Gini Dietrich

Ten Ways to Treat Media Relations Like Dating

By: Gini Dietrich | October 15, 2015 | 

Ten Ways to Treat Media Relations Like DatingBy Gini Dietrich

Yesterday, we talked about the six things every business leader should consider before they hire a PR firm.

If you take only one thing away from that blog post, it’s this: Know the difference between media relations and public relations.

There is a common misconception among business owners that media relations means writing a news release, sending it to 1,000 journalists and suddenly they’re all writing about you. I always joke that they must teach it in start-up school because every tech founder wants to approach PR that way.

The truth of the matter is the news release, while still valuable for certain things, is no longer a great tool. And sending a mass email to a big list of journalists violates the CAN-SPAM Act, not to mention, if you have Canadians on your list, you can face serious fines.

It takes a lot of time and energy to do media relations really well. You have to think about it as you would business development or supplier relationships. A relationship has to be built before a journalist will pay attention to you. And sending a news release to their inbox is decidedly not the way to do that.

Just like if you were dating or chasing a new client, you’d never send out a bunch of emails to see who responded.

Ten Ways to Treat Media Relations Like Dating

If you think about media relations like dating, you’ll have better luck. Also consider employing some of the following tactics.

  1. Read blogs, publications, and online sites, and watch the programs and listen to the shows where you want to appear. It takes time, but it works because you figure out what the journalist, blogger, producer, or host really care about. Either your story fits or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, no matter how badly you want a story in that publication, move on. 
  2. Personalize your pitch. Rosemary O’Neill, the co-founder of Social Strata, the makers of, decided to offer unlimited paid time off to her employees. The company has an office in Seattle and Rosemary reads a Seattle Times journalist daily. She already knew what the journalist covers, and knew what would be interesting to her. She sent a two sentence email about the new policy and the journalist ran a story about it. But it didn’t end there. National media picked it up as a new business trend and Social Strata was put on the map as a trend-setting tech company.
  3. Comment on blog posts and articles. This is the very best way for a journalist or blogger to get to know you. When you make smart comments on the articles they’re producing, you build a relationship. When you build a relationship, they are much more willing to talk to you about your story. Some, in fact, will even help you mold the story if it’s not an exact fit. Think about that from your own perspective. How many of you have commented here and we’ve become friends that way? It works.
  4. Don’t send a long email. We are all busy. If you send an email that has everything anyone could ever possibly want to know about you, it won’t be read. Take the approach Rosemary used and send a quick, attention grabbing email. The details can come later.
  5. Lose the idea of control. Yes, when you have an interview, you should be prepared. You should ask the journalist or blogger ahead of time what kinds of questions you can expect to be asked. Use those questions to figure out what you want to say. But you cannot control the end result messaging. Your one or two messages might get repeated, but you cannot control the interview.
  6. Use the social networks. If you have targeted publications or journalists in your industry, find them on their social networks. Find them on Twitter, then 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 every day. Soon enough you’ll find something they are working on that is a fit for you.
  7. 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. (Case in point: A comment I left on a USA Today article that led the journalist to reconsider.)
  8. Send something in the mail. The joke among authors is, when you publish a book, all you really have is an expensive business card. But it works really well as a gift to journalists whose radar you want to get on. If you haven’t written a book, send a copy of a book from an author you admire. Even a handwritten note works extremely well in todays fast-paced, impersonal digital world.
  9. Personalize your pitches. It’s pretty easy to write a news release about your latest big new thing, copy it into an email, add a bunch of email addresses, and hit send. But that rarely works . You’ve spent all this time getting to know your industry journalists. Don’t insult them by sending them the same thing you sent to everyone else on your list.
  10. Be available to talk about industry trends. There will be times you don’t have any new news to share, or the news you do have doesn’t fit what your targeted journalists are writing about. However, they may draw on you to comment on industry trends or news. While it may be just a quote in a bigger story, the strategy here is to be helpful as often as possible. The you scratch my back philosophy comes into play, and you might end up with a bigger story centered around you.

Going through this media relations process takes time. A lot of time.

The reason you hire a professional is not just because they have relationships you need. It’s because (if they’re good) they use this process every, single day.

But you can do it yourself if you’re willing to roll up your sleeves, get your hands a little dirty, and be patient.

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. Join the Spin Sucks   community!

  • Suzy Chisholm

    Funny you should write this.  We are hosting our annual press reception beginning of November where we invite our closest media contacts for a bit of wine&dine and networking.  It works relatively well.  For the first time I plan on asking our guests to fill in a questionnaire (always somewhat tricky) and collect feedback on just the things you refer to above.  What blogs do you read?  Do you know our Philips blog?  When (at what time of the day) do you want to receive your press release emails? Phone call or visit? That kind of thing…. 
    Should be interesting to see how the europeans differ from our american colleagues, if at all.  I’ll keep you posted Gini!

  • JohnMTrader

    Great post Gini. Need to ask your opinion on something. All of the tips you offered are outstanding, and all have serious merit. What I didn’t see listed are face to face meetings with journalists – at trade shows, events, or wherever they roam. My questions is, in your opinion is it possible to build meaningful relationships with journalists through digital communications only or do most expect and appreciate having face to face time (a “sit down” if you will) to build that rapport? It’s an issue I have struggled with and in my own experience, it seems that all of the meaningful relationships with journalists I have are due to the fact that I took the time to set up in person meetings. Is this industry specific?

    Thank you!

  • JohnMTrader

    Suzy Chisholm This is such a fantastic idea.

  • Thanks for the shout out 🙂 Incidentally I’m still in periodic touch with my journalist friend in Seattle, even though I now live in Charleston SC. 

    I think it’s especially important for students just getting out of college to establish those working relationships with young journalists and writers, because as your careers grow in tandem, you never know where people will end up (and it’s great to have a support network anyway, beyond the business benefits).

    Today, I’m recording a guest spot for a local business radio show that I was pitched for by my kids’ babysitter, so there’s that too…

    It’s all about relationships.

  • All excellent points, Gini. I’ve always worked on a smaller scale with journalists but still was limited in the amount of time I could spend personalizing communications. To point #9, I usually sent the same press release to my media contacts, but I tried to send a different image so that at least visually their publications wouldn’t be running the same photo. Hyperlocal papers especially appreciated a photo, say of a group of college students at graduation, that showed a hometown grad.

  • I don’t do any pitching personally (for work …. but for my volunteer activities I have to get media attention) …. but I do observe the pros and cons that I see where I work. One person recently achieved via one phone call what multiple emails had not – she said the person was actually happy to be approached by phone (don’t know if that was a fluke or what but ….). // I am also curious about the blurrier boundaries now that we have relationships with reporters, etc., via social media. Do you see any potential pros/cons now that we are sometimes following/being followed on twitter/IG, and even a bit more personal — friends on FB with journalists? Thx!

  • JohnMTrader Suzy Chisholm It IS a fantastic idea. And what rich data you’ll have from it. Wow!

  • JohnMTrader Just like other relationships—and to keep going on the dating route—we can’t very well kiss if we aren’t in person. Through Google Hangout just isn’t the same. So yes…in-person is always better. The struggle, of course, is making that happen. We are doing an event for a client next week and our earned media team here is having a hard time scheduling meetings. Everyone has said, “Yes! I want to meet with you guys, but I’ll just stop by the booth.” Grrrr!

  • rosemaryoneill That’s hilarious about the babysitter. You just never know.

  • Word Ninja Yes! They always welcome visuals. Always, always, always.

  • biggreenpen I’m friends with a few journalists on FB and I treat those relationships with even more caution than those who are not connecting with me on SM. I think it just depends on the person. That panel I moderated about a month ago had two people who don’t go near social media and one who does. So it just depends.

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen makes sense – thanks!

  • biggreenpen You can always connect with ME on social media! 🙂

  • JohnMTrader

    ginidietrich Thanks Gini. I’m in need of a big, warm, face to face kiss with a few journalists! 🙂

  • JohnMTrader LOL! I just had a vision of you sitting in a trade show booth in a kissing chair.

  • JohnMTrader

    ginidietrich Ha!

  • ginidietrich biggreenpen and for that I am grateful! 🙂

  • Interesting post with great points! I definilty agree that long emails would not work to getting attention. I also agree that social media is so important in our industry today. Without having professional and updated social media, you are limiting your chances of standing out and personalizing your own brand.

  • biggreenpen As we use more and more digital to connect with basically everybody, small actions like a phone call or a hand-written notes can make all the difference. Maybe we should think more about this: “What haven’t I done in a long time to connect with x,y,z journalist?”

  • You can do anything if you set you mind to it. The question is: “Should you?” 
    A business owner should focus on their business, on growing not on how to do accounting or logistics or PR, etc. Yes, you should understand what they are all about, after all you are managing a business, but actually doing them, not sure you have the time. Every minute you focus on how to be published in Forbes or Inc or what should I post on social media, etc, you take away from growing your business.
    I believe in hiring a professional to do those things for you. It doesn’t have to be full-time if you can’t afford it, but a few sessions every now and then, I am sure you can manage. And the reason I say this is very simple: It’s their job, is what they do all day long. They know how to connect with those journalists, they how, when and what to say to appeal to them. You don’t. You have to learn it. Again, do you have the time?

  • #3 For sure !  –  Good piece, thanks G.D.

  • raelynmartin13

    Great tips! I found #10 helpful as my professors are always encouraging us to stay informed with the industry. In class, we talk how timeliness is a main “newsworthy” component for a story. How will you know if it is ‘timely’ if you are not informed with current trends?

  • Arment Dietrich, Inc.

    Thank you for the share! Have a great week!

  • Wendy Marx

    Loved the post, Gini, and great points. One thing I’ll add…we still write press releases and send them to journalists but don’t spam them with it. Rather, we’ll pitch a story and ask if they want to receive the release. A well-written, organized release is still a good way to give a writer all the facts about your story.

  • Jason Niosi

    Don’t forget the phone! When dating, conversations until 3 a.m. were always fun. 😉

  • ginidietrich

    livgentile Thank you!