Top Tips on How to Build and Foster Relationships with Journalists

New technologies and progress in general are making our work so much easier than it used to be. There are so many things we can now do faster and more conveniently. Sometimes it’s even enough to schedule some tasks and wait for them to be completed automatically. That’s technology. It’s what you, my dear PR pros, have been using for quite some time as well. We know this perfectly well, as we support your everyday PR routines by giving you the tool that helps you reach your audiences in a smooth, efficient (spectacular even!), and smart way.

Let’s make it clear, though—without the knowledge on how to build good relationships with the media, you’re pretty much incomplete (helpless even), regardless of which tool you are using.

So it ends like this:

Or at best like this:


Stay calm, though; this is why you’re now reading our Magazine. So we can pass this knowledge on to you.

You will learn what standards of conduct when working with journalists are an absolute must-have, what to avoid, and with what “sins” committed by the media people you will have to deal with.

Iliyana Stareva, Global Partner Program Manager at HubSpot

Iliyana Stareva

#1 Media relations: the media are evolving at an incredibly high speed, but certain standards for collaborating with them remain unchanged. What are they, in your opinion?

We may be using a ton of different technologies and tools, but the human touch requirement remains the same. You need to treat journalists and influencers as people with interests and needs. You need to get to know them and be willing to help them. It’s that relationship-building that technology can’t replace.

#2 How NOT to build relations with the media? (PR specialist’s perspective, meaning the faults or sins committed by people representing your occupation).

Sadly, what I still see PR pros are doing is mass emailing. The client asks them to write a press release and then distribute it. Writing is the easy part. However, when it comes to the distribution bit, it almost feels like PR pros just don’t think. Instead of thinking about the right audience for the topic of each press release, they are simply sending to absolutely everyone in their media contacts database. I receive at least 10 completely irrelevant press releases a week (which I mark as spam right away) about construction, heavy machinery, etc., whereas my blog is about PR, marketing, and agency business. How the opening of a new construction site for XYZ is relevant to my blog, I still am trying to comprehend. PR pros could drive profoundly better results for their clients if they were to come up with a very specific list of journalists and influencers based on the topics they cover that are a good fit for what the press release really is about. It’s about them, not about you—PR pros should ditch the WIIFM approach.

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Media data base by Prowly

#3 Think of a journalist with whom you’ve established particularly good relations and briefly describe how this relationship began and how you are nurturing and protecting it.

Going back many years (because I no longer work in earned media PR), I once managed to build a fantastic and productive relationship (on both) sides with two successful sisters, beauty bloggers. We had never met in person but through a multitude of Instagram likes and comments from my personal accounts, some relevant surprises, and a couple of phone calls to get to know each other and learn about our interests, we managed to come up with a great way of working together that benefited them and my client at the time. Whenever I had a new story for them, I would send them a quick email to their private address they had given me (not the public one) with all the details, and we’d get to working on pretty cool stuff together after that. I’m saying this because it points again the importance of relationship building and getting to know someone before you get down to business. This allows you to create a much more enjoyable and fruitful working relationship.

#4 In your opinion, the biggest ‘sins’ on the part of the media that are making relations with PR pros more strained, are… 

When a journalist gets burned by an unpleasant experience with a PR pro, they start to assume that all PR pros are the same, and begin to ignore their pitches, messages, or calls. PR pros can’t help you if you don’t let them, so giving others the benefit of the doubt might ultimately benefit both you as a media person and your story.

Stuart Bruce – Managing Consultant w Stuart Bruce Associates

Stuart Bruce

#1 Honesty. The most important principle for PR people dealing with journalists is stick to the truth. Another important one is to avoid marketing hype.

#2 Misleading them and not being honest.

#3 Add value to the relationship. Think more about what I can give than what I can take. For example, if I spot a news/feature opportunity that might be of interest to them, then I’ll let them know even if it has nothing to do with me or my clients. That often means I’m helping two people—the journalist and the person who might have the story (who I also probably know).

#4 Sloppiness—it’s hard for journalists on understaffed titles, but it’s a fact that a lot of journalism I see today isn’t as good as when I started in PR. Little examples are things like while editing a news release they will add grammatical errors. A bigger one is not acknowledging the source. If someone has given something and it has been used (could be anything from a survey to reports to background) then the person should be credited properly with name and company/organization.

Guy Clapperton, freelance journalist and editor

Guy Clapperton

#1 Deadlines. If you’ve said you would get back to me by a certain time, do it—and if you can’t because a client is unavailable, try to keep me informed. I’ll remember you went the extra mile next time.

#2 Pitch me loads of irrelevant stuff just because there’s “journalist” in my job title. The scattergun approach rarely works—find out who I am, what I write about, and for whom.

#3 My best relationships with PR people are with the ones who listen, make sure they’ve understood my needs, and then tell me, realistically, how they can help. I do understand I’m not the client so I will accept the realism on offer.

#4 I’m a journalist, but some of my colleagues seem to have an unbelievable sense of entitlement! I’ve seen PR people being criticized for asking for a journalist’s angle, for daring to call and chase up a story (note to journalists: if you’re on the staff of something, they’re calling in your company’s time and not yours).

Danielle Booker, owner at technical PR consultancy Lyme Communications and lecturer in PR at Staffordshire University

Danielle Booker

#1 Media relations: the media are evolving at an incredibly high speed, but certain standards for collaborating with them remain unchanged. What are they, in your opinion?

The shrinking resources of the media means that, more than ever, journalists have been relying on the PR industry to help supply content to fill newspapers and magazines and feed the public’s appetite for online media consumption. Journalists may be hungry for content, but they still have standards and demand good quality content. While the media evolves, the price of collaboration remains the same—a good story with a compelling narrative, that is well presented and informs, educates and entertains its readers.

#2 How NOT to build relations with the media? (PR specialist’s perspective, meaning the faults or sins committed by people representing your occupation).

I think the biggest sin committed by PR people is not doing their homework. I’m a member of a couple of Facebook groups where both journalists and PR professionals cohabit relatively amicably, and the gripe most journalists have is receiving press releases and pitches that have zero relevance to either the publication or the interests of the journalist. As a PR lecturer, it’s something I drum into my students—know your media! I stress the importance of researching a publication and its journalists before pitching a story. Who is the target audience and why would they be interested in your story? What are the writing guidelines and what does it consider newsworthy? It goes a long way to help you land your pitch. Media relations might be more harmonious if the next generation of PR people can avoid this sin.

#3 Think of a journalist with whom you’ve established particularly good relations and briefly describe how this relationship began and how you are nurturing and protecting it.

As a former journalist, many of the good relationships I’ve established with journalists (since moving over to the dark side) have been forged by understanding the demands placed upon them. I think it’s why former journos often make great PR people. Having an intuitive sense of newsworthiness means you can supply your contact with a well-presented story that’s relevant to their readership, has good quotes, with a great photo or video clip.

As a technical PR consultant, I specialize in PR and content creation for clients in the construction, manufacturing, and engineering sectors. So, building relationships with the journalists and editors of targeted trade magazines is essential. It starts with lots of research before I send an email or pick up the phone so that when I do get in touch, I know that my client’s story is going to be of interest to them. The relationship is nurtured by understanding how they like to communicate—some like to chat on the phone, others prefer email—and by continually providing them with good quality content that’s informative, not overly promotional, is written in their house style, and meets the deadline. Establishing a reputation as a PR that can be relied upon is the best way to protect relations with the media.

#4 In your opinion, the biggest ‘sins’ on the part of the media that are making relations with PR pros more strained, are…

Understanding often seems to be a one-way street. PR people strive to better understand the demands placed upon their counterparts in journalism, but I’m not sure as PRs we always get the same consideration. Media relations is the tool we use to further our clients’ objectives. It’s our job to obtain positive media coverage for our clients to achieve that all-important third-party endorsement. So, when a journalist gets your client’s name wrong or doesn’t credit them at all, it can have a huge impact and most definitely makes PR/journo relations more strained.

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Andrea Hounsham, director at Firework Public Relations 

What remains unchanged is the need to be targeted, tailored, and relevant. Any PR consultant that ever resorted to mass mailers should have failed years ago. The press release should be a tool to gain interest with the right media because it is meeting their need—to write compelling articles about a topic of interest. So many clients have forgotten this and prefer to use the press release as the basis of marketing campaigns instead! It’s down to the PR consultant to marry the needs of both the journalist and the client. Meeting media deadlines, offering suitable exclusives—that should all be a given and remains a constant. Frankly, it’s what we base our business on.

The best situation is when there’s mutual respect—if you’ve offered an exclusive, set up the interviews, provided the photography, etc., and the journalist then doesn’t let you know if they are going to write the article/include a comment after you’ve moved heaven and earth to get them everything they need—is more than a tad frustrating. But the PR will soon turn to a journalist where there is some trust and respect, where you offer your best (relevant) stories first and in turn get some great coverage or simply change the tone of an article.

Gini Dietrich from Spin Sucks says, “It’s 2018 and communicators, SEO experts, marketers, and content creators still haven’t figured out how to effectively pitch media and bloggers—and get results.” In her opinion, PR pros have some problems when it comes to putting yourself in the shoes of the person you are pitching. I asked some PR pros on Public Relations and Communications Professionals LinkedIn Group how they pitch journalists and bloggers.

Here is what they wrote:

Source: LinkedIn

If you’d like to explore this subject further, make sure to read these pieces:

The Deadly Sins Of PR You Must Avoid

Gini Dietrich: Six Tips for Pitching Journalists and Bloggers

How to Pitch Journalists?

And if—armed with knowledge—you feel you’re pretty much ready and simply in need of a tool that will streamline your communication with the media, just give us a try.

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