Gini Dietrich

Media Relations in the Digital Age

By: Gini Dietrich | September 30, 2013 | 

Media Relations in the Digital Age

By Gini Dietrich

I still look in the mirror and see my 27-year-old self. It certainly doesn’t feel like I’ve been practicing communications for more than 15 years. But when I think back to how things were done at the beginning of my career versus today, it’s easy to see how that many years have flown by.

We used to write news releases, advertorials, feature stories, and more, print them out, overnight them to the client, and wait for their feedback. A few days later, the feedback would come back, via an overnight package, and we’d make the changes, mark it final, and send for their signature.

Today that seems like an incredible waste of time (and trees). I can still picture the outbox where the envelopes were collected to be sent at the end of each day.

As well, media relations used to be about getting invited to editorial board meetings, hosting journalists at week-long events so they could learn more about your organization, and finding a reason to have lunch, coffee, or dinner with journalists to build your relationship with them.

Long after that became a no-no, there were still some journalists who would see you on the sly … and you knew who they were and how to approach them. In fact, there was one Chicago Sun-Times reporter who practiced that until he retired two years ago.

The Great Recession

While these things were beginning to change for ethics reasons, when the economy crashed in 2008, things really began to change.

Suddenly the journalists with whom you’d built relationships with during your career were taking mandatory furloughs or, worse, being laid off. Those who were left were suddenly covering three or four topics, when only one was their expertise.

The need for a PR professional became even more needed, but because journalists were so busy, they resented those who called or emailed simply for the sake of keeping the relationship alive.

Then, of course, social media entered the fray and journalists began to use that and their own content to find sources. The good old days of picking up the phone and chatting about the stories that were forthcoming to see if your organization was a fit are very slim and the web has changed the way we communicate.

It’s pretty easy to understand networking and building relationships with human beings. We all do and have our entire lives.

What’s more difficult to understand is how to do that using technology and without ever actually speaking to someone who can help you tell your story.

Manage Media Relations in the Digital Age

Following are some tips for you to consider using when you embark on a media relations program.

  1. Use the social networks. If you have targeted publications or journalists for your industry, find them on the social networks. More than likely, they are on Twitter and you can follow them there. Add them to a Twitter list so you see everything they tweet. Find a reason to connect with them there, even if it’s just to introduce yourself, and keep the conversation going on Twitter every day. Soon enough you’ll find something they are working on that is a fit for you.
  2. Read their articles. Unless they’re in TV, most journalists have something you can read and comment on. Many will read the comments on their articles to source new people to call. If you offer a differing opinion or provide more information on the topic, it’s highly likely they will contact you for future stories. For a step-by-step process on how to do this, check out Six Tips to Pitch Journalists On Your Own.
  3. Send a personalized email. The other day I received an email from a peer that said she loved reading Spin Sucks. She said she just wanted to introduce herself. She wrote a couple of sentences about how she thought the two of us could work in the future and she ended it there. I fully expect to receive a pitch from her soon, but she started out by engaging with me instead of asking something of me.
  4. Send something in the mail. When Marketing in the Round came out last year, I bought several copies to send to journalists when it was appropriate. But if you don’t have a book, a handwritten note works extremely well in today’s fast-paced, digital world.
  5. Personalize your pitches. It’s pretty easy to write a news release about your latest news, copy it into an email, add a bunch of email addresses, and hit send. But that never, ever works. You’ve spent all this time getting to know your industry journalists. Don’t insult them by sending something you sent to everyone on your list.
  6. Be available to talk about industry trends. There will be times you don’t have any news to share or the news you do have doesn’t fit anything your targeted journalists are writing. But they may ask you to comment on industry trends or industry news. While it may be just a quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. That will lead to a bigger story centered around you.

If you do just one of these six things, and you are consistent and smart about it, you soon will have some media relations success.

A version of this first appeared in my weekly AllBusiness Experts column.

About Gini Dietrich

Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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80 responses to “Media Relations in the Digital Age”

  1. biggreenpen says:

    Great tips, Gini. It is stunning how much things have changed! One of the themes I hear in your tips, though, is the timeless one: value the connection you have and nurture it, even when you don’t need something (possibly ESPECIALLY when you don’t need something).

    • ginidietrich says:

      biggreenpen It’s just like other relationships, right? We aren’t friends with someone because we always need something from them. It’s a give and take.
      Hope your sparkle bandaid made the flu shot less painful!

      • biggreenpen says:

        ginidietrich biggreenpen definitely a give and take. And re: the sparkle bandaid – YES! – the shot didn’t hurt much anyway but the fun I had doing the whole bandaid rivalry (with the sad, sad demise of those Disney Princesses who fell behind SpongeBob and Cynthia Rowley) was definitely cool — I hope it raised some awareness of that particular campaign to help children in underdeveloped countries get immunizations.

      • JoeCardillo says:

        ginidietrich biggreenpen I send emails all the time to people I don’t need anything from – sometimes it’s just fun to connect with someone and sometimes it ends up being useful to me or them, and occasionally it leads to a coverage / business connection.

  2. That is why mashable banned me from commenting. They are afraid their writers would be sending me all their drafts for approval vs rubber stamping the crappy press releases because it would kill their productivity!
    These are great tips because I do some media outreach and it is not easy. So forget about the impact on the PR Industry, do you think these changes have improved or hurt the quality of media/reporting that we read today? As with Mashable it hurt their quality because they have so much content just to publish willy nilly without care.

    • ginidietrich says:

      Howie Goldfarb HAHAHAH! Someone needs to approve the drafts! I don’t know what to think about our media world right now. You have PR firms producing OpEds for foreign governments that run in American papers, you have PR firms making up people for whom to send articles in (and they’re run), and you have firms calling for complete transparency when a journalist works with a PR pro. I don’t know.

  3. KateFinley says:

    I like your point about being an industry trend resource. Often, that can be the story. Just because you don’t have “news” doesn’t mean you can’t make news by tapping into current events in the form of commentary. It’s good for thought leadership.

    • ginidietrich says:

      KateFinley We had a client who would get really mad at us if he only had one quote in a bigger story. He didn’t realize that almost always led to bigger and better stories, but he refused to do those interviews. Drove me crazy.

  4. Great and actionable tips Gini. It’s interesting what you say about “Expecting to receive a pitch soon”. I usually expect the same and it happens more often than not but it truly is so refreshing and pleasantly surprising when someone decides to engage and have a sincere conversation instead of asking something in return. Those are the conversations that actually end up staying with me for a long time.

    • ginidietrich says:

      LSSocialEngage I was pretty impressed by that email because it wasn’t the same old, same old. I haven’t heard back from her, but when I do, I’ll listen to what she has to say.

  5. Word Ninja says:

    Thanks for #3. I get “personalized” emails that are first and foremost trying to sell me something. I can tell them a mile away and hit delete often before I even open them. The subject line says it all. The approach you experienced would make a difference to me, too.

    • ginidietrich says:

      Word Ninja I got one the other day that was “personalized” that we passed around the office. The guy had 425-XXX-XXXX as his phone number at the bottom of his signature. Literally like that.

  6. Hold up. You’re not 27?

  7. The best part about being 27 was I knew everything. Ever since then all my knowledge has slowly leaked from my brain.
    The personalized pitch is so important. People are overloaded with news, information and email so if you don’t take steps to show them you value their time you really do risk their simply deleting your message.
    It is really easy to ignore people who don’t offer value.

  8. aimeelwest says:

    #5 Personalize your pitch. In this day and age where you can just add people to an email and then send out one instead of 20 or 50 I think that we tend to forget there is a person on the other side of that email. I know I love it when I get someone that personalizes it to what I might need.

  9. ClayMorgan says:

     We are on the verge of October, which means we’re in the midst of being overwhelmed by press releases and pitches related  to Breast Cancer Awareness month. Most are important and they are very valid, but they will come from across the nation and won’t be focused on my market.
    A few years ago, I had such a pitch from a guy at a PR agency. I explained to him that while he represents one of the foremost cancer centers in the state, and the information he provided is very important, they were a five hour drive away and our paper was heavily focused on local news. I told him if you want in my paper, tell me something local.
    About two weeks later, I got an email from him. “I have stats that show your city is number one in the state in preventable cancer deaths. Wanna chat?”
    Heck yea I wanted to chat! And we did the story and his client was very prominently featured as an expert resource.
    THAT’S how it is done.

  10. bradmarley says:

    Word up, ginidietrich . I think we all need to be reminded of this. Recession or not, these are important tips.
    When I began my current work three years ago, I sent a personalized introductory note to some of the key media in the space, letting them know what I would be doing, as well as how I could help them. I also said I would be targeting them, which sort of gave them the chance to tell me if they would rather not receive my pitches.
    The emailing took me all of four hours.
    It didn’t lead to immediate coverage, but it helped position me as a resource for future inquiries, and I have worked together with them on a few stories.
    (And sometimes they take pity on me and take an interview, even if they have no intention of writing. I’m okay with that.)

    • ginidietrich says:

      bradmarley I love, love, love that approach! I wish more pros handled it that way.

    • JoeCardillo says:

      bradmarley Hey while everyone else is chasing mass coverage on the cheap, you are creating relationships that matter.  Good for you. Journalists rarely say “this post is nearer to my heart than others” or “I wrote this article because I had to” but it shows in the writing and, these days, their sharing of it across social networks.

  11. John_Trader1 says:

    As with any profession, a little elbow grease (e.g. personalizing email pitches and introductory messages) goes a long way. I can’t tell you how much international journalists appreciate a personalized note or message letting them know you are there and available as a resource to help them whittle down a global industry vendor list. I encourage everyone to be persistent, but not annoying when reaching out. A message and follow up is ok, but leave it there – don’t barrage journalists with messages until they respond.

  12. alliteespring says:

    Hey! This sounds like awfully like what I think of as the “extended version” of your response to my question about pitching!  What a strange sentence that one was to type….
    Anyhow, thanks for sharing!  4 and 6 never crossed my mind.  We like to send “swag” out to customers who have done awesome things for us (introduced us to someone who created significant revenue, finished a length survey for us, participated in a  contest, etc.)  Interesting to think that that move could be refined and recycled in regards to media relations.  
    Biggest takeaway? Offer yourself as a resource (or even just a sincere fan!) before you make an ask.  Good point, GIni.

    • JoeCardillo says:

      alliteespring Agree. Be there in the ecosystem that matters to the person you want to connect to. If you do it right by then you’re not even pitching them, you’re having a conversation with someone intrigued by the same things as you.

    • ginidietrich says:

      alliteespring You should check out what Warby Parker does for customers. I’ll bet you’ll find some stuff you can shamelessly steal. That has nothing to do with media relations, but I just though of it.

  13. NicoleCollida says:

    I completely agree with #6 – absolutely critical.  It establishes you as an expert outside of your current company/pitch/client.  It works extremely well in my world – market research – and has helped me develop stronger and more senior relationships with my clients.  Great point!

  14. Love this because I totally remember doing PR like that. For local clients we used a courier service. I’d put the envelope at the front desk and wait for the client’s call. Good times!

  15. AceConcierge says:

    iHomeTech Thank you for the share…

  16. ginidietrich says:

    fleuredeflorida Thanks, Ashley!

  17. Cision NA says:

    Dead-on, Gini. I especially love #4. I’m a sucker for mail and have seen our SVP open packages from companies I’m certain she wouldn’t open emails from.
    Great examples!

  18. rwohlner says:

    Boy number 5 really hits home.  I blog about what my tagline says:  “Unbiased information about financial planning, investments, and retirement plans.”  I don’t blog about debt reduction, saving money shopping or any of the other totally unrelated topics about which I continually received emails from PR “professionals” pitching stories to mention on my blog.  I’m not knocking these topics but its clearly not what I write about.  Clearly these folks are in the camp of throwing enough crap out there and something will stick mode.  End of rant.
    By the way love the new FB profile pic, I can really see the family resemblance.

  19. ginidietrich says:

    creativeoncall Ha!

  20. sydcon_mktg says:

    These are good tips.  Tech touches everything these days. People need to embrace it instead of thinking it has no effect on them.

  21. engagetony says:

    tressalynne Tressa, thanks so much for the RT on ginidietrich’s media relations article! Have a super day!

  22. peachergraf says:

    Isn’t it funny how an occasional “snail mail” can grab attention since it has become such a rare form of communication today?Thanks for the tips and trip down “media relations memory lane.”

  23. Gini Dietrich says:


  24. dbvickery says:

    Six good points that can apply to ANY digital relations – not just media personalities.

  25. brettriddle says:

    MeghanMBiro ginidietrich Big changes. Sounds like people need to adapt to survive

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