This year has been tumultuous for both public relations professionals and journalists alike. There is little doubt the media landscape has undergone significant shifts since the 2016 election. Everything from the predictability of the news cycle to what constitutes a true violation of the journalistic ethic has been thrown into question.
While it is still unknown to what extent those changes will impact the art of media relations, communicators should recommit to some tried and true practices, and adopt a new professional ethic when it comes to our conduct in the public square.
No matter how often you work with journalists or other members of the media, here are three things you can do to revitalize your media relations effort in the coming year.
Hone Your Responsiveness
Responsiveness in media relations is paramount. But we know being ultra-responsive would result in nearly every working hour filled with constant email exchanges. We also know it is sometimes advantageous to regulate the level of our responsiveness in order to gain a strategic advantage.
Having said that, at a time when journalists are being asked to do more with less, demonstrating the ability to prioritize their inquiries, and do so with brevity, goes a long way. Aim for answering an email or returning a phone call within an hour. Reporters will not only take notice, but be more willing to include what you give them. The source that answers first is often the one who is cited.
And, don’t forget: you’re not the only person they’re sourcing for commentary or background.
Embrace the Transactionalists
Abrasive. Short. Cold. Distant. Aloof. I have heard all of these descriptors (and some others) used to characterize the interaction between reporters and communicators. Many of these I have experienced myself, and it always got under my skin.
When someone you don’t know wielding a pen, laptop and high-profile Twitter account asks you for comment and conducts themself this way, it’s easy to see how one could feel uneasy about what might come from that conversation.
These reporters (and some PR pros too) are referred to as “transactionalists.” They are not in it for a relationship. They just want the information. While your conversations with them are uninspiring, you should embrace their existence -- and growing prevalence -- in the media landscape.
Here’s why: they can be a quick way to get your information out, without a great deal of equivocation. Transactionalists are usually moving fast and simply looking to make a point using sourced information. It can be valuable.
This breed of reporter is also easily identifiable. You will know within the first few minutes if the give-and-take can be established. If not, you can politely end the conversation and move on without the fear of what they’ll write.
Coffee, Then Beer
Opposite our transactionalist colleagues are the reporters you’ve identified as key targets for your stakeholders’ messages. Of these reporters, identify two to four who are the best targets (and hopefully in close proximity to your office).
Schedule 30 minutes to meet over a cup of coffee. Make sure to arrive at this meeting with the intent of genuinely getting to know more about them, beyond their job as a journalist. Ask some open-ended questions, listen intently and ask follow ups. Like meeting any new acquaintance, it won’t be hard to find something in common. From politics and sports to movies and music, finding this common interest will allow you to set the tone for the rest of your interactions.
From that point forth, going to happy hour or grabbing a beer after work will help both of you to learn how to better communicate, leading to more fluid press inquiries and more well-received pitches.
As you finalize your editorial calendars and determine press-worthy events for 2018, keep in mind that effective media relations, whether it’s a large part of your job or not, requires regular upkeep. Taking a look at your level of responsiveness and identifying which media relationships are truly worth your time will not only increase the quality of your earned media but also position you to leverage unexpected opportunities when they arise.