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Five tips for building strong relationships with journalists

Journalists may thrive on PR input but when you are battling for column space against other brands, it has never been more important to strike up strong, solid relationships with key hacks. Clearly, journalists are time-poor, inundated with press releases and under pressure from deadlines. This makes it harder to a) get your story heard and b) to ensure they know you’re the PR to come back to.

Here are our top five tips for dealing with journalists gleaned from PR agency heads who we have interviewed in recent months:

1. Be relevant. Researching the publication’s audience, stories and angles is paramount, but go one step further by spelling out the news hooks for them. Grab the journalist’s attention in the first paragraph by convincing them what a newsworthy item you have on your hands. Capella PR’s Gareth Thomas suggests explaining in a sentence the broader context and significance of the news you’re sharing. Above all, always put yourself in their shoes and talk their language. ‘Cut through the marketing bullshit and explain what the real story is’, advises Nelson Bostock’s Nick Clark.

2. Be personal. Knowing a journalist’s interests and passions is not only key to pitching relevant stories, but it also makes it easier to build relationships in the long-term. With patch and biography information on the FeaturesExec Media Database at your disposal, as well as freely available social media updates, find out what is the best approach to pitch and when to do it. And this is only the beginning – stay in touch regularly and meet with them. ‘Nothing cements a relationship better than getting a chance to see the human behind the phone or email’, says Stir PR’s Alicia Mellish.

3. Be useful. Become known to the journalist as an expert and a reliable source of information. Make their jobs easier by providing the exact information they’re asking for and they’ll remember you for the next time they want fast access to some figures, products or a spokesperson. And ask them what they want. ResponseSource, the journo enquiries service, is a great way of following the needs of journalists who use it.

4. Be honest. Always be straight with journalists and don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Guaranteeing opinion from a top industry figure is quite different from handing over a quote from a business start up on their product launch. By acting upon your words and offering that exclusive story to only one publication, you will (hopefully) build up trust and become a model of reliability. Messed up? Admit it and apologise straight away.

5. Be creative. Using the same methods to contact journalists or relying on email alone to pitch news can be like talking to a brick wall. Find different ways of contacting journalists and reduce their email load by trying Twitter and other social media sites instead. Be creative and think up of feature ideas and how a particular story would fit into the publication in question. The less humdrum the story is, the more chance a journalist has of taking notice.

Striking the balance between accommodating both the client and the journalist’s needs is key. Chipping away at the client’s story in order to fit the journalist’s agenda may seem futile, but ultimately the client will win with the increased coverage you gain from having taken the time and effort to build up your relationships with key media professionals. An interesting take on the PR/journalist dynamic is to think of your relationships with journalists as your currency, as TriggerFish’s Andrew White suggests. Time spent building rapport will pay-off in the long-term.

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