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Carol Vieira

Media Relations: When a Reporter Says Jump, Ask How High

By: Carol Vieira | September 11, 2013 | 
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media relations

By Carol Vieira

Twelve years ago, while working for the largest science organization in the world, we had a strict rule in the media relations office: You had 10 minutes to respond to a journalist.

Drilling in a sense of urgency when working with the media was a hugely valuable career lesson that reporters are your top priority.

The term media relations is self-descriptive. Relationships are at the core of our profession. We have to work hard to become a trusted source of information for reporters.

THEY are our constituents. In media relations, reporters are the customers.

Marketing and Media Relations

Recently, Arment Dietrich hosted a webinar by acclaimed marketer Jay Baer (author of the book Youtility) on “Why Your Marketing Needs to be About Help, Not Hype.” Baer says marketing tactics that are useful and helpful to the customer – even if they aren’t directly and immediately beneficial to the organization off the bat – are better at building a brand and establishing long-term customer loyalty. This premise holds true for successful media relations too.

From large non-profits to PR agencies to start-ups, the rules when working with reporters don’t change. If you’re fulfilling a media request, you should think of yourself as operating on the same time frame as a newsroom: Not simply fast-paced, but frenetic. Quick responses are appreciated, remembered, and pay off in the long run.

It’s up to you to know how to connect a reporter with the right person – you need to have the cell phone numbers handy of every expert source, as well as the key spokespeople at your organization.

Give to Receive

Never leave a reporter empty handed. Here’s where it gets tough. Sometimes you might even have to offer up someone outside of your organization if they’re the right person and this is OK. You want to be a helpful source; the most helpful, bad-a$$ source you can possibly be!

Why?

Aside from the golden rule of doing unto others, being helpful and useful establishes trust, and leaves reporters coming back to you for more.

Other Basic Guidelines

  • Know your spokesperson’s availability. If more than one of you is pitching interviews for the same spokesperson, use a shared calendar (Google Docs works well) so you can see open/taken time slots in real time. This way you can confirm interview spots immediately with reporters, and make their lives easier.
  • Confirm mobile numbers, home numbers, and office numbers, and make sure your spokespeople know you’ll be calling them/scheduling interviews.
  • If you’re working with an organization in an agency capacity, make sure the spokespeople know who you are, and are OK with taking your calls directly.
  • Drill into your technical specialists the utmost importance of taking reporter calls whenever and wherever they can.
  • Give your spokespeople basic media training.
  • Keep an easy-to-access file of images, bios, video, reports, and all your spokesperson contact information, so you can quickly send a reporter whatever information they need.  Better yet, create an online newsroom so everything’s in one place.

Ad Hoc Media Requests – Unknown Journalists

  • Ask for their deadline.
  • Ask if you can see their questions in advance.
  • Ask if they have a particular angle they are taking on an issue so you can decide if this is something you want your organization to be a part of.
  • Do your due diligence. Research the journalist and their outlet. Find out what kind of articles they’ve written in the past about this topic.
  • If you don’t have a fit internally, ask your expert if they know of someone outside the organization who does. The goal is always to be responsive, timely and helpful.

Ad Hoc Media Requests – Known Journalists

  • Drop what you’re doing.
  • Focus on fulfilling this reporter’s request as soon as humanly possible, meaning you’ll be frantically calling and emailing every spokesperson  you can until you’ve nailed down someone who can speak to the reporter.

Remember, reporters are your customers. And just as in marketing – if you respond quickly, deliver quality, and go out of your way to help whenever you can – those ‘customers’ will keep coming back to you again and again.

About Carol Vieira


Carol Lin Vieira handles PR and marketing for WTP Advisors, a tax and business advisory firm, as well as for Launchpad, a resource hub for entrepreneurs. A native Virginian (Go Hoos!), and former resident of Hong Kong, she now lives in Rhode Island with her husband and two young sons.

8 comments
ClayMorgan
ClayMorgan

Reporters are no different than anyone else. When they call, they need help. Help them, and they will remember.

Oh yea, ask me to see the questions in advance, the answer is no.  :-P

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susancellura
susancellura

I like this post, Carol. I like it because it's the way I learned to do media relations (way back when) and I sometimes wonder if we get too caught up in expecting social media to build the relationships for us. 

Word Ninja
Word Ninja

Excellent post and rules to live by. As a PR person, I have the benefit of having worked as a reporter, so I know how important it is to get the interview, story, photo in time for those tight deadlines. I love helping out our media contacts even more because of those past experiences, and you're so right that treating them as clients and respecting their needs builds trust.

carollinvieira
carollinvieira

@susancellura Many thanks, and I agree. People are still people behind the tweets, feeds and posts. Sometimes you can get more out of a 5 minute phone conversation than you can out of 20 digital exchanges.

carollinvieira
carollinvieira

@Word Ninja Thank you, Word Ninja; one of my best mentors is a former reporter and having her perspective has been key. She (Coimbra Sirica - big shout out if you're listening), always said PR people have to have a news for nose and think like a reporter, but most of all, respect their deadline driven schedules. 

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