Here’s what happens when you actually talk to a reporter

Here’s what happens when you actually talk to a reporter

Twitter, email, texting, LinkedIn.

There are many ways to connect with journalists without actually talking to them.

And none of them can match the value of speaking one-on-one, in person or on the phone.


Technically speaking, when you converse with someone you can pick up nonverbal, more nuanced cues. You can receive context you might otherwise not receive via digital means. Perhaps more importantly and more broadly, nothing enables relationship-building like the human touch, and digital communications are not human.

One thing that has not changed is that being human is the foundation of relationship-building.

So, what does happen when you actually speak to a journalist?  

1. The reason for your call will be given more attention

Even if your interaction is less than three minutes on the phone, and the reporter is a bit curt when he first picks up the phone, just the fact that you’ve talked, you’ve already increased the likelihood that the reporter will at least remember your points.  

And you may increase the likelihood that your contributions will see the light of day in resulting coverage.

2. You will learn more about what the reporter specifically wants and needs from you

No media database or amount of secondary research can tell you more than what you will learn directly from a journalist in a conversation.

She is more likely to directly tell you what she likes, what her editors want and what they all need at the moment. She may even tell you about an unrelated story she’s working on and ask if you can help. But you may never know unless you physically pick up the phone and call.

3. You may learn of other reporters at the same media outlet you should be engaging

When you call and the reporter tells you, “That’s not my area of focus, but I’ll put you in touch with my colleague in the newsroom who may be interested in this topic.”

Sure, this may on the surface feel like the reporter’s passing the buck. But it may be with good reason.

Sometimes in PR, we are like private investigators chasing one lead after another until we find the right journalist for the right topic.

4. You will learn more about how journalists think

One of the most common complaints journalists make about PR people is that they don’t get reporters.

PR people don’t understand deadline pressures, and they don’t know how newsroom decision-making works. By making a habit of meeting with and calling reporters whether you have a story or not, over time, you will become savvy about how reporters think. This will come in handy when you are charged with getting publicity, but it may be even more valuable if someone needs your counsel in a crisis situation.

5. You increase the chances of that reporter calling you at some point with a need

Once you’ve started to build a relationship with a reporter, the calls and emails go both ways.

While you may have been the one to initiate contact from the outset, by building a true relationship with the reporter, you stand a much better chance of that reporter calling on you as a resource for a story he’s working on at some point in the future.

In the end, when you actually talk to a journalist you eliminate the guessing game, wrong assumptions and confusion.

You have a real point of reference, someone who actually told you what you need to do to achieve mutually beneficial results.

Multiply this by any number of reporters you meet over time and you yourself can become a true expert on how the media functions.

So, are you ready to create better media relationships? All you have to do is pick up the phone.

Tell us what good things have happened for you when actually talking to journalists. Just let us know on Twitter.

Tim O’Brien is owner of Pittsburgh-based O’Brien Communications, a corporate communications consultancy.  He has over 30 years’ experience in communications and started his career as a journalist.

Photo via Pixabay

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