The Three Commandments of Media Relations
Newspapers may struggle financially, but they remain a core influencer and message delivery platform of our communities. Often, their readers are some of the most vocal and engaged residents. This has made the ability for City Staff to craft compelling story pitches and form relationships with reporters vital to the success of their communication and outreach efforts.
Here are three best practices to engage the media like a pro:
1. Relationships > Pitches
A great media pitch could get you a write up in the Los Angeles Times or the Sacramento Bee, but the efficacy of this approach is low when compared to the development of actual relationships.
Make yourself available to the press. Your agency should be proactive about holding small events where local media are invited. Host a “Press Day” at city hall and invite local media representatives to interact with department heads and learn about the City’s 12-month plans. This gives media members access to your City’s leaders and positions your staff as resources of information.
Relationships built with the media can have lasting effects for your agency. As local reporters often graduate to bigger and better outlets, your agency is given a stronger Rolodex of major media contacts. In addition, crisis communications are positively affected by media relationships. A reporter you’re connected with is more likely to write from your agency’s perspective, or at the least, notify you if something seems off or negative.
2. Break the Desk Chains
In the information age, the world is at our fingertips and yet it is easy to never leave our desks. Remember that it is crucial to meet reporters and other media professionals in person. There is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
If the bulk of your work revolves around media relations, Tripepi Smith recommends you spend 30 to 50 percent of your time building relationships with reporters. For many cities, there may be only one or two reporters who generate 80 percent of the coverage on your agency. However, after connecting with these local reporters, you should connect with regional or national reporters.
Offer to meet reporters at a location convenient to them. While it can be time-intensive, the positive effects of connecting with media professionals in person can have a lasting effect. And, as local reporters often graduate to bigger media outlets, your agency is given greater access to major media contacts.
3. Prospect Your Relationships
If you were seeking to sell something to a business or business owner, you would do your background research on its interests, needs and industry. The same process is important when prospecting your media contact list. Curate that list, adding new names regularly (local media can face significant turnover), and keeping notes on reporters’ backgrounds to understand the areas they cover, including those beyond relevance to your agency. This equips you with the ability to be a valued partner in their pursuit of broader storytelling.
Many organizations have bypassed the media and become their own media. The ability of the Internet and social media to disintermediate traditional media has certainly had an impact, but traditional media outlets and their cousins in the blogosphere have a profound voice that can harm or help your agency’s reputation and outreach efforts. Concerted efforts to connect with these audiences is important. Go find ’em.