How to Build a Working Relationship With Your Local Media

Sound Mixer at Desk
Jul 6, 2015
Communications Training

Journalists are surprisingly easy to please. So why is building a working relationship with local media such a terrifying prospect for so many people? Perhaps some people have been burned by the “gutter press”. Perhaps others have been on the receiving end of a waspish response to a poorly constructed pitch.

But it needn’t be difficult or terrifying once you understand all reporters and producers really want is to tell timely, relevant stories, that are of real interest to their audience.

Here are tips to help you build a working relationship with your local media.

Know who they are, use common courtesy

This sounds obvious but make sure you know whom you should be talking to in the first place. Who is the journalist who covers your beat? For example, if you’re the marketer for a private hospital, who is the health reporter at your local paper or TV station?

There’s no point pitching to the wrong person, so get to know these people. Remember their names. Address emails to them directly rather than going through a central editorial email. Call them directly rather than going through the switchboard. Use their names when you’re communicating with them. Find out how they prefer to be contacted, too. All reporters are different — some like a phone call, others an email, some even prefer a text message.

Only pitch stories relevant to their audience

This seems like a no-brainer but it’s amazing how many times a day reporters and producers have to deal with pitches that are completely irrelevant to their publication or program.

How do you decide what’s relevant? It’s all about audience. Who is listening to the program? Who is reading the newspaper? This information is really easy to find out. Detailed ratings with demographic breakdowns are published regularly. But you can do better than that: Read your local paper, watch your local news bulletins, listen to the local radio stations. Know what kind of content they create. That content should tell you who is likely to be listening, reading or watching and whether your pitch is relevant to their audience.

What kinds of news items, human-interest stories and long-form features do they do? If you’ve never seen them publish the kind of story you’re trying to pitch, you’re probably not going to succeed. A poorly targeted pitch is a real red flag to a journo. It shows the person on the other end of the phone is just out to sell something and is trying the scattergun approach to winning earned media. They remember that kind of thing.

Build trust and respect in the way you pitch

Journalists are by nature competitive and will be more interested in your story if you give it to them exclusively. It’s not always possible, but where it is, it helps show you trust them to tell your story well — which can pay dividends when you have something else to pitch down the track.

Journalists also like a bit of time to prepare their stories, too. If you can bring them into a story early, perhaps under an embargo, that also shows respect and trust that will help you in the long run.

Also, your instinct (or possibly your boss or client) may suggest pitching straight to an editor but, when you do this, several unhelpful factors come into play.

You’re pitching to one of the busiest people in the organisation — so you’re likely to have less time to win them over.

You’re making your job harder than it needs to be. A reporter or producer knows their beat, knows their audience, knows what kinds of stories they want and, more importantly, knows better than you do how to pitch your story idea to their editorial bosses (which is always the next stage of the process). Any reporter would much rather feed a story idea up to their editor than have their boss feed it down to them. You may as well deal with the person who will ultimately end up writing your story anyway. It shows respect and helps build trust and avoids any unnecessary resentment.

Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em

No matter how good a relationship you have with your local media contacts, sometimes, your pitch will fail. Don’t keep pushing it. For whatever reason, your story didn’t make the cut on the day. Maybe the story wasn’t right for the audience, maybe the story was too old to run, maybe there were just more important things to cover on the day. Accept the judgment of the reporter or producer and move on. You can always try your luck with another media organisation.

Sometimes the wisest pitch is the one you don’t make. If you know in your heart a pitch doesn’t stack up, don’t damage your reputation as a good source of stories by sending the reporter rubbish. You want them to keep opening your emails and answering your phone calls.

Be available, be authentic, be useful

Better yet, have the journalists coming to you instead.

You know those “experts” you see in the news all the time? Why do you always see the same ones again and again? It’s simple: those people make themselves available. They understand how to deliver a quote or a sound bite and they’re always on the end of the phone when a reporter needs them. Journalists work to tight deadlines. They love efficiency. If you can be helpful by being readily available and good for an informed and authentic-sounding quote, then you’ll quickly have not just one news organisation turning to you for expert analysis, but every other media organisation calling on you, too.

If you’d like more information about working more effectively with the media, why not consider a session of media training? It’s amazing what a couple of hours can do to increase your influence with them.

How have you built an effective working relationship with your local media?