How to do media relations without pitching a story

Media PR professionals – are you doing media relations” or “media blasting”? There is an important distinction between the two.

Many journalists complain about some of the terrible tactics public relations professionals employ. From what I see and hear, this complaint has some warrant to it. Many PR folks resort to blasting their message as far and wide as possible. The idea is that the more wild pitches that are sent, the better likelihood of placement. Those who adopt this strategy are media blasting.

Media relations has a different connotation. It seems obvious to say that the term “relations” in a business context means establishing a connection. Yet in the hustle to get media releases out the door, it would be a good idea for PR professionals to look up this word in the dictionary. It is hard to imagine how the random press release blast strategy relates to this term.

Sure, pitching stories is part of the job description for many PR pros. But it seems that the majority of our efforts are focused on this activity alone. There is far more involved in relationship building.

Here are some other tactics to consider in building media “relations” that don’t involve story pitches:

1. Event sponsorship. Toward the end of my time as PR director at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, I was involved in organizing an event that was being conducted in conjunction with Forbes’ CMO Network. I was able to attend this event as a spectator and see first-hand the benefit it brought to the school. CMO Editor Jenny Rooney told me in a podcast interview that these events help establish the Forbes CMO Network as a thought leader in the space and extends their brand to different audiences. No story pitch was involved in this win-win.

It could also be worthwhile to invite a relevant and targeted journalist to speak at one of your events, thus giving the journalist exposure and visibility among your organization’s different audiences.

2. Online resources. Part of developing good relations is making the lives of the other party easier and more efficient. In other words, helping them to do their jobs more effectively. Media pressrooms that have easy-to-find photos, videos and information can go a long way to helping a journalist perform their jobs and make the PR team a reliable resource.

3. Re-focus the conversation. I wonder what percent of pitches are focused on “Here’s what I have to tell you” vs. “How can I be of service to you.” Taking the latter approach shows that the PR professional genuinely cares about helping the journalist.

In a previous role, I helped organized a media roundtable focused on the topic of entrepreneurship. We had about 15 journalists in attendance and began the event with the journalists talking about the topics that interested them related to entrepreneurship. We concluded by having a few of our thought leaders discuss their latest research and views. By hearing directly from the journalists first, the spokespeople were able to provide feedback directly related to some of the comments from journalists. And as public relations professionals, we were able to connect the dots between some of our thought leadership and the journalists’ needs at a later date. Had we positioned this as “come hear our amazing research”, I don’t think there would’ve been as good of a turnout. Shifting the focus to hear what the journalists were saying made it a beneficial event for relationship building.

4. Connect on social media and promote their stories. Most of PR professionals are already following targeted journalists on social media. We can step up our efforts to promote their work, instead of the other way around.

We all know that the job of a journalist is quite tough these days. Limited resources and tighter deadlines are the new norm. The competition is stiffer than ever, and often, journalists are rewarded for the number of page views a story generates.

With this in mind, a PR professional can foster better relations by promoting the journalist’s stories on social media, even if your organization or client isn’t mentioned. It should certainly be on full display the next time a journalist covers a story related to your organization.

Next time a journalist covers a story related to your organization, mobilize as many internal ambassadors to disseminate the story on their individual channels, in addition to populating the piece on corporate channels as well. The journalist will know that he/she has a partner to count on. 

5. Interview the journalist on your own channels. How about undergoing a role reversal. The reality is that brands are media organizations, and some reach significant audiences. Particularly in smaller markets, often a big brand’s reach exceeds that of the local newspaper. Why not invite the journalist to be interviewed for your organization’s blog, podcast or other owned channels. It gives the journalist visibility, provides insights for the PR professional and goes a long way towards fostering a relationship.

6. Trainings: While probably most applicable to individuals working in higher education, it is worth noting the possibility that some brands have to offer valuable trainings for journalists. In both the schools I worked with in the past, there were programs in place to provide journalists continuing education or refresher courses.

As a result of adopting some of these tactics, pitching a story might seem to be the natural course of action in the ongoing relationship development between the PR professional and the journalist.

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