By: Dan Schaefer
One of the most difficult tasks for a public relations intern or young professional just starting out is getting in contact with a major publication for the first time. However, there are ways to ensure that developing a connection and building a relationship with a media outlet goes as smoothly as possible.
John Jeansonne retired from New York’s Newsday in 2014 after an illustrious 44-year career as a sports writer, and he is now an adjunct professor at Hofstra University’s Lawrence Herbert School of Communication. He says the first step is to keep in mind that “any good reporter should always be keeping their eyes and ears and mind open to possible stories.” This is key to building the confidence needed to start typing that e-mail or picking up a phone. Reporters, no matter how busy they may seem, are always looking for story ideas.
Keeping that in mind, the next step is research. The PR practitioner must make sure he or she knows the story being pitched inside and out. Be prepared to answer any and all questions about the story.
“I have had publicists call me to pitch a story and found that I knew more about the story than the publicist did. On occasion, the publicist would have facts wrong or would demonstrate a general lack of knowledge. So, the first thing for the publicist to do is know his or her stuff before contacting a reporter,” said Jeansonne.
In addition, the practitioner needs to study the outlet that he or she is pitching. The story has to be relevant to the outlet’s audience for it even to be considered. Next, the correct reporter must be targeted.
“The reporter might steer the publicist to another reporter, another department at his paper or magazine or radio station,” Jeansonne said, in the event that the practitioner has contacted the wrong reporter. But this is not a given, especially if the reporter is on deadline or busy. Getting in contact with the correct reporter helps the publicist’s image.
Jeansonne says that e-mails or phone calls are appropriate to pitch that first story. If the publicist does send an e-mail, he or she should avoid blasting it out to multiple outlets. Personalize the message to each reporter, and be sure to follow up with a phone call to make sure the message was received and to gauge the reporter’s interest.
“A good relationship between a reporter and publicist is vital to both, and through those relationships you learn who is competent, who can be a real go-to person when you need information,” said Jeansonne.