Relationships DO Matter Most in Media Relations

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I stumbled across a blog entry written by David Mullen titled “Relationships Don’t Matter Most in Media Relations.”  Though it’s well-written, thoughtful, and educated, I’ll beg to differ with his notion that building relationships shouldn’t be the top priority of PR professionals.

Mullen’s first argument is that many people on the agency side of Public Relations deal with a number of clients across different industries, and therefore there are too many reporters to pitch, rendering us unable to build meaningful relationships.

It’s true, most PR pros do work on multiple clients at the same time.  It’s also true that we’re often dealing with a number of different press contacts at any given time.  However, to say that because we can’t build relationships with everyone, so we shouldn’t bother with anyone is like throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Reporters are smart and busy people; disingenuous pitching, no matter how good a pitch may be, does not go unnoticed.  Working to build a reporter’s or editor’s trust is important.  And though these relationships aren’t made overnight (and they take work to maintain), they’re worthwhile to pursue in earnest.

If you’re able to get one good, reliable contact at a publication, then you’ve opened a door to the rest of the team.  In a time where publications are folding and people are moving around, having someone on the inside who can help to point you in the right direction that’s great for the publication (but not necessarily your direct contact) is a good thing.

Mullen’s next argument is that a lot of campaigns are for a short period of time, so the editor that you’re pitching for one specific client might never be relevant again.   The example he provides is that it would be silly to court the travel editor that covered your tourism client since the campaign will be over in 6 months and there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever work with another tourism client.

Travel is not limited to tourism; what if you then found yourself representing a bathing suit line? A portable electronic?  A great new restaurant in a tourist town?  A new luggage company?  Your travel editor may come in handy.  And it’s also good to remember that people change jobs.  Your travel editor might become the arts editor of a bigger and better publication.  Or you may find that you take a job with a travel company in the next year.  That Travelocity gnome can’t go on forever.

To presume that it’s wasteful to spend time engaging reporters or editors because you can’t foresee how that relationship would directly benefit you in the future is irresponsible.

Additionally, Mullen contends that it’s not worth your time to make outreaches to editors or reporters in areas that you aren’t actively pursuing.  I will agree that if there are people that are more immediately relevant, then you should start by getting to know them, but a responsible PR professional keeps their eyes and ears out for key influencers within the media.  Working to establish a professional relationship with someone whose work you respect is not a bad thing, and doing so without ulterior motives is a good thing.

Mullen states that what matters most in media relations is a strong pitch that shows a knowledge of a reporter’s beat.  And I will agree that PR wouldn’t exist without good pitches.  However, a good pitch is the basis for building a relationship.  Getting your foot in the door with a reporter, and then cultivating a relationship can do wonders for current and future clients.  Like Mullen, I’ve had success with pitches being sent to editors or reporters that were unknown to me, but I’ve worked to try and keep a number of those relationships open, even after a clip has been secured and published.

By working hard to make sure that your relationships are strong, you end up being more efficient; when you know a reporter, you can pitch them better, and they can feel confident in what you’re pitching them.

Perhaps this matter is entirely a “which came first” scenario: the good pitch or the strong relationship. **  I believe, though, that in dealing with media relations, your relation to the media has to be what matters most.  To pitch well, you must know your audience, and the best way to know your audience is to, well, know them.  The notion of relationship-building as a secondary endeavor to blind pitching is one that I don’t personally agree with.

Finally, with respect Mullen’s closing note about “social media types” forgetting that “the vast majority of reporters are NOT on Twitter and that even those who are may not want PR people engaging them there,” all I have to say is that when Twitter is used effectively, it’s an incredible resource for both PR folk and the reporters they are pitching.  An exercise in the concise and pointed sharing of information, Twitter works for those that work it.

And you’re welcome to chat me up on Twitter any time you’d like.

Jackie for

** (Ed. When I wrote this post, I hadn’t read all of the interesting comments on Mullen’s piece.  One commenter made the same observation and even used the same metaphor.  So, Lara Kretler, thank you for showing me that at least one person thinks as I do!)


Updated by Danielle Oct 30 2017

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