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How to build a relationship with journalists

At JournoLink we deal with media and journalists’ requests all the time. I’m adding my experience in broadcast journalism and newspaper publishing to this, to give you these five steps to building your relationship with the media and journalists.

At JournoLink we deal with media and journalists’ requests all the time. I’m adding my experience in broadcast journalism and newspaper publishing to this, to give you these five steps to building your relationship with the media and journalists.

Step One: Adjust your attitude

Journalists aren’t aliens from planet Zog. They are fully-signed-up members of the human race just like everyone else so there is no need to be nervous around them.

It’s just that all journalists on some level want to inform and or change the world around them, and to do that they have to be read, viewed and shared. No journalist ever got into the trade to become unseen, unheard of, or unread. To achieve this, they have to inform, educate and often entertain to achieve their goals.

They are as diverse as any group, so variety is the spice of their lives and they can’t have too much of it. What this crucially means is that no journalist can do their job without you, the news subject or news source, so please adjust your attitude and be confident; journalists and the media need you. This attitude change in you will lead to the next steps.

Change your attitude and you will see that the last thing a journalist wants or needs is a sales pitch in your press release. It educates and entertains no one. But, new insights others have not thought of, do. By offering variety and insight, you’re giving a journalist just what they need, something that is relevant that no one else ever thought of.  Think of your press release in the way you think of content on your blog.

Only, in this case, it's content for a journalist.

Step Two: Be interested in your journalists 

To build a relationship with anyone, nothing is more important than showing an interest in who they are and what they do. Knowing a journalist’s correctly spelled name, title, role and function in their branch of the media shows you’re interested.

Finding out what they write about, who they quote, and their position on issues in your industry is just a matter of reading their output. It means you will send relevant material to the right media, and even if not used, you’d have signalled you’re switched on and one to come back to another time.

Don’t ever let a journalist ask of you: “Why did you send me this?”; because they will remember it and may bin the next batch that comes along. Remember all journalists are time poor and working to deadlines. You ease their lives when you send relevant material at the right time. People always remember how you made them feel.

Step Three: Know their realities

Imagine trying to make a relationship with someone without knowing the physical realities of their lives.

When do they get to work and when do they leave? When is a good time to call or email, and when is their deadline day on which any interruption is an irritation? Remember everyone is different. The lifestyle and schedules of bloggers differ often from those in office based publishing houses.  

It’s perfectly okay to ask questions about their schedule, spelling of their name, title, phone numbers, best way to contact them (email, tweet, tweet direct message, phonecall and when). Journalists sometimes have domestic commitments; some are parents and find it difficult to take on too many evening events. 

Knowing the realities means you can appropriately invite them to engagements, whether it's a daytime coffee or a launch in the evening. What about things like feature schedules? Are they doing special issues on any subject in the year? 

Ask and they will tell you because they can’t do those stories without you. Journalists love it when they think you’ve made the effort to find out not only their interests but also their schedules. You become someone they can work with.

Step Four: Publicise them

As I've mentioned above, no journalist is in the job to be invisible. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and any social media platform they use. Read their output and share when appropriate. By the way, have a look at our top 20 small business journalists to engage with on Twitter, it could help you to start.

Comment and offer insights on what they write, compliment what you genuinely find good. Sycophancy is as hateful to most journalists as unconstructive criticism. By sharing their work, you’re helping them fulfil their mission.

Step Five: Your big idea

It’s much easier to get into a relationship if you have a big idea that overarches all your news. One food industry client, The Grocery Accelerator, say that they “prepare Davids in a world of Goliaths”. This big idea is graphic, paints pictures in journalists’ minds and can be drawn out and expressed in a variety of story angles.

They can talk about their work in coaching and mentoring, funding, niche targeting their startups; and each strand of news not only fleshes out their big idea but builds on the one before. For a journalist, this is like hitting a mother lode. Stories galore, all fresh but following a theme. Think what your big idea is and use it to build your relationship with media.

When you know what your journalists need, feel confident about approaching them because you’re relevant, have a big idea you can explore and expand with them, and engage with them by reading and appropriately sharing their work, the relationship grows and grows.

What's more, they will talk about you and other journalists may well call as well. Journalists hate to miss what is hot and trending.

Written by: Tetteh Kofi, Brand Ambassador

Tet is passionate about helping startups build their relationships with the press, and with his journalistic experience, works each day towards bridging the gap between the two. If he's not speaking on the radio or at our next PR workshop, you'll find him tweeting on Twitter about marketing, business, politics and more.

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