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Sue Duris

Relationship Building: Start with Good Manners

By: Sue Duris | February 4, 2014 | 
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The Key to Successful Journalist Relationships By Sue Duris

I had a discussion recently about online relationship building.

The gist of the discussion: With the rise of social media, the rules of relationship building with journalists (or anyone, really) have not really changed, but people often get bold pitching.

Has social media made us so lazy that we have forgotten the rules about good etiquette?

It’s a great time to, as Stephen Covey pointed out, “sharpen the saw.”

So how can we sharpen our relationship building skills with journalists?

Relationship Building 101: Mind Your Manners

There’s No Golden Ticket

Social media is not your golden ticket to a journalist. There are no shortcuts in life, and that definitely applies to relationship building.

Yes, thanks to the openness of social media, it’s easier to reach out and touch someone.

I’ve been able to engage with people I never thought I would ever have the opportunity to, but with that access comes responsibility.

We can communicate with people, including journalists, but that doesn’t mean the common rules of courtesy do not apply.

Send a clear message that you care about the relationship by starting on the right foot, being courteous, and showing respect.

Relationships with journalists aren’t sprints nor marathons, but journeys.

They are long-term investments that must be nurtured.

Show Them You Care

After you have researched the journalists (remember to add bloggers to this list and treat them with the same courtesy you would treat a traditional journalist – journalism has morphed into a much wider ecosphere) you want to develop relationships with, ask yourself some questions:

  • Are you listening to them?
  • What are their passions?
  • What are their likes and dislikes?
  • What is their preferred method of communication?

Many relationships tend to start out as a social connection and then after building on that, evolve into a business relationship.

Case in point: I work with a lot of tech journalists. I discuss restaurants with one, and TV and film with another. That’s how our relationship started and grew. But both of these journalists wanted to be communicated with via email on the tech-related items they write about.

Get to know them beyond their writing and when it is time to pitch them, do it in the manner they want. When you engage with them, be genuine. They will remember that later.

Walk in Their Shoes 

I get it. You have a great product. You need to build buzz for it. But pitching The Wrap when TechCrunch is a better fit is really a complete waste of the journalist’s and your time.

And worse, that faux pas may have just left a bad taste in the journalist’s mouth regarding working with you later.

This could cost you down the road.

An extreme example, but you get my point.

It helps to look at things through the journalist’s eyes. A journalist is writing for an audience. They need to continually provide content to this audience that is compelling and resonates with them. Why else would they continue to read?

Journalists are salespeople, too. They are trying to get eyeballs on their product – whether it is a blog or media outlet – and they need content to help them.

We need them, and they need us.

Helping them now will earn you points for the future.

Help Me Help You

That scene in Jerry Maguire where Tom Cruise utters those magic words to Cuba Gooding, Jr. is important here.

Researching the journalist and following them on social media are your guides.

They ask a question, and you are right there with the answer that helps them.

Do you have information for them? Do you know someone who they can interview that will answer their questions?

Journalists are on tight deadlines.

Respond quickly.

Just being at the right place at the right time to help them will help you.

Reap What You Sow 

Helping a journalist now will send a message to them you are to be trusted, you are thoughtful and sincere, and you get them. They will help you out when the opportunity is there.

And, remember, when they do write about you, the story doesn’t end there. Keep your eye on building that relationship and rewards will follow.

Sharpening your relationship building skills is like polishing a diamond. The work will lead to the reward, and you’ll shine brighter.

About Sue Duris


Sue Duris is the president of M4 Communications, Inc., a Palo Alto, CA-based marketing strategy and communications firm that helps technology, entertainment and nonprofit organizations build and extend their brands.

19 comments
guptaabhijit318
guptaabhijit318

Really very informative post. This is truly a fantastic post. You have added lot of information in your blog. Thanks for sharing this valuable information. It's really helpful and instructive too.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich moderator

Sue, it makes me sad we have to keep having this conversation. I feel like the people who are the worst at media relations don't read or do any professional development. How many times does PRSA have to have a luncheon with a panel of reporters who echo your sentiments here before people start to get it. I guess we'll keep beating the drum and hope that -little by little - people begin to get it.

Jennafriend
Jennafriend

I don't deal with journalists as much as DJs in the music industry but the same rules apply. I have spend many hours building relationships and listening to radio shows, sometimes as many as 5 in a day. It has paid off with lots of airplay. Continued relationships keep the airplay going and a bonus is I have made many new friends.

LauraPetrolino
LauraPetrolino

I love that you point out here the long tern affect of 'poor mannered' pitching. I think in our McDonaldized world this is something often forgotten about. By focusing on your me, me, now, now pitch efforts, not only are you not being effective, you are also risking your client, and your own reputation and future relationships in the process.


And as you said 'with great access, comes great responsibility'


Great post Sue!

corinamanea
corinamanea

Great post Sue. Like Gary Vaynerchuk says in his book: "Jab Jab Jab, Right Hook"....Give Give Give and then Ask. Thanks for sharing.

JRHalloran
JRHalloran

How true! You really do reap what you sow. 

I only wish a lot of people understood that. We get a lot of emails and requests for guest posts and comments on our blog, but if your first contact with us to ask something from us, you're already in the wrong pool. 

I think that goes for just about anyone trying to win the business relationship of anyone anywhere. People don't want to work with someone they don't really know that well. They'd rather know their name at least in a few unrelated incidents to what you may eventually be asking them for.

That's how you get the ball rolling -- the right way. Your examples about talking to them about other things on a personal level is a great way to do just that. 

Very relevant post for today. Thanks for sharing, Sue!

SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

Here is the clip to the Jerry Maguire scene.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AGt5f70K02Q Promise me that you won't be Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr's character) and not take your relationships seriously. Each relationship you have with a journalist is different from another, so treat each one like a precious stone. 

SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

@ginidietrich  What is scary is the newbies are only part of the problem. Many experienced PR pros are just as guilty. PD is important. We should always be learning, no matter what level we are. Hey, if Robert DeNiro can still take acting classes...

SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

@Jennafriend  Thanks for commenting. It looks like applying "the right stuff" to your relationship building toolkit has earned you some great success!

SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

@LauraPetrolino  Thanks for commenting! Providing a refresh on Good Manners is important. I think that because of the access Social Media provides, we sometimes forget about the power of Social Media and the responsibility we have when we communicate through it so we sometimes get lazy and complacent. Social Media isn't a replacement for communication protocol. Especially in today's world, when people have only a couple of seconds to make a decision about us, we need to present a stellar, trustworthy, consistent appearance each and every time we communicate. 

SusynEliseDuris
SusynEliseDuris

@JRHalloran  Thanks for commenting, JR! You are so right on not wanting to work with someone you don't know. The trust factor is HUGE these days! Investing in genuine relationship development is how you build trust. Thanks again, JR!

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