What is Media Relations?
Media relations is a broad term used to capture a variety of interactions with the media. While some people may think sending a press release or calling a reporter is media relations, it is only part of a bigger picture. And if not done properly, with the right intentions, the results can be the opposite of what you intended. So let’s figure out what is media relations?
As someone who has worked in and with the media for over 20 years, my definition of true media relations has a number of elements. These include:
- establishing and maintaining a relationship with reporter
- understanding and respecting each reporter and media outlet’s specific needs and interests
- becoming a resource vs. barrier for the media in both proactive and reactive situations
- being open, honest and transparent
You’ve likely heard the term “spin doctor” or people saying public relations professionals just “spin” the story to suit their needs. While that may have been the case for a few unscrupulous individuals wearing black business suits in the 1980s, this approach to media relations is the rarity not the norm. What’s important is to recognize the keyword RELATIONS in media relations. This is about building positive, professional and respective relationships.
Just like any other area in business, reporters are more likely to work with you if they feel you value them and treat them as a professional. This means understanding what is important to them before sending a press release. While it may seem obvious you wouldn’t send a make-up product announcement to a sports reporter, too few people actually take the time to research past stories covered before pitching to a reporter.
I remember when I was a newspaper editor in rural Ontario getting media packages for events in Toronto (two hours away!). I would roll my eyes as I threw yet another package in the garbage.
When I switched to public relations (also referred to as the dark side by reporters), I took all the lessons learned and frustrations I had when I was an editor – promising never to repeat them.
Over the years I have built up personal relationships with reporters by getting to know them as individuals. Even though I have known some of these people for over a decade (or more) I still start every pitch with a person message, asking how their kids are doing or commenting on an area where they have an interest. It turns the process from automated to human.
If you are new to media relations, it will take time to develop those relationships. While it doesn’t mean every reporter is going to be your friend, what is important is you recognize they have individual needs and interests and ensure your pitch is in-line with those needs (instead of focusing on your needs).
I want you to think about your own media relations. What are the media you interact with or want to cover your stories? Have you met any of the reporters or talked to them over the phone? If you are working in a smaller community, have you introduced yourself to your local reporters? Asked them to go for coffee? Take the time to get to know them as people BEFORE you pitch them so you can truly develop positive media relations.