Maintaining relationships with journalists: The ten key things to know

By Sean Hamilton, Associate Director and former Fleet Street editor

Whilst clients are fundamental to any PR business, to some extent they come and go. It is our relationships with journalists which form the foundations of all our activity. Clients come to us because of the strength of our media connections.

Our media relations help us to secure coverage, seek corrections and ensure that our clients’ stories are told accurately.

So how do you effectively foster and maintain long-term relationships with journalists? Here are some key tips on how to keep journalists happy.

  • Journalists want stories and exclusives. Reporters are judged on bylines and clicks. What they want more than anything is genuinely good exclusive content which will attract readers and drive traffic. Everything else is secondary. This mindset should frame your approach.
  • Journalists are busy people. The life of a newsroom is hectic. Daily papers generate hundreds of thousands of words from scratch every 24 hours. Websites are hungry news beasts which need constantly feeding. Be concise in your dealings with journalists and they will appreciate it.
  • Make their lives easy. It can only help a journalist if the story or press release you are pitching is as close to the finished article as possible. They don’t want to unpick your corporate language and put it in house style. Do it for them. Remember that any published article needs imagery (and potentially video for online). Include head shots and product pictures at the start.
  • Recognise that journalists work long hours. Journalists never work 9-5. They work weekends and public holidays. There is nothing more annoying for a journalist than receiving an email from a PR on a Monday morning which says ‘hope you had a nice weekend’ – if they were working the Sunday. Whilst it’s good to be polite, cut to the chase and suspend the niceties.
  • Everyone loves a freebie and a good night out. Look after your media contacts with excellent hospitality as much as possible. Take every opportunity to entertain journalists. Ensure your contacts are on that mailing list for free products. Journalists can’t always help you out but if there’s some good will in the tank it can only help.
  • Journalists have egos. There’s a reason journalists like to see their name in print and push for picture bylines. Flatter them and ensure you know about any recent stories they have broken. Keep up to date with what they are covering.
  • Journalists love a gossip. A decent exclusive might not just be about your client. Everyone loves to hear some information about their rivals at another title.
  • Be mindful of timings. Journalists are under pressure to provide their editors with a list of stories and relevant issues for the day ahead as early as possible. If you have something to offer which is time sensitive get it over first thing. If it’s a longer-term project, it’s better to leave it until the early afternoon when there is a natural lull in the working day – before deadlines approach.
  • Read the publication you are pitching to. Journalists know their own titles inside out. They understand the nuance of every page and have a deep knowledge of what will work. It is an immediate red flag if a PR has obviously not read the publication and does not understand the relevant sections and style.
  • Think long term. If you have a good media contact, people will ask you to pitch anything and everything to them. But think realistically if the journalist will be interested. There are only so many times you can call in a favour. Use those moment carefully.

If you would like to discuss our media relations or media training offerings, get in touch today to find out more.

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