The Key to Building Successful Media Relationships

July 6, 2022By Kiri O’LearyInsights

Building solid media relations is a real craft. As PR professionals, our aim is to win over journalists, make their jobs easier, in order to *fingers crossed* gain excellent coverage and raise our client’s profile. However, this isn’t so easy to achieve in today’s competitive PR market, especially in B2B tech.

Those in the PR world understand their own position; clients quite rightly want results and it’s our job to get them, yet the pool of media is shrinking and the amount of noise in the industry is growing rapidly. Journalists, on the other hand, are dealing with their own challenges. Demands on them are higher than ever; they’re churning out more stories per week, with smaller teams. They’re bombarded with hundreds of emails every single day.

As a result, it’s no surprise that the average journalist response rate, according to Propel, is just 3.17%, and that number keeps going down. The media are only opening around a third of emails (36%) on average, with two thirds of those pitches deemed not relevant.

Keen to deliver value to both journalists and clients alike, and gain much-needed insight on the media’s perspective, I recently joined a webinar hosted by PR software company, Propel. This important conversation aimed to shed light on how we could go about maximising the PR-journalist relationship, with invaluable insights from panelists Karen Weintraub, health writer at USA Today, and PR pro Michelle Garrett.

I was able to scribble down some tips for PR pros which I thought were worth sharing with those looking to practice good media relations and ultimately, achieve meaningful coverage.

Get personal and ensure your pitch is relevant

If your email pitches aren’t being responded to, ask yourself – are they relevant to the journalist and is the language used targeted enough? If you’re sending out a mass pitch via mail merge, the answer is likely no. On average, PR pros are sending 429 pitches each month; that’s 21 pitches a day. Journalists appreciate quality over quantity, and a more thoughtful, personalised attempt at communication. Over 80% of journalists believe communication professionals should learn more about a media outlet before they pitch. It’s important to spend time understanding the journalist’s beat, what they’re currently writing about and how best to engage with them.

Talking about her own experiences of receiving pointless emails, USA Today’s Karen Weintraub, who receives around 250 pitches each day, says countless pitches land in her inbox selling-in health-related products such as activewear. She writes about pandemics, medical breakthroughs, and innovative new research papers. She likely doesn’t care if your client’s new yoga pants are made from recycled plastic and have in-built phone holders.

There’s no point spamming 50 journalists if it means you’re going to receive zero responses. It’s much more time-effective to email a handful of journalists, with well-crafted, highly targeted pitches, outlining why you think the story is interesting to them, improving your chance of receiving a reply.

Establish connections via social media

When it comes to building that all-important relationship, there isn’t a one style fits all approach to communication. Some journalists prefer solely an email approach, while others rely on social media to gain most of their tips, expert commentary, and story ideas. This is why researching the journalist is absolutely key. If you’re having no luck via email, scan their social media profiles to gauge how active they are on certain platforms. For example, you might find they’re extensively using Twitter to voice their opinions on certain topics. A good way to initiate a relationship is to use social media to engage with journalists’ posts, share their coverage and show an overall interest in their work. PR Pro Michelle Garrett is a huge fan of using Twitter to connect with the wider PR community, regularly hosting Twitter Chats such as #FreelanceChat and #PRLunchHour.

However, although PRs should use the platform to establish relationships with journalists and find breaking news stories, the consensus is that it isn’t the most suitable platform to pitch stories, especially for journalists who want to keep their next story under wraps. Instead, you can use social media as an educational tool to learn more about your media contact and you can use your knowledge of these small details to personalise your pitches.

Avoid double-pitching the same contacts

Finally, when thinking about the blatant ‘don’ts’ if you’re trying to fortify a good media relationship, an obvious and rather common pet peeve of journalists is the dreaded email or phone call follow-up. It can be frustrating not to receive even a “no” from a journalist, even when you’ve sent a highly relevant, well-intentioned pitch. However, it’s not recommended to follow-up for the sake of following up.

Particularly, you should avoid saying “just putting this at the top of your inbox”, says Karen Weintraub. Imagine you’re receiving hundreds of pitches a day and you’re working hard to sift through them, deleting the unnecessary and responding to the relevant. But muddying the waters and clogging up your inbox is a whole host of follow-ups. This is made even more annoying if your pitch isn’t deemed remotely interesting in the first place. Following up can be acceptable if your announcement is embargoed and you really want to give this particular journalist an exclusive before the news breaks, or if you have some additional materials to share that could add to the story (for example, some bonus data, exclusive commentary or a nice visual like an infographic). Generally though, it’s going to cause the journalist to see you as a pest.

Michelle Garrett recognises that when PR professionals are desperate for a response, and short of time, they turn to methods that actually hurt their chances of gaining a positive outcome. Not only does this lessen your chances of ultimately receiving coverage in this instance, it damages your relationship with that journalist and guarantees your next email is bottom of the pile.

Building strong media relations is a skillful process. It takes time, thoughtfulness, trust – and all the other factors that make up a typical successful relationship in the real world. Here at C8, we are highly focused on making sure that we take the time to build those relationships and respect the journalist’s time and inbox.

To listen to the conversation in full, you can access the webinar recording here.