Every CEO wants the cover of The New York Times, and a spot on CNN, but not all will get that in their lifetimes. I worked for one organization where I was able to land the Times cover two times in two years – but that is luck combined with experience and controversy. Yes, controversy.
But there was also one secret ingredient in play – I had spent two years building a relationship with the reporter. I interacted with her the way she wanted to interact. I did not spam her with endless press releases, calls and pitches for a “non-story” that leadership was pressuring me into. I respected her boundaries and was able to appeal to what her needs were for a story, and her editor’s needs.
The relationship was strong enough that she actually contacted me several months after I left the organization for help on a story.
Unfortunately, most organizations do not understand this nor have the patience necessary for this approach. As you know, it’s “get the Times, and get it now”. It’s vital that relationship building become part of your daily to-do’s, in your top three. Even if it is just an update on what’s been developing, three lines in an email, that is enough to keep the conversation going. Call a journalist you know, meet with them if that is how they like to interact, serve as background or as a source for the larger issues under discussion in the media. Stay aware as to what the conversations are in your area of focus – education, health, policy, entertainment – and stay on top of what is being discussed.
Use social media as a means to stay aware of what storylines the journalist may be working on and has historically worked on. Maintain a media database – Cision, Vocus or your own Excel sheet if your organization cannot afford a database and keep track of who is contacting you and those you are contacting. And sign up to receive story angles from journalists via ProfNet and Media Diplomat.
If you have the staffing available, assign one of your staff to spend up to 50% of their day working on media relations – developing story lines, positioning leaders as industry experts, and building relationships. As the lead, it’s important that you also engage in this work as well. It will be great insurance in times of crisis, when you need to call that journalist who can help get your messages out and be the source for statements, etc.
Maintain relationships with journalists based on how they want to interact.
Avoid pitching non-stories to those key journalists who are vital to your media relations outreach.
Make relationship outreach part of your top three priorities each day. Sending an email, a pitch, an update, following up previous stories, keep the conversation going.
Sign up to receive journalist angles direct from the source. ProfNet and Media Diplomat are helpful resources.
Assign a staff member to media relations for the larger press release sends, list building, database management, story development and leadership positioning.