"Building Strong Relationships With the Media"
by Pauline Bartel, M.A.

As a savvy businessperson, you know the secret of harnessing the power of publicity. On a regular basis you write and distribute media releases, containing news or information about your company. As a result, announcements of your corporate achievements appear weekly in the business section of the local newspaper.

Your competition appears there, too. You notice also that quotes from competitors appear frequently in feature stories about your industry. How do they do it? More to the point, how can you increase the chances that reporters will call you first when they’re working on an industry-specific story? The secret is to treat the media as you would your best customer.

You know that your best customer brings thousands of dollars in revenue to your company each year. Therefore, you make sure that your best customer has the latest information about existing as well as new products or services. When your best customer contacts your company, you respond quickly, determine the customer’s need, then deliver the goods. If the item that your best customer wants is temporarily out of stock, you make every effort to obtain the commodity and expedite it to the customer. Knowing how valuable your best customer is to your bottom line, you send a thank-you card, showing your appreciation for the business brought to you during the year.

The media contribute to your bottom line, too, by providing free publicity. If this exposure were paid advertising, it would cost you thousands of dollars each year. So treating the media as you would your best customer not only makes sense, it’s the smart thing to do. Here’s the strategy:

Be Proactive

Don’t wait for the media to contact you. Telephone and introduce yourself to business reporters in key print and broadcast media targets, including daily newspapers, business-to-business periodicals, and network affiliate television stations. (However, before launching into your conversation, ask if the reporter is on deadline. If the reporter’s deadline is looming, state that you’ll call back at a more convenient time.) Offer to be a local point of contact for your industry. Then follow up that offer by regularly forwarding information that could be used as background for stories, even if the angle does not include your company. Monitor the target media’s coverage of your industry and send additional information or provide personal contacts to support follow-up stories. Issue media advisories to inform reporters about important industry events and activities planned for the local area; pick up the phone and alert reporters when major news in your industry breaks. Once you build a reputation as the local “go-to” expert for your industry, you’ll find reporters relying on you more and more for background information and quotes for stories.

Be Available

All reporters work on deadline. Newspaper presses roll at 4 p.m.; television news programs air at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. When reporters telephone, they generally need a quote or background information immediately. If you’re not around to provide the quote or the information, reporters will call one of your competitors. Avoid this by making yourself available to the media whenever they call. If you have a meeting scheduled, leave instructions with support staff that you can be interrupted to take a call from a reporter. If you’re away from the office, make certain that you can be reached on your cell phone. If you rely on a voice mail system, retrieve your messages frequently and return calls from reporters promptly.

When you connect with a reporter and determine what he or she needs, you may not be able to provide the information immediately. If so, ask what the reporter’s deadline is and how soon the reporter needs the information. If you can’t deliver what is needed in the time available, let the reporter know. This will show respect for the reporter’s time and will maintain your credibility as a source. Nothing tarnishes credibility faster than promising what you can’t deliver.

Be Resourceful

When a reporter contacts you for background information, you may need to dig through your files or access specialized databases in order to obtain the specific facts the reporter needs to write the story. You might also be asked to provide the names of other technical experts in the field. Do it. Ask the reporter about the preferred method of delivering the information – phone call, fax transmission, email message, or electronic file – then be certain to move the material to the reporter before deadline. If the reporter intends to interview other technical experts in the field, contact those individuals ahead of time, alerting them to expect the reporter’s call. With your advance warning, they will be more likely to respond promptly when the reporter telephones.

This extra effort on your part will yield substantial dividends. You will earn the gratitude of a reporter whose job has been made easier, and you will build good will for the future. In the weeks and months ahead, when the reporter again reports on your industry, you will be the person at the top of the reporter’s must-call list.

Be Appreciative

When a reporter writes a story about your industry that features your company or includes your quotes, show your appreciation. Send the reporter a handwritten thank-you note. If the reporter has done an exceptional job covering an industry issue in a balanced and fair manner, let the reporter’s boss know. Send a note of appreciation on your letterhead to the person who heads the news division. However, resist the urge to thank the reporter with a tangible token such as a gift. Ethically, reporters are unable to accept anything that would compromise their journalistic integrity.

Treating the media as you would your best customer is a smart strategy. You’ll enhance your reputation as a local industry expert. You’ll build strong relationships with the media, and you’ll gain cost-effective publicity for your company. And that you can take to the bank.

Author Bio:

Pauline Bartel is the owner of Bartel Communications, a Waterford, NY-based company that builds the image of companies with words. Pauline specializes in corporate communications, including writing and editing, public relations and marketing, training and professional development and in commercial writing and publishing in the magazine and book fields.

Copyright © 2002 by Pauline Bartel
All Rights Reserved

Contact Details

Bartel Communications Inc.
12½ Division Street
Waterford, NY 12188
Telephone/FAX (518) 237-1353

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