urge your spokespeople to make themselves available ASAP.

4. Be prepared

Don’t let a spokesperson go into an interview without being prepared. Get the questions beforehand if possible and help your interviewee craft key messages. Organize media training sessions with an expert for key spokespeople. This will provide a wealth of tips on providing good sound bytes, using bridging language, getting your key messages into answers and handling the tough or controversial questions.

5. There are some you just can’t crack

There will be those few editors or writers that just won’t give you the time of day. Perhaps they’re jaded, easily annoyed, or you sent them a pitch they thought was a waste of time so they wrote you off. But those few who ignore you, or worse, are rude to you on the phone, well… that’s just the reality of media relations. Keep trying your best, and maybe one day you’ll send that pitch or article idea that ignites a spark, and they’ll be yours forever.

6. On the other hand, we make their lives easier

While there are some journalists who don’t appreciate us PR folks, there are some who highly recognize that we are trying to help them do their jobs. As much as you feel like you’re being annoying by sending press releases, pitches, and article ideas to the same contacts over and over, just remember that you are the one providing them with information they can use for their next story, and offering credible sources for their news. It’s extremely satisfying when a quote from your client or company ends up in the headline because your spokesperson gave it to them, and bonus, the reporter didn’t even have to take the time to think of that catchy headline! Money.

So, to that intern or PR student who may be reading this, please don’t have a hate-on for your media relations duties. Today you might be spending hours creating media lists and making dreaded follow-up calls, but in a few years (or tomorrow), you may be getting your company or clients excellent editorial coverage in credible news sources. Which is pretty exciting if you ask me.

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