A guide to build a relationship with a journalist

I overheard someone explain a really awful PR strategy. To build a relationship with a journalist, they explained, just ask them to meet over a glass of wine and offer your assistance. As a writer for top publications myself, I’ve seen this attempted, and guess what: I deleted every email. No one wants to build a relationship with you. If you want to pitch and get coverage for something, build trust instead.

This isn’t a matter of semantics. The problem with the “build a relationship” approach is that journalists get hundreds to thousands of pitches every day, and don’t want a relationship with you. There’s no way they will agree to meet a rando like you so you can “help.” This may work in a few scenarios I’ll cover below, but in most cases, it’s a bad move and works against your PR interests by demonstrating your ignorance.

To build a relationship with a journalist, you should simply focus on two things: awareness and trust. That’s it. And to do that focus on giving before you receive.

How To Build A Relationship With A Journalist

The way to build a relationship with a journalist is by giving them resources and stories you know their audience will appreciate, expecting nothing in return. That information is not how cool your company is. They don’t care, because their readers don’t care. If you want to build a relationship with a journalist, give them the information they find valuable. You can also help them by increasing their reach and helping them get more engagement for their work.

Share their work on social media and link to their work in your own writing. Perhaps, even share their work, adding your own perspective in your email newsletter. Allow me to expand on both.

Give journalists information

If you have no idea what information a journalist may want, you don’t have to look far. Journalists and writers are one of the few occupations in the world that regularly publish their body of work online. The publication they write for, the topics they write about, and their past body of work are readily accessible. This means you should know exactly what they want before asking, them to “tell me what you like to cover.” Asking them what they cover, is laziness and won’t get a response.

Those who successfully build a relationship with a journalist aren’t best friends, or regularly hang out, they just provide great information consistently, and in this way they build trust.

Give journalists expanded reach

You can also give them engagement and reach. Journalists, producers, and news folks are constantly trying to reach more people. They constantly follow their own article metrics and are judged on how many clicks they receive. Their employer is judged this way as well. More clicking translates to more traffic. And more traffic means more ad revenue.

If you simply engage, comment, and share their stuff, this is a great start. Any action taken on a social media post gives the journalist more reach and increases click potential. More listens, readers, watchers, and consumers keep their editors off their back. But be careful in your self-promotion. Even if you post a link that has value if it’s self-serving it could spoil that relationship.

Building Trust, Not Relationships

By sharing their work, and providing a constant flow of resources, you build a relationship with a journalist that is mutually beneficial and trustworthy. Seeing your face pop up over and over in a positive fashion eases uncertainty you’re a fly-by-night crazy person. It builds trust. That way, when you do pitch a resource that benefits yourself, they feel more confident of your credibility.

Don’t try to build a relationship with a journalist that’s too personal. Don’t invite them to your kids birthday party, or try to force it with overly personal emails. They understand it’s a mutually beneficially business relationship, and they’re good with it.

Scenarios When Journalists Will Meet You

Earlier, I mentioned there are a few scenarios where a journalist, producer, host, or anchor will meet with you for wine or coffee from a cold email or call. When it gives them the access they need. If you’re a comms person for a name-brand tech company like SpaceX, Microsoft, a US Senator, or The White House, they will likely accept your offer. Unlike my typical client, where we have to artfully craft stories and pitches, these comms/PR positions are quite different, so this is an exception.

Final Thoughts on Building Trust

The most important thing to know is this: to build a relationship with a journalist is done the same way you’d build a relationship with a complete stranger. You both expect mutual benefit, so be yourself, deliver value, and give before you receive. The journalist understands there should be value for you as well, they’re not idiots. So be clear on what you’re seeking as well.

The real art of PR is when your pitches to journalists don’t feel like pitches at all. They feel as if you’re providing a service the journalist, writer, or producer appreciates. If you need help with this, perhaps you should get on my newsletter. You’ll get a free guide that will help you get more press in just 10 days.



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