What is media relations really? Is it having access to an Internet-database of thousands of reporters and editors worldwide? Is it maintaining strong relationships with local, regional and even national media contacts? Or is it scouring the newspapers, magazines, Internet sites, TV stations, radio stations and all the other outlets out there, until you find a reporter you think would be perfect for your pitch?
To answer that, let me take you back to Auburn University, in the Haley Center for Rick Smith’s Mass Communications class. On the very first day of this 8 a.m. class, Rick said, “It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. Now, I, and your other professors will teach you the ‘what,’ but it’s up to you to find the who.” It didn’t hit me that day, but today I understand media relations is a compilation of the ‘who’ and the ‘what.’
The ‘who’ is obviously the reporters, editors, anchors, blog writers and hosts. As PR pros, it is our job to know to whom we are pitching our ideas. Schroder PR prides itself on having strong media contacts. Now, that’s not to say that on my first day at SPR, Chris called all the reporters he knew and had them come greet me at the office. I did – and am still doing – the legwork, too. I have met reporters and editors through the firm and my colleagues, through clubs and organizations in which I am involved and even by Tweeting them a request to meet for coffee! I also utilize our subscription to the database of thousands of reporters to find which beats reporters cover and how they liked to be contacted. If we get a new client in a realm in which I’m not familiar with the reporters covering that beat – I turn to the ‘what.’
Part of the ‘what’ is knowing what the ‘who’ is writing. As Bailee wrote in “Reader of the News,” we are constantly reading publications, websites and any other news sources out there. Only once did I make the mistake of pitching to a reporter whose work I had never read. It was about a month into my career at Schroder PR, and I blindly pitched a reporter at the AJC. I basically told him that I hadn’t seen a lot of stories about construction lately and he should write one about my client. He (very politely!) told me he was disappointed that I felt like he had not written about the field, when he had just completed a three-part story about Atlanta construction. Like I said, only once did I make that mistake – I was mortified. Fortunately, I learned from my mistake and now read and pitch said reporter frequently.
Another part of the ‘what’ that I’ve learned at SPR is having a complete story and messaging. We know what is and is not interesting, and so do reporters. Don’t pitch reporters with weak or boring subjects, especially if those boring subjects aren’t timely! Watching for trends gives you the ability to possibly “latch” your pitch on a topical news event – just make sure you stick with your client’s branding messages!
Lastly, I think the ‘what’ is also ‘what could go wrong, will probably go wrong.’ It really doesn’t matter if you’ve taken all the right steps, know every single reporter in the world and read nonstop – there are still going to be those times when your story is trumped by another news event. As you’ve read in our part of our crisis series, like “Unfortunately, we’re easily reminded that crises occur daily”, crises are inevitable, and that’s what the reporters, producers and editors will need to cover. So, I guess part of the ‘who + what’ can be luck and following up. I don’t send a release and then call them to be sure they received it – please, please – don’t ever do that. But, I do follow up with reporters that show interest in stories.
So, does Schroder PR get hired for media relations based solely on our relationships with reporters? No. Do we get hired because we subscribe to every eNewsletter and paper, and read/watch/listen to as many outlets as we can? I don’t think so. I think we understand that media relations is, simply put, not only about who, but also about what you know.