How to build relationships with media contacts

June 1, 2015

How to build relationships with media contacts

As I’ve blogged about before, when it comes to gaining publicity, having a compelling story is only one part of the equation for startups and brands. It also comes down to building relationships with journalists and key media contacts.

Don’t just pitch them when you have a story to tell. Take time to develop a rapport with them. How? Here are a few ways to cultivate relationships with relevant media contacts:

  • Start by reading their work, sharing it and commenting on it.

“One of the easiest things you can do is become a fan of relevant journalists first,” advises Jim Dougherty, a digital marketing blogger. Go through their previous stories. Not only does this provide you with an idea of their interests and what stories would be relevant to them, but it gives you fodder for engaging with them. Comment on their stories and offer feedback.

  • Introduce yourself and treat like them like human beings.

Yes, you want coverage, but it’s a people business. We’re humans dealing with other humans. So, introduce yourself and say hello, even if you don’t have a story to pitch. Ask them about their interests or their background. Get to know them!

  • Engage with them on social media.

Last year, the Indiana School of Journalism conducted a study on journalism in the digital age. Researchers surveyed 1,000 journalists on how they use social media. The results? Forty per cent of them said social media is “very important” to their job. So, leverage that! There’s definitely an opportunity for you to connect with journalists over Twitter or LinkedIn.

  • But interact with them face-to-face – or offline – too if possible.

Of course, some of the best relationships are cultivated through face-to-face interactions. Although it depends on the journalist’s time, try to meet them for coffee or drinks if you can.

  • Help them with other stories.

Offer tips, resources, sources suggestions and overall support for other stories they may be working, even if it doesn’t necessarily mean coverage for you. If they put out a call for sources on Twitter, retweet it. They’ll be grateful for it. They’ll remember you for it. And it can go a long way in building a meaningful working relationship.

  • Follow up and maintain post-coverage contact.

“Once you crack a certain outlet, don’t just move on to the next media conquest,” wrote Jonathan Long, Founder and CEO of Market Domination Media. “Every media contact you make should be treated as a valuable business relationship. Relationships that lead to additional media coverage down the road.” So, stay in touch via email or phone. Thank them for their coverage, and continue offering them that feedback and support.

At the end of the day, please keep in mind that media relations isn’t just about publicity and pitching. Publicity is the end game. It’s about creating and managing relationships. Simply put, we’re humans dealing with humans. So, when you’re connecting with journalists, be sociable, helpful and respectful of their time. Think about their interests and needs. It’ll benefit you in the long run when you do have a story to pitch.


Samuel Dunsiger

Samuel Dunsiger is a freelance writer, editor and communications consultant. He has written for variety of print and online outlets. He has also worked for a boutique PR agency in San Francisco that specializes in startups, and supported the media relations’ activities for a range of brands and non-profits. Follow Sam on Twitter, @samdunsiger.