Meeting with a reporter? How to best use your time
As a journalist working in New York City, I receive a handful of emails every month from NYC-based public relations professionals asking if I want to meet for coffee or drinks. This is a pretty common tactic in the media industry: Snag 30 minutes of face time with a reporter who covers your beat, and you're guaranteed to plant at least a few story ideas in his or her head.
While I can't possibly accept every invitation I receive (I'd be overly caffeinated and I'd never get any work done!) I do try to make time for the occasional coffee meeting, because I find they're a really efficient, personable way to discuss possible ways to work together than a lengthy email thread or a rushed phone call. It also gets the PR rep a solid "in" with me, because I'm far more likely to remember someone with whom I've had a face-to-face conversation than someone whose name is buried in my never-ending inbox.
When you've only got 30 minutes or less of someone's already-limited time, you want to make the most of that half hour.
Here are a few tips for PR reps to ensure a successful and productive one-on-one meeting with a journalist.
Know who you're looking for (and make sure they can find you). It happens more often than we care to admit: Two people who are meeting face-to-face for the first time waste five or 10 minutes looking around for each other, only to discover they've been standing near the other person the whole time. Hopefully you and the reporter you're meeting will have looked each other up on LinkedIn or Twitter to get a picture for reference, but to expedite the process, you should let the journalist know how to find you before they arrive at the meeting location — "I'm sitting at a table near the back window," or, "I'm wearing a blue shirt."
Ease into "business" talk. Making plans to meet with a professional contact isn't the same as introducing yourself at a networking event. You don't need to cram a sales pitch about your agency or clients into a few brief minutes. There's a little more time for pleasantries and small talk, and you should take advantage of that to really build up a rapport with the journalist. Ask how her work day is going, where she's from, or what she likes about covering her beat before diving into your client base. Taking a genuine interest in the reporter as a human being, rather than a means to coverage, sets the foundation for a great professional relationship.
Pay attention to information about the reporter's publication. You've likely done a bit of research on the person you're meeting and have a decent idea of what he usually writes. But ask him about his coverage anyway — and then really listen when he answers. PR pro Julia Sahin says listening is key when you're trying to win over reporters, and for good reason: You might learn something you didn't know, such as who else to contact at the publication for your clients' news, or the fact that the outlet absolutely does not cover a certain type of story. Armed with this knowledge, you can make informed, calculated pitching decisions that help both the journalist and your client.
Think about how your clients fit in. Sometimes the best content ideas come when you think outside your clients' main pitches. For example, if you have a marketing software client, the reporter may not be able to cover the company's new product release, but the CEO would be a great expert source for her upcoming marketing trend piece. Pushing an angle the journalist wouldn't cover may turn her off to working with you, but offering customized coverage possibilities shows that you truly want to help her and her publication.
Follow up. Common networking wisdom dictates that following up with the people you've met will keep you fresh in their minds and remind them to keep the wheels moving on any opportunities you discussed. Reporter meetings are no different, so make sure you send the journalist a quick note thanking him for his time and recapping the conversation you had about your clients and his coverage. It will pay off when the writer responds with that coveted feature for your client.
Photo: Business meeting via Shutterstock