By Robin Carr, LCI
Several years ago, I attended a conference that was geared to both reporters and public relations professionals. During a session featuring a panel of newspaper editors, one award-winning editor matter-of-factly stated, “PR people and reporters should have an adversarial relationship.”
I was stunned. This was not what I was taught as a PR major at San Jose State University. More importantly, this isn’t how I was raised. My father, Howard Carr, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle for 25 years. I basically grew up around sports media and hanging out in press rooms, press boxes and sporting events from a very young age.
Some of my closest friends are folks who work in the media. Admittedly, I had a bit of a head start growing up in a media-centric household and understood how press and PR intersected. I worked in sports PR for 18 years. But as I transitioned into other sectors (consumer, fashion, healthcare, technology), I also needed to get to know media from these areas. What I found out was that my sports press contacts were definitely helpful in introducing me to other media at their news outlets. If I needed to get to know the tech reporter at the NBC affiliate, I reached out to my sports buddies who made the introduction.
Here are some tips for creating credible relationships with journalists:
- The Harvard Business Review recently reported that major news outlets generally get three times the average amount of email in pitches alone. There is a lot of noise out there, and most of it is irrelevant to the topics that each journalist covers. Reading a journalist’s work is imperative to your pitch, and these reporters tend to have digital responsibilities, including Twitter, the social channel where the media lives. Ezra Klein from the New York Times offered this tip for engaging the media: “Begin by e-mailing them some useful comments on stories they’ve written, or stories they might like to write. If your comments are good, you’ll get an e-mail back. With a relationship established, and some credibility built up, you can make your pitch and know that it’ll be heard.”
- News/talk radio is still important. Like print reporters, the work of these pros appears online and on various social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. Listen to which reporters are covering what, and very importantly, what geography they’re covering. If you have a story in the North Bay region of the Bay Area, for example, find out who is on that North Bay beat. No need to pitch the Silicon Valley reporter for a story in Sonoma County. Also, dig into podcasts for relevant topics and beat podcasters.
- Channel surf local affiliates, networks and morning shows. Everything. You can gauge many reporters through the channel’s online site and Twitter, but there’s nothing better than reaching out to a reporter with first-hand knowledge about what you just saw on the news.
- Sure, it’s tough due to COVID, but there are still online and virtual options to attend events where there are media members. Plenty of PR membership groups have events with keynotes and panelists who are reporters, broadcasters or producers. Same for when we return to in-person events. Go to events, trade shows, etc. where you might be able to meet the journalists in person. Introduce yourself to the media speakers with your elevator pitch and business cards ready. Another tip: when attending a trade show conference (think CES and other major shows), find out where the press room is located. Visit it often, with press kits and business cards in hand.
- Be patient to really build a relationship, get to know their passions. Coffee/beverage meetups. Make plans to get together at a ballgame or local music venue, when it’s safe again. I have done this over the years, and I am still a go-to sports resource for many media folks all these years later. In turn, I check with my press pals on the latest comings and goings at their newspaper/TV or radio station.
Once you’ve built a solid relationship with a reporter, you might find situations when you can work together as allies. I worked with Pedro Gomez, a popular and very personable sports reporter for the San Jose Mercury News, Sacramento Bee and ESPN. When I worked as a PR person for the SF Giants and Nike, Pedro was amazingly accommodating and supportive of my job, and he would assert himself with any Spanish-speaking players as an interpreter. This was incredibly helpful. I became close with Pedro and his family over the years, exchanging holiday cards and staying in touch through mutual friends and on social media.
Pedro’s personality made everyone comfortable and you could tell that he was just one of those guys who cared about people. Everyone was always glad to see him. He died unexpectedly last month at the young age of 58. This blog is dedicated to Pedro Gomez.
Note: In Pedro’s honor, The Pedro Gomez Foundation at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism has been established to help support scholarships for journalism students. For more information, visit: http://PedroGomezFoundation.org
Got a comment? Comment below or email me at [email protected].