The Media – They’re Just Like Us!
Most of my time at Hodges focuses on media relations, whether it’s pitching something new, following up, providing information for a request or just checking in with journalists. That means a lot of my time is spent connecting with the media, a group of people that we in public relations are often told how NOT to talk to. No long pitches, no bold font and stay away from exclamation points and smiley faces. And if you don’t use a relevant subject line, you might as well have not pitched at all. A really encouraging way to start the workday, right?
I’m not saying those things aren’t important to remember, but at the heart of media relations is relationships. And sometimes, we all need to step back and remember that the media – producers, reporters and editors – are people too.
The first time I really learned this was when I had to make a call to an editor with Martha Stewart for a client the publication was already interested in covering. I sat at my desk and was nervous to call, hands shaking as I picked up the phone. One of my colleagues sensed my nervousness and said, “She’s just a person. I bet she’ll be nice.” Guess what? The editor was super friendly and had been meaning to touch base. I made her day easier by making the call. (That’s not to say that calling is always the right thing to do – but in the right situation and at the right time, it can be helpful.)
Shortly after that, my phone rang and it was a reporter with Today.com. We had worked together before and she wanted to see if my client had any relevant updates as she was pitching new story ideas to her editor. I wasn’t expecting to receive calls like that a lot when I first started my career, but I think sometimes we undersell ourselves as the resources that we can be as PR people. If we handle relationships with the media the right way, there really is a camaraderie waiting to be developed.
The main thing I’ve learned from working with media is to treat them like individual people. Before emailing someone new, I usually check out LinkedIn and Twitter to get a feel for what they’re up to and their background. These tools have let me know when reporters are vacationing so I can wait to send an email. I’ve seen contacts I’m about to reach out to were in the same sorority or went to the same college as me and I can make that connection as soon as I say “hello.” I’ve even emailed with some media about their dogs or their kids. And with other contacts, I’ve kept it straight to the point – it all depends on what that one person prefers.
No one wants an email addressed to Mr. Smith at Wall Street Journal, The (the surefire sign of a mass email) about a subject they haven’t covered in five years – or worse, never covered at all. When you truly make the effort to make media relations about relationships and treat each relationship as its own, you’ll be a step ahead of the game, whether you use exclamation marks in your pitches or not.