Media Relations: What You Should Know

So, you have a story to tell or a newsworthy piece you want to see splashed across the front page. The only problem is, how do you get it in the news? This is where media relations comes in. The relationship between a marketer or PR professional and a journalist or news outlet is an important one based on mutual respect, trust, and knowledge of both your roles in the industry.

At In Plain Sight Marketing, we value our media contacts and work to sustain and nurture those relationships. As public relations practitioners in the private sector, media publication, whether it is online, print or broadcast, is an important tool in our tactical toolbox, so working to maintain good relations is key to being able to tell our story through their platforms.

In turn, we provide media with newsworthy, timely and relevant content – stories that provide valuable information to their readers, offer solutions to problems they may face and educate communities on the great stuff going on around them.

We interrupt this story for a note from our Chief Marketing and Strategy Officer, Kathie Taylor, APR, on media and media relations

Media, considered the fourth estate, is supposed to be a system of checks and balances on the three branches of government and is not to be hampered by government interference. As it says in the First Amendment,

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In 1949, the Federal Communications Commission introduced the “fairness doctrine”, a policy that required news outlets to present both sides of a story and set up what was intended to produce balanced and objective journalism from the press.

However, the fairness doctrine was flawed, as is often the case, and was abused. In 1987, the fairness doctrine was abolished. Many believe the removal of the fairness doctrine gave rise to the highly partisan media landscape we have today.

With the advent of the internet, media continued to evolve into a free for all. Anyone can be a reporter today. Consumer journalism fuels online news sources which exist, some could say, simply for the ad revenue, and less for the community news they could, and perhaps should, disseminate to their consumers.

Private sector media relations

Traditional news organizations survived on subscriptions and ad revenue. With free access to information on the internet, these companies are laying off reporters and editors and are doing more with less.  Stories that are not “click-worthy” (aka controversial) may not get attention from editors and reporters and will die in the email trash. These stories may be alternately offered to other “news” sources in a pay-to-play business model, which at its core, diminishes the credibility of both the story and the news source.

This is the opportunity for public relations practitioners to rise and to leverage the relationships we have made to help with those newsworthy, timely and relevant stories. This is also  where public relations practitioners have an edge, but  walk a thin line.

Consumer news sources often publish anything that is submitted, whether the news organization has the resources (or business model) to fact-check it or not. Many of these online sources won’t publish your story unless you pay them to. As PR folks, we want to issue factual, responsible and interesting stories, as well as research and consider which news sources best serve the audiences we wish to reach, and those we feel will serve our clients’ ad dollars with the care, credibility and respect they deserve.

Public sector media relations

In the public sector, those relationships are different. If you’re a government public information officer, you are more often playing for the defense rather than the offense. You get all the media attention rarely for the good work you do, but more often for the bad stuff – perceived or real – that happens.

Our latest podcast on media relations will give you some insight on the difference between public relations and public information. Listen here

As a public relations practitioner, I have played on each side of the ball in both the private and the public sectors. The best relationships I have built with media are the ones based on mutual respect for the jobs we do.

In the private sector, we have media partners we work with to help them fill their available space with valuable content designed for their audiences. They value our ability to tell stories in the appropriate news format they require. We value their dedication to providing their communities with news and stories that matter.

In the private sector, I have also worked with media partners who don’t respect the role that public information officers play in telling the stories behind government operations and who relish what I fondly call “the pounce”. (See Gotcha Journalism below)

Yes, there are bad actors in government that need to be called out. Transparency is necessary for  the healthy functioning of government entities. The public information officers I have met in my travels are people who care deeply about the constituency they serve and the responsibility of their bureaus, divisions and departments to provide ethical, lawful support to the people.

There are also bad actors in the media. Those who desire nothing more than to pounce on the deeds of evildoers, whether real or imagined, and ignore the positive programs and initiatives being developed and implemented. Is this deliberate because people like dirty controversy better than they like good news? Maybe. And maybe it’s because they get paid to exploit those views.

Our pledge to ethics

As a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, I signed a pledge to defend and protect the first amendment and as an accredited public relations professional, I pledged to adhere to the Public Relations Society of America code of ethics. As a practitioner, I uphold my pledge and stick to the code so that any story I tell is both ethical, true and just. As a good partner with media, I work with those journalists who do the same.

Back to our regularly scheduled program

Here are some best media relations practices to help you pitch to journalists the correct way:

Know Who Covers What

The most important thing you can do when pitching to journalists is to know who covers what areas of the news. You don’t want to have a truly newsworthy story about your business, and then send it as a pitch to the sports reporter. Research, get to know the journalist’s beats and what they specifically cover, and pitch accordingly. If you pitch the wrong article to a journalist, chances are they will immediately delete your email and you might lose the opportunity to pitch to them again.

Mutual respect between one another means it’s your job to pitch a timely and relevant story to a reporter who will want to pick up your pitch because that’s their jam and they’re genuinely interested in sharing your story.

Know How to Pitch

Here at IPSM, we pitch every story as a press release written in Associated Press (AP) Style. This is crucial to help get your story published. Editors today have little time for actual editing and spend most of their time sifting through the thousands of press releases they receive daily. Anything that doesn’t need to be edited rises to the top of the pile.

A well written press release sent to the right reporter, may encourage the reporter to follow up with you. Be sure your media contact is prepped and ready for a potential email or phone call from reporters for an interview. Include photos correctly attributed and sized; and links to videos that tell your story., Photos and videos that are correctly formatted exponentially increase the chance of the publication picking up your story.

Typically, the best time to send a press release is Monday morning before noon. You want to catch the reporter as they’re scrolling through their inbox in the morning, deciding what stories to go after that week. It doesn’t always have to be Monday morning, but we do recommend not sending a press release on a Friday, as it will get lost with incoming mail over the weekend.

Personalize, personalize, personalize. Include the reporter’s name, and maybe a blip on a piece of theirs that you have read or something that shows you are familiar with their work! Don’t mass send a pitch to a ton of reporters at one time, take the time to address them by name in the beginning. It helps for a more personal approach, rather than them thinking you’ve sent this same pitch to a ton of other reporters.

Finally, address why this story is newsworthy and why they should care. Your goal is to convince news outlets that your story is newsworthy and deserves to be heard. How are you going to get them to care about your pitch, compared to the many other pitches they receive in their inboxes?

Media Relations is Not Public Relations

We’ve found a great article to explain the difference between Public Relations and Media Relations. Public Relations is defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics” by the Public Relations Society of America.

Media relations is found within public relations, focusing entirely on the relationship between a company and the media. Media relations is just one aspect of the entirety of public relations. Your goal is to form a relationship with the media, for your business or your client’s business, so that your stories can be heard in the news.

This is something to think about when you look at the broader picture between the media and your business or organization. Exploring Media Relations helps break down the definition of what media relations means, through the direct sources of a news outlet and a media & communications specialist.

And the real key to media relations is to remember that reporters, editors and producers are people. Be kind. Be familiar with their work. Send a thank you note for publishing your story. Connect with them on social media. You know, build a relationship with a fellow professional.

Gotcha Journalism vs an Objective Essay

Gotcha journalism is a term used by media critics when describing interview methods that intend to “trap” the interviewee into answering questions that may damage their character or integrity. In these interviews, the interviewer may have a hidden agenda and intend to show the interviewee in an unfavorable light to damage their reputation.

Some methods of gotcha journalism include veering from the agreed interview topic and switching to an embarrassing subject or situation for the interviewee, leaving them to respond with a statement, and then confronting them further with already prepared information at hand. Another method is asking questions in which they do not know the answer to, making them appear foolish or uninformed.

Gotcha journalism raises ethical concerns about blindsiding the interviewee, as they have agreed to publicly speak on an agreed subject, to then have it switch, catch them off guard, and defame their character or reputation.

An objective essay, however, is a written essay only stating facts and research, which no opinion involved. Assertions may only be backed up with facts and resources, rather than what you might personally feel about the topic.

Preparing for media contact

While some stories benefit from emotion, sticking with the facts is typically best. You can still have an open, honest conversation without throwing your subject a curveball. As PR pros, we will coach you in media relations etiquette and interview techniques on how to best represent your brand, as well as how to counter “the pounce”. We’ll also track and record your media interactions and work with you to improve your media profile and performance.

Media relationships are among the best way to communicate your brand. Done well and managed strategically, relationships with members of the media will be among your most prized professional relationships.

Exploring Media Relations Downloadable Transcript