Relationships Are Still the Bedrock of Good PR

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This post was originally published on MBS Insights, the blog of MBS Value Partners.

Don’t be fooled by the proliferation of Twitter handles and hashtags in the media these days. The bedrock of solid public relations remains the personal relationships developed over time between companies and the journalists who cover them.

Hearing this, you might figure I’m some kind of Luddite who never liked the bloggers, podcasts and i-literati who have become such an important part of our media landscape. Not true. In fact, I’m very much one of them, launching my first podcast as far back as 2006.

I do feel, however, that unbridled belief in the social conversation has led us down the garden path toward the belief that developing real relationships with reporters and editors is passé. That we can effectively publicize our ventures without ever picking up the phone or stepping out from behind our computers. I’m here to say that’s just, plain wrong.

Building solid relationships with reporters is one of those core components of good PR that never falls out of favor. We may use different tools to manage and interact with these individuals, but the idea remains comfortably old-fashioned: treat these folks like you would any other business relationship. Here’s why:

  • Journalists respond to the familiar. This should be obvious, but let’s go ahead and say it. Reporters are more likely to take your call or read your email if they know you. That’ doesn’t mean they’ll listen to your pitch and then write every word you tell them. No way. But it does mean that you at least have a chance to deliver your pitch. Your relationship gives you a leg up in breaking through the noise,
  • Reporters like knowledgeable sources. No reporter wants to spend time on the phone listening to neophyte publicists pitch them stories they barely understand themselves. Sadly, this happens all the time; I remember it un-fondly from my own days as a reporter. But the flipside is true as well. Journalists are generally happy to hear from individuals who provide real information at appropriate times and don’t overdue it. This, to them, adds value.
  • Newspeople need access to newsmakers.  A journalist with no sources at the companies he or she covers is not accomplishing much. Good reporters know this and cultivate sources within their beats so they have access to the people they need, when they need them. And this can be as little as a moment’s notice. Given that reality, reporters will be receptive if you can deliver this type of access, to both yourself and your senior executives, on deadline, time after time.
  • You’ll be better positioned in a crisis. When everything goes wrong and your company is in the early stages of a major crisis, reporters who know your organization will seek you out for information. And they’re usually willing to listen to what you have to say. This is far, far better than the alternative, which is the journalists writing their stories without company input because they simply don’t know whom to call. Relationships are a major crisis-planning tool.
  • Companies need to know their own audiences. To effectively communicate our stories to the media, it’s important to understand the particular needs of news organizations that cover us and the journalists within them. You may know that one reporter is always under pressure to get the story first and another has an editor who cherishes CEO access. Understanding these needs can help you tremendously. It’s hard to meet your journalists’ requirements if you don’t know what they are in the first place.

This list is by no means scientific or exhaustive. There may be another bullet or two you can come up with. But being exhaustive was not my intent.

I simply want us all to remember that while we have never had more exciting tools with which to do our jobs, the core skills of networking and relationship building are still to be highly prized in the modern mediascape. They are at the very core of what we do.