Familiarity avoids contempt

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Having good relationships with journalists is crucial if an organisation, or its PR advisers, are to communicate effectively, but often this is put in the "too hard" basket.

It is relatively easy to define what media is read, seen or listened to by the publics an organisation wants to reach; however creating working relationships with the journalists concerned is clearly more difficult.  Unfortunately, it also seems to be seen as unimportant.

Yet having such relationships is crucial if organisations, or their PR consultants, are to develop the stories or ideas that will interest journalists.  A recent article by Katarina Kroslakova (PR’s imperfect pitch) highlights the problem from a journalist’s perspective.

To make sure that I not only stay in touch with journalists, but also get feedback from those that I deal with, I undertake regular media surveys.

The most recent showed an overwhelming consensus from journalists that the most important thing a PR practitioner can do is facilitate relationships between journalists and clients.

People working in the financial services sector are in a particularly good position to create useful relationships with journalists, as it is an industry well served by the media and journalists who have a genuine interest in what is going on.

In my most recent survey, one journalist said that most people seem to think that media relations was limited to sending out media releases, which he said ‘represented an inherent misunderstanding of the whole media relations process’.

Another pointed out that something as simple as meeting up for coffee can have long-term benefits.  Such meetings should not be seen as trying to create immediate media coverage, but rather to create a connection between the journalist and the client that allows the journalist to draw on the knowledge and skills of the client for a quote or advice on a story further down the track.

Another common gripe that came out of my survey is that PR people sometimes pitch stories – whether through releases or otherwise – that are only of interest to their clients.  Too often, as Katarina points out in her article, they display a complete lack of understanding of how the publication is structured and what the journalists themselves write on.

Clearly, in forging relationships between journalists and clients, the relationships of the PR practitioner should play a critical part.  PR advisers must know the journalists themselves and understand their preferences and needs.  Too often they don’t, and it is why I believe specialist public relations firms hold an edge when dealing with financial services journalists.

This critical role of relationship building by the public relations professional is further illustrated in responses from the survey dealing with follow up by PR advisers.  It also shows why a ‘one size fits all’ approach cannot work.  Some journalists don’t appreciate follow up calls (to the extent that they are encouraged to bin media releases from such PR firms), while others may find them helpful on a busy day.  Knowing who likes what is therefore critical.  Other considerations include timing issues and how different publications want to receive information.

It is only by knowing individual journalists that practitioners can find out how to provide information in a way that increases the probability of its use.

The benefits of such relationships are shown in other ways.  In the survey, one journalist said that she knew she could contact me about a story and I would be able to come up with the names of the right clients for her to talk to, and help arrange the contact, so she didn’t waste her time trying to get hold of the wrong people

Using the knowledge is not always easy.  Sometimes this means disagreeing with clients on the best way to undertake media contact and communication, and it can also mean acting as an advocate for media approaches that do not always sit comfortably with executives.

But knowing how the media operates, what their needs are, and having relationships so that the knowledge gained can be used to help the organisation, will always achieve better results.