Lessons learned: How I won (and didn’t win) over my reporters
Six months ago, I set out on a challenge.
With a new career in hand, I decided to take a year of learning from reading and writing for Muck Rack and my professional experience and put it into practice. I put together a 10-step action plan for winning over reporters and published it for everyone to see.
It’s been six months. Did I succeed? Did I fail? Here are my results. The wins, the losses, and especially the lessons learned.
1. I researched A LOT. As I set out to do, I spent a lot of timing researching my outlets and reporters. I learned a lot about different print and digital mediums, reporters’ styles and what (or who) they like to write about. Not only have I become smarter when building relationships with the media, but I have also become a better resource for my colleagues.
2. I got to know Twitter really well. In my action plan, I committed to following reporters and important industry conversations. That’s exactly what I did. I delved into the tweets, articles and data that was being engaged with on Twitter, followed relevant reporters, outlets, sources and company spokespeople. I created different Twitter lists that helped compartmentalize topics that were important to me and my clients. On top of that, Twitter introduced an analytics function, which helped measure my engagement. An even added bonus: my Twitter followers increased by almost 40% because I became more engaged in the conversation I was interested in.
3. I sent many intro emails. Not at once, only when relevant, and mainly on Friday afternoons. The structure of emails included a quick intro, a list of my clients, an indication that I followed his or her work, and a date and time to connect (either via phone or in person). Very short, pretty informal. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it didn’t. And I won’t lie, sometimes I sent intro emails because I’m a fan of the reporter’s work-why not? LESSONS LEARNED: Connecting on a personal level sometimes helps. Interacting on Twitter helps a lot. Responding to stories always works. And the worst that can happen is the reporter says no or doesn’t answer.
4. Follow reporters’ writing. In my action plan, I talked about spotting and predicting media trends by staying on top of what journalists are writing about. While I read the news every day (and most days, throughout the day), sometimes, there just isn’t enough time in the day to keep up with the hundreds of stories a day. Once, I even asked a friend about a story he wrote two weeks beforehand. Oops. LESSONS LEARNED: News sites that offer author alerts like the Financial Times are helpful for busy PR professionals. More specifically, Twitter lists help prioritize sources that matter most.
5. Media lists with three reporters are actually okay. Being tailored and selective is what reporters prefer and makes our work more effective and efficient. Because I did my research and connected with reporters, I was able to focus on media that was the most relevant to the client or focus area. Media lists with three reporters- the three right reporters- is better than one with 20.
6. Become a source. Because I started building relationships with reporters, they began to recognize my email address when they saw it in their inboxes, knew my clients and could ask for their comments. And I could ask for their opinions on industry events. That sounds much better than sending emails and pitches blindly.
7. Clients appreciate information about the media. Mainly because they don’t have time to do as much analysis and relationship-building, but also because they may not understand the media cycle. That’s why it’s important to set reasonable expectations and advise on the best route for a client to take, depending on their goals. While some clients want what they want, others will take a recommendation seriously. As some of my clients have started on a new effort, I was able to provide information about the outlets they were targeting and either support the media relations strategy, or advise on a more effective way to go. I would not have been able to do that without my research or relationships.
8. Listening is key. In my action plan, I talked about listening to be able to achieve mutual goals. When talking to reporters or attending industry events, I did a lot of listening and learned a lot about the way their outlets functioned and their future goals. I also picked up on some industry trends that informed my work and my writing.
9. Tone is situational. Emails with clients and emails with the media are on opposite sides of the tone spectrum. With reporters, it’s on the casual side, and that’s how I approached it. That’s why my emails and phone calls were short and concise, cognizant of deadlines, but still professional and informational. LESSON LEARNED: The less-formal tone is the way to go.
10. Think like a reporter. As one of the more successful steps in my action plan, I exercised thinking like a reporter very frequently over the last six months. I asked myself, “Would I write about this?” And when I honestly answered, “no,” I scrapped the idea or changed it. Though my pitches were less frequent, they were more thought-out and tailored, and had more success.
With the combination of research, relationships, and reporter-thinking, I succeeded in my initial plan. But there’s plenty more to learn, more media to win over, but it’s off to a good start.
Julia Sahin works in Corporate Communications at one of the largest PR firms in New York and is a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She is a recent graduate from the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU and was the first to conduct and publish academic research on the reputational effects of regulation on megabanks. She plans on doing big things. All opinions should be seen as her own and do not reflect her employer’s.