4 Steps for Building Connections with Journalists
Updated: Jan 10
"In journalism, there has always been a tension between getting it first and getting it right." --Ellen Goodman
Building relationships is never easy, but putting in effort and always having the purpose clearly defined helps not only build that relationship but also, maintain it for a long time.
Let's imagine that your company is launching a brand new product or you are building a fascinating new start-up. You, for one, are damn sure it is impeccable, and you have a great story about it that you think all the publications will want to print.
Except, it's not!!
This has nothing to do with your company's story not being good enough, many times, much lesser impactful stories make the
So what's lacking?
The simple answer - is connections or relationships with the media, journalists, and editors. This plays a crucial role when you try to pitch a story, as all these folks are pitched close to a hundred stories a day. So, why should they pick yours?
Especially when they have no idea who you are. Why would they pick a stranger's story from so many they receive each day? They wouldn't. They would, however, choose a story from someone they know or from a person who seems familiar.
How to build relationships or connections with journalists?
1. Preliminary steps
The first step is to decide who you want to connect with. Journalists can be reporters, editors, or program producers. Amongst all, the most accessible and best is to build a connection with a reporter since he/she will be the one to pitch your story to the editor.
Research the top publications in your field and the associated journalists or bloggers who write about your industry, product, or service. This can be done by googling your industry, area, or domain and clicking on the news portion. Finding the right journalist is the first important step in building a connection.
To begin with, it's always wise to target mid-tier or medium publications rather than the big wigs. It's not that you should not try to reach the big guns like CNN, NYT, etc.; but, your story will mostly be picked up by more moderate publications initially, and it's always a good place to start.
Next, please list the journalists you want to connect with and start gathering information about the journalist by reading their articles, blogs, and bios and following them on social media. This will become important when you initiate an initial conversation with the journalist.
2. Make your first conversation
Now that you have done your research and have a list of target journalists with you, it's time to make the first move. NEVER PITCH A JOURNALIST IN YOUR FIRST CONVERSATION. This is like an unwritten rule. Your first conversation or outreach should never be to pitch your story. Instead, it would help if you found common ground between what you want to pitch (much later) and the specific interest of the journalist.
Once you have researched the journalist by following his/her articles or blogs, the best way to start your first conversation would be in two ways:
If you are following that person on social media like Twitter, then retweeting his/her tweets, or if you are following him/her on LinkedIn, commenting on or reposting his/her blog or article with a note of appreciation of the topic would instantly bring you up on the journalist's radar. Nothing works better than flattery, especially if you genuinely mean it. To make it genuine, you can't comment, "Great article!". It should be much more than that. It should be a specific part of the article or blog that has caught your interest, and you highlight that portion in your comment. This shows that you genuinely liked and are interested in the journalist's article /blog. It also positions you as someone who is knowledgeable on the subject and the journalist is sure to take notice of you. If you are lucky, there may be a comment with a "thank you" or "I appreciate it!"
You email the journalist, so your email doesn't get drowned in the hundreds of emails they get daily; make sure to highlight the subject part. For example, in the sub, write: INTRODUCTION / A note about me. That way, the journalist will most likely open your email to learn more. In the email, give a brief description of yourself, nothing too elaborate, and get straight to the point about how you appreciated the article/blog you read in a particular publication. Never pitch a story in your first conversation, the aim is only to build a connection, so stick to that.
A good writer always grabs that attention! Check out this blog to understand how to write up the best press release.
3. Build the relationship
Once you have initiated the first conversation, take some time (at least 3-6months) before you pitch your story. You must build on that connection during this period and make it a relationship. These are the following ways you can create a relationship.
Continue to compliment or like their work on social media. Retweeting and reposting their work will help both the journalist and you broaden your reach.
Share any relevant article, report, white paper, or other content the journalist recently wrote to initiate a conversation on social networks.
If there are any mutual connections, try and open conversations with the mutual contact included; this gives more credibility.
Send them story tips not associated with your organization or business and help them. This will help you strengthen your bond.
Make sure the content is newsworthy and valuable.
Meeting in person and giving them your business card: This may seem like a long shot and not as easy as it sounds. However, if you are invited to a joint event and want to reach out, feel free to do so. Be careful to put your best foot forward here; you don't want to seem too desperate and eager.
Help the journalists with introductions to prominent personalities in a field, this will help them immensely, and they will always make time for you.
Thus, the key to journalist connections and relationship building is quite simple: help them become better journalists.
4. Make your pitch
Once you have built a relationship with the journalist, you can pitch your story—these points to keep in mind while pitching:
Either pitch your story or send them a press release. If you're pitching your story, you can personalize it, which could be a better approach than sending a press release. However, you can also write a pitch as the main content of your email and attach the press release with the mail.
Personalize the pitch by addressing the journalist by name and explaining why your story interests them.
Understand if your story is newsworthy. Will it be of interest to that particular publication, will it attract a large audience, and is it controversial? Knowing what type of story you will pitch and getting your point across is key to getting picked up.
Make it convincing in one or two sentences, and here are some ways:
Relate it to a recent topic the journalist may have published in the recent past. Usually, they like to do follow-up stories about a topic.
Show that it's a trending topic on social media since journalists are likely to pick up such issues.
If it's a topic that can impact or benefit many people, highlight that point so it becomes interesting to the journalist.
Structure your pitch to catch the journalist's attention within the first two lines. The first line should be about your story's topic, and the second should convey its importance. The third line should convince you why it should be published, the following lines should contain high-resolution images and relevant documents or press releases related to the story, and the last line should have your contact information.
Your pitch should be conveyed in a language the journalist can understand easily. It should contain only a few technical terms that are easy to understand.
Building a good relationship with a journalist is based on mutual benefit. For example, imagine a case where you constantly provide value to them by sending them engaging stories, access to places that may otherwise be restricted, or letting them use your photos in their article. In that case, they'll be more open to hearing from you. Building this relationship takes time, patience, and willingness to give more than you may receive. However, these are the relationships that last forever. In the end, remember that journalists are people too, and they also deserve all the trust and clarity any relationship will require, and this doesn't happen by chance; it takes a lot of commitment.
"In a relationship, the little things are always the big things."- Stephan Covey.
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