Yes, it is cliché to talk about how COVID has changed everything about the way we do business these days but, well, it really has changed everything.
Just ask any PR pro. Many are finding a lot of the relationships that they have so carefully built over years are suddenly disconnected, off-track, paused or just outright broken. In their attempts to return to something resembling life before March 2020, they’re reaching out to contacts that are no longer with the same platform, covering a different beat or otherwise not engaged in the same way they used to be.
All of this has a lot of people asking the same question: How do I reconnect with my pre-COVID contacts?
This is an issue for everyone in PR who had a sizable contact list before everything was turned upside down.
Media of all kinds have seen enormous shifts in the way staff resources have been deployed. With so much focus on COVID-related issues and the continued pressures of financial constraints that have plagued many media platforms for years, there’s an excellent chance that whoever was covering a particular field for a particular platform just a couple of years ago has a different focus — and maybe even a different address — today.
So, on top of all the other things that are making this a tough time in PR, now we can’t even trust our own contact lists. But before you worry too much about lost contacts and starting over, try to look at it as a glass half full situation — not only can a decent portion of your relationships be salvaged, but a lot of them might not even be affected in the first place.
Still, PR teams still have a job to do and that job very much relies on media contacts. That’s why we’ve put together these 5 tips for (re)connecting with journalists in the new media landscape.
Whether you’re trying to rebuild your contact list or just starting out, follow these 5 tips on how to connect with journalists and get media coverage for your story:
- Old contacts in a new place? That’s a win!
- Build new relationships with media based on research
- Connect with journalists in person when possible
- Don’t wait for the events calendar to return, make your own
- Use a curated media database
Old journalist contact in a new place? That’s a win!
Lots of journalists have been shuffled around and landed at new desks, both within their old platform and at others. When you learn that an old contact is in a new place, you should look at this as a good thing.
A familiar face in a new setting is still a familiar face. Not only can you reconnect with someone who was part of your existing network, but now they either help you reach a new audience (if they cover a new beat in their old platform) or, even better, introduce to you a whole new team of fellow journalists (if they’ve changed addresses). Either way, look on the bright side!
- Reach out with a simple “hello” and test the waters. Is your contact still at the same media outlet? Are they covering the same topics as before? Update their info and make it clear you’d like to stay in touch.
- Keep the conversation friendly and casual, but remember that the main purpose of this meeting is to see if this journalist contact is still a useful contact.
- Use your existing relationship to remind them that you’re still interested in partnering up with them regardless of the new media platform. And, if they feel like connecting you with their new colleagues, well that’s just fine…
- Don’t forget to make it clear that you recognize their and their new audience’s needs and want to help the contact with information relevant to them.
It’s more important than ever to remember that journalists’ responsibility is to their readers. So even though we’re working for clients, that has to be our priority too. There’s a relationship of trust between them and their audience. If we’re seeking permission to have our story told to their readers, we owe it to them to craft and pitch stories that align with the things they care about. – Pat Watters, Brand Media Director @ Kolbeco
Reporter’s inboxes might be a bit busier, but the tried and true strategy and tactics remain the same: stand out by identifying with their readership and highlighting why their audience would care about your story. Our job is still to help clients build relationships with journalists to be go-to industry thought leader sources for their future stories. – Michele Landry, CEO @ Tanis Communications
Build new relationships with media based on research
It’s an unfortunate fact that you will not find all of your old contacts to still be in the journalism business. Personal feelings aside, you still have an obligation to your clients to build bridges with the new occupants of whatever desk covers the topics that are important to you.
This probably involves some good old-fashioned working of the phones and introducing yourself to new contacts. Be sure you know who you’re pitching and what they cover — don’t assume everything is in the same place it was before everything got mixed up. You built your contact list like this once before, you can do it again!
Do your homework. Go into the pitch knowing what the journalist has been covering in recent months and make sure to frame the potential story in a way that will make sense for their beat and their editor. – Nathan Miller, CEO @ Miller Ink
Some of the practices you could adopt in order to facilitate your research efforts include:
- Check out the reporter’s previous pieces and make sure your story will be the right fit
- Find them on social media to get a broader overview of their professional expertise
- Back your email pitch up with some data: people like stats!
- Make sure your contact feels like you’re pitching to them, not to the chair they’re sitting in and the person who occupied it before.
Try to see it from the media person’s perspective:
Journalists today are both overloaded with COVID-related pitches and simultaneously in search of other stories while communicating new updates and world news on vaccine approvals, the delta variant, and more. Our pitch process must consider the vision and mission of our clients while curating meaningful and helpful messaging during the evolving pandemic situation in a way that is ever-conscious of our audiences. – Jillian Mushman, Account Supervisor @ Hemsworth Communications
By doing your research prior to reaching out to journalists with your pitch, make sure you have something they would be interested in based on what you know from their work. One of the primary rules of PR applies here — it’s not about you, it’s about them.
Connect with journalists in person
The COVID aftermath has left a huge gap in social contact. The new normal may not promote face-to-face meetings at the nearest Starbucks — Mask? No mask? Mask up when you’re not drinking? Are there rules for this? — but it’s a good reminder that we should seek human contact whenever possible.
Telephone conversations are fine but nothing beats a face-to-face chat, whether it’s a “Nice to meet you” conversation or a “Great to see you again” talk — let people see you and attach a face to that name they see in their inboxes!
We’ll let others argue about whether or not Zoom counts as face to face, but the point here is that it’s a hundred times easier to connect and build relationships when you can look someone in the eye. It’s just how we’re built.
Telephone chats are an acceptable substitute when in-person meets just can’t happen. The main takeaway is that it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that sending out emails is enough to spark a conversation.
Remember, you’re sending an email to people who get literally hundreds of them every day, so skip the line when it comes to connecting with them and either call or set up a meeting if possible to explain how you can help them.
Even amid the evolving media landscape and the challenges brought on by the pandemic, journalists still value PR professionals taking a vested interest in what they’re covering. It goes a long way to reach out and set up a short meeting – even a virtual coffee over Zoom – and take the time to understand what beats they’re covering, what stories they’re looking to do more of, and generally how they are doing. Making those personal relationships with the media ultimately helps all PR professionals guarantee more responses and secure quality stories for their clients. – Maya Sarin, PR Manager – Music @ Jive PR + Digital
Some things to bear in mind here:
- The previous point about being aware of the kinds of stories and topics a journalist has covered, especially recently, still applies
- Contact the journalists in the most convenient way for them: is it a phone call, a quick messenger chat, or a face-to-face video meeting?
- Suggest to have a (virtual) coffee break next time your schedules allow. Who says no to coffee?
- Small talk goes a long way here, as your main goal should be to create the conditions for an ongoing relationship – even brief contact is better than no contact
Don’t wait for the events calendar to return, make your own
Going back to the previous point about face-to-face opportunities, we all know that the events industry has been devastated by the pandemic. We can feel this in the world of PR in the lack of promotional events, industry meetings, and other chances to get together, network, and make connections.
As this situation slowly returns to something resembling the pre-COVID world, there is a huge opportunity for getting your name out there and drawing attention. Organizing your own event means leading the agenda, standing in the spotlight, and taking the initiative in helping to get things going again.
Right now, despite the lingering aftereffects, plenty of companies, brands, journalists, and media outlets would be very interested in taking part in something that a few bold innovators have already done:
In the absence of large networking events, we started thinking about what we could do to give journalists, analysts and companies in our sector an opportunity to come together. That led us to come up with the idea of “Bubble House”, and we held our first event in London in September.
The hybrid in-person/virtual event enabled companies to reengage with media and analysts after more than 18 months without trade shows. Each company had a chance to present their latest news and participate in panel discussions on hot topics within our industry. The event proved to be a great success, and we’re now looking forward to hosting “Bubble House Americas” next month.
While it remains challenging to connect with journalists in this ‘new normal’, it’s up to PR professionals to get creative and come up with new ideas to help the brands they work with engage with journalists. – Kim Willsher is Head of Americas at Bubble Agency
Putting your name on an event might not be as hard as you think. Plus, there are some serious rewards waiting for you:
- Establish yourself as a leading voice in the local PR scene. Journalists are going to notice if you step up and take the lead on organizing an event like this. This is the best kind of attention you could possibly get. It will lend instant credibility to your future dealings with them.
- Instead of chasing the media, they will chase you. How does the idea of journalists and media of all kinds blowing up your phone and asking if they can take part in your event sound? They want to reach out to the local community as much as you do — sounds like a great chance to help each other out.
- Get more and better clients for your agency. Let’s be selfish for just a second and forget about all the great contacts you can make by organizing your own event. Businesses, organizations, and groups with PR needs are going to remember your name when it’s time to retain professional services. Invite them to your event now to make a free pitch to the media, do your job right, and wait for your phone to ring later when it’s time for a different conversation.
Use a curated media database
Ok, this might sound like a shortcut and, yes, we saved it for last but let us explain.
First, any PR media management tool worth using will offer some kind of media contact database. This is a great resource for discovering contacts outside of the circles you normally move in and connecting with journalists who weren’t on your radar, thus expanding your reach and improving the chances you’ll get the coverage you’re looking for.
PR tools like Prowly let you search by media outlet, topic, geographic region, and other metrics that help to narrow the focus down to those most likely to be interested in your pitch. This kind of media contact software makes everything much faster and convenient and ensures that you’re reaching out to qualified contacts.
Boosting quantity and quality is always a good thing in PR.
The reason we’ve buried it last on our list is because media contact databases are a great way to supplement the lists that you build. The foundation of your contact lists will always be built through the methods we’ve already mentioned above, call by call, meet by meet and contact by contact.
Yes, there is a shortcut to expanding your reach but your best contacts are almost always the ones you make yourself the old fashioned way — you know, like we did before March of 2020.
Don’t let the new normal get in your way as you try to establish meaningful connections with high-quality media contact! Stay open-minded, be creative, and know that you can rebuild what you had before, one contact at a time.
Cover photo by Michael Fousert