Local Reporters Give Advice on How PR Pros Can Build Media Relationships

Media relations hinges on the relationships that we create and maintain with the press. We have to know what journalists need and how to avoid behaviors that hurt PR reputations in newsrooms.

After being a professional journalist for more than four years, I recently left the field to pursue a career in public relations. Having worked both sides of the desk has given me a better understanding of what reporters want and need.

This post will highlight some of the ways you can maintain and build successful relationships with your organization’s press contacts. In addition to citing other research studies, I’ve talked to three active journalists who gave their input on various topics.

Know who you pitch.

 According to Cision’s “2022 State of the Media Report,” which surveyed more than 3,800 journalists at about 2,160 media outlets, 76% of respondents said news releases are the content they want most from brands.

In an interview for this article, Keyris Manzanares, a multimedia reporter at Virginia Public Media, said she often receives email pitches from PR people.

“You might not go with whatever they’re pitching you,” she said, “but it might spark a bigger conversation about that story.”

According to Cision’s report, two out of three journalists surveyed said most PR pitches they receive are irrelevant to them. A common refrain from journalists is that PR practitioners should research a news organization and the kinds of stories it covers before pitching.

Tyler Thrasher, digital executive producer at WRIC 8News in Richmond, Va., said his newsroom receives countless email pitches every day. He and his team ignore emails that look automated. However, if you’ve never pitched his news outlet before, don’t be afraid to say so upfront and to ask whether the person you’re emailing is the right one to contact at that newsroom, Thrasher said.

“Have a little more formal conversation, rather than just sending something that looks like it’s being sent to every single newsroom,” he said.

Jack Jacobs, a reporter with Richmond BizSense, echoed that sentiment. It’s obvious when someone pitching him has done their research first and when they have not, he said.

“Usually, PR people who do their homework are pitching you something that you care about,” Jacobs said. As a reporter, “you get something that you can do something with. And the PR person wants to get media placements.”

Jacobs covers the Richmond metro area. Sometimes he receives story pitches about things happening in other states or even other countries, which come across as thoughtless, he said.

“When I get a pitch from someone in India who’s done a capital race, that’s great but we’re not gonna write about that because it’s not here,” Jacobs said. 

Understand newsworthiness.

Just as important as knowing who to pitch is understanding what information to pitch and how to pitch it. Story ideas should always be newsworthy, defined as having the qualities of news, of being timely and important or interesting.

According to the American Press Association, “Creating a good story means finding and verifying important or interesting information and then presenting it in a way that engages the audience.”

In your pitch, convey how the story affects the community, Thrasher advised.

“That’s the big thing, especially for a more positive story,” he said. “How is this [business] impacting people? How is it bringing in new jobs? Is it giving kids in the community a chance to do something different?”

Manzanares said one way to show the newsworthiness of your pitch is to connect it to the location the reporter covers.

Make yourself a resource to reporters.

According to the journalists I spoke to, one of the most important roles a media relations specialist can play for reporters is to connect them with sources. In Cision’s surveys, 18 percent of journalists said their relationships with PR professionals became more valuable in the last year.

When he reaches out to a PR specialist, Jacobs said, it’s usually to ask who the best person to talk to for a story is, or because he needs images for a story. Or he might have a follow-up question and can’t reach the primary source directly. “Can you get an answer for me?” It’s about “facilitating those last-minute things.”

He might talk directly with a small business owner for a story, but Jacobs doesn’t always have that access at large corporations. “The PR person can collect the information you want and get it back to you,” he said.

As a reporter, when you need to interview a county official for a story, a media relations pro can help point you to that person, Manzanares said. “I really try to maintain my relationships with people who are in media relations.”

Respond quickly, respect deadlines.

A reporter’s life revolves around deadlines. Whether it’s for the 5 p.m. newscast, the Sunday paper or online in time to be included in a news-roundup email in the morning, journalists need to turn in a story or face consequences from their editor. PR professionals can help.

“More than half of journalists (57%) need PR pros to provide them with data and expert sources,” Cision’s report found. Twenty-nine percent of journalists surveyed said PR pros can help them by understanding and respecting their deadlines.

Thrasher often contacts fire and police departments about incidents to see whether his newsroom should send a reporter or photographer. A public information officer who’s quick to respond “and more friendly is typically more favored,” he said.

With the rise of online news, timeliness is more important than ever, Thrasher said. Outlets want to receive information as soon as possible, not just before a news show airs.

When reporters need information on deadline, a sense of urgency from a public information department or PR agency helps maintain solid relationships with the media, he said.

According to Cision, 22% of reporters surveyed said that if a media relations representative doesn’t make time for them, they won’t make time for that person in the future. However, Thrasher added, journalists understand that media relations specialists are busy, too. In that case, let the reporter know you’re busy but are still working on their request. Having that level of communication and relationship builds trust, he said.

Amelia Heymann worked as a journalist at the Virginia Gazette and WRIC 8News. She is currently a graduate student studying integrated communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.

photo credit: .shock

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