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Four Ways to Help Build Better Relationships with the Media

Creating an effective media relations program is a highly complex process. It requires great focus, insight, ideally some innovation, plenty of hard work by smart and talented PR practitioners, and ample resources (including a well-funded PR budget) to create and deploy an effective multi-channel media relations strategy.

Of course, it all begins with the assumption that a company has top notch and newsworthy products or services and has created a compelling value proposition about what makes their offerings standout from the competition. Most importantly, there must be interesting or pertinent news to share that the press will want to cover for its readers, viewers or listeners.

While the number of print media outlets is dwindling, there are a growing number of digital media outlets. The challenge is that there fewer journalists overall and the demand for their limited time and attention is tougher than ever, especially given the increasing number of other top notch (and even the not-so top notch) companies vying for coveted positive press coverage.

A good place to start is by making sure you are making it as easy as possible for a reporter to work with you if they are interested in covering your product or service sector.

Here are four principles to building a good working relationship with target reporters once you have successfully gotten their initial interest and have been covered by them (again, getting to that entry point is not easy):

1. Be relevant – Get to know the target media outlet and their subscriber and target audience to ensure you are pursuing coverage by relevant publications. Identify the most appropriate reporter/s at those outlets who cover your industry or your particular product or service segment. Sharing a great news update about a new product or service may not get your organization very far if you are reaching out to an inappropriate reporter or a misaligned media outlet.

2. Be insightful – One of the best ways to build a relationship with reporters is to have something interesting and relevant to say on a topic or trend they are covering or perhaps they might want to cover it if you are calling them to suggest a topic or news item of interest.

When I worked in the PR department at Budget Rent a Car and served as a company spokesperson and media advisor for senior management, for example, I built great relationships with the travel reporters at major media outlets such as USA Today and The Wall Street Journal. How did I do it? In part because I always made sure we had something interesting to say when a reporter called for comment on a story. (By interesting, I mean a fresh or perhaps unique perspective on a topic of interest.)

When it came to pitching a trend story to the media, the same principle of bringing an interesting perspective to a topic of interest was just as important and a crucial ingredient for success.

Despite being the third largest car rental company (meaning the press would more likely call the #1 or #2 leader for comment when working on a trend story), at the end of my first year at Budget we had generated a 300% increase in the volume of positive media coverage compared to the year prior. Just as amazing was that the amount of press coverage increased to an even higher level each of the next three years while I worked there. Always with the same annual budget.

3. Be honest – In this era of what some are calling "Fake News", it remains as critical as ever to be truthful when providing facts and relevant information to a reporter. The media and the public will not take kindly to anything less than the truth.

If something unpleasant or negative happens and a company simply doesn’t want to talk about it, failing to address what happened (and explaining what went wrong and how the company is taking steps to ensure it doesn’t happen again) can have serious repercussions. Avoiding an unpleasant situation that has received media attention could potentially erode trust among key audiences, which might include customers, employees, business partners, shareholders, and the media. The best course of action is to address the topic truthfully and to the fullest extent possible.

4. Be consistent – When building a relationship with a reporter, it is important to respond to their call for comment or information as quickly and as reliably as possible. In this era of digital transformation where consumers expect to receive news updates on their digital devices seemingly as soon as something happens, reporters want to know they can rely on the Media Relations or Public Relations staff member or the PR agency representative to answer their call and their questions as quickly as possible. Every minute counts with media outlets today.

If a company PR representative responds in a timely fashion only some of the time, the reporter is more likely to rely on their go-to PR person at a competing company if that person proves to be more reliable in responding promptly. Of course, the assumption here is that the PR representative has immediate access as needed or as appropriate to the company leadership to address the topic prompting the reporter’s phone call and to ensure that leadership (and likely the legal team if the topic involves a negative topic or situation) agrees with the company's planned response for the reporter.

Conclusion: Bottom line, assuming that a company has products or services that are leading edge or unique in the marketplace and that the company has interesting news to share with the public, a company's chances for more media relations success can be enhanced if they work on building a good relationship with reporters at target media outlets.

These four basic tactics can help build more effective relationships with target media, hopefully resulting in becoming one of the top go-to resources for reporters more often and getting more positive press coverage. This, in turn, increases brand awareness and should hopefully increase customer acquisition and lead to more sales revenue generation.

It is hard but rewarding work and worth the effort and time it takes to achieve the goal.

Janice Cain earned the Public Relations Society of America Silver Anvil award (the most prestigious PR award in the U.S.) while at Budget Rent a Car. To discuss your media relations and PR service needs, please call Janice at 858-999-7419 or send an email to

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