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Five old school tips for relating to the media

The other day I sent a note to some trusted members of my professional network – to the effect that a reporter at a reputable business publication was seeking sources for a story I couldn’t help with.  The message prompted one colleague to email back, “What are you…on someone’s speed dial?”

Well, no, perhaps not, but whenever I have the opportunity to be resourceful, I’ll jump through hoops to help a reporter out – even if there’s nothing in it for me.  It’s a building block of relationship building – a utility vehicle that can carry more than just your payload.  So, here are five tips I’ve found helpful for relationship building:

1. Have a conversation.  If you have something interesting to say, send a note to a reporter commenting on a story they wrote. Don’t pitch a new one, that is to say, don’t ask for anything:  just provide a comment – just like you might do on a blog, but with a personal touch.  This is one point you might take away from the Cluetrain Manifesto – one of those classic books every PR pro should read. 

2.  Provide an objective idea. You’ve studied what stories a reporter writes – you know their beat and their audience.  When you see new research – a survey, a study – send them a link and a couple brief points.  If you’ve got your own take on what the data means, feel free to pass it along, but keep it short, meaningful and to the point. 

3.  Suggest reader’s interest.  Ever done some research and couldn’t find relevant information, or information that’s definitive?  Sounds like a feature to me.  Send a note to an editor, mention you searched their new site and couldn’t find anything relevant.  Call them up and suggest a story – but do it as a reader, not as a PR professional.   No agenda. 

4.  Add value.  Comment on a story they wrote in the comments section, but add value, don’t pitch a new story.  I’ve found that reporters take comments vary, for example, I’ve spoken to some, like one at Politico that admits openly to hating comments, moderating them or participating in the discussion.  I’ve seen others, like those at Fast Company and Mashable respond and engage insightful commentators.  

5.  Be extra resourceful.  Ever have pitch a story, have a reporter interested, but then disqualify you for some reason beyond your control, or theirs, you’re angle is outside the purview of the story?  Send a note to your contacts and see if you can find someone else that fits – and send the reporter a sentence about the source and the contact information. Yes, I’m suggesting doing some work that won’t directly benefit you – but you’ll have helped a reporter and just maybe they’ll read your pitch too next time.

Maybe I’ll never get a story.  I’m okay with that.  There’s value in being a small hub in what amounts to a social network.  

Got a helpful tip?  Please feel free to share in the comments. 

(Photo credit:  Loren Gray.  Keep your head down brother). 

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Frank Strong, MA, MBA
Frank Strong, MA, MBA

@Anonymous Reporters are under tremendous pressure these days. Timing, credibility, and articulation all play a role. I've had great stories perfect for specific reporters, but they already had story assignments. Be patient. One thing I've found is that good pitches may not get an immediate response, but if you are a reliable source, you'll find your note makes it into a special folder for some future time. That's sort of the point I've tried to make here. @Krista, thanks for stopping by and sharing. Indeed, the relations in PR, is the root of relationships!


Great post, Frank! You've really hit it right on target--the idea behind media relations is that it is a relationship. And like most relationships, they take time to develop and to get to know the other party's interests. You'll have more successes with those reporters you've built trust with than with those who don't know you from Adam.


Can't disagree with anything you wrote but here's the rub. Journalists can get slammed with email pitches left and right. And you have to compete with all of these pitches. Now, here I am, trying to pitch what I think is a relevant story to both the editor and reporter, on a beat that the paper covers, AND it's extremely relevant as the country is dealing with a painful recession, and I'm not getting any feedback from either the editor or the reporter. And I don't understand why.