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How to develop a constructive relationship with journalists

Here are some tips to initiating and building a constructive relationship with journalists. If you can give them what they want, you'll create a mutually beneficial relationship.

1

Make initial contact

If you're new to the job or your organisation wants to start developing a media strategy, the first step is to introduce yourself to the relevant local, national or trade media. You'll need to:

  • Target the right person. Depending on the news outlet, that might be a news editor, a programme editor, a specialist correspondent or a general reporter. Don't be afraid to just call the newsroom and find out who would be the most relevant contact person.
  • Here are some useful press lists to help you think about and find the appropriate outlet:

Print and broadcast media 
Local papers
Magazines here and here 
Trade press
Online: Huffington Post and BuzzFeed 

  • Check out journalisted to find out which journalists are writing about your topic area
  • Keep your first conversation brief; you just need a contact person’s details.
  • Send a fact sheet about what your organisation does and explain the type of stories you could offer and areas you could comment on. Ask what they might want from you. 
  • Follow up with a phone call. Where appropriate (probably more useful for local contacts) suggest meeting in person at their office or yours or try and attend events where you might casually meet
  • Follow them on twitter to learn more about them, their opinions, their style and what they write about. Often journalists will also ask for quotes or experts to contribute to articles using #journorequest #prrequest
2

Work on your relationship

Journalists rely on you as a useful source of stories, especially in these days of instant news when they are under increasing pressure to find good material and file it quickly. The fact a story, comment or case study has come from a charity is irrelevant as long as it fulfils their news criteria.

Always be conscious of the key things you need to provide:

  • Be a reliable source of useful, relevant, trustworthy information in your subject area
  • Offer interesting case studies which add distinctive value to a story. Make sure you have some ready to roll as journalists frequently give little notice of requests.
  • Provide ideas for stories
  • Be quick, reliable and available when you’re approached for a reaction or comment. It's usually better to give a fast but brief reaction than a slow, detailed one.
  • Find out the type of stories the journalist you're dealing with covers - and always check their output in case you can offer something relevant.
  • Check your emails and voicemail regularly - or be prepared to miss opportunities.
  • If you’re unavailable or away, give an alternative contact or out of office message.
3

Be honest

  • Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Deadlines are everything. Be honest.
  • Don't make stuff up just to get noticed. 
  • Admit the things that haven't worked or the challenges you've faced, how you tried to overcome them and what you learnt or would do differently. You'll get their trust if you are honest and transparent.
4

Don't come across as needy and emotional

It's fine to suggest a story angle but don’t try and control the message. You'll just annoy the journalist. They know their audience best. What feels like the most important story in the world to you might not interest them.

If a journalist isn't interested in your story after a couple of attempts, don't continue to pursue it and don't be offended. Remain friendly but business-like. 

5

Listen to what journalists say they want

Here are some of the elements that journalists say they're looking for in a story:

  • A strong news line
  • An exclusive
  • Stories about people, a powerful human angle
  • Issues people can talk about
  • Stories that share well on social media
  • ‘How to’ lists/ 5 things you didn’t know about…
6

Be on your guard

Don't overlook the potential risks when engaging with the media especially if a vulnerable beneficiary is involved. Consider any possible pitfalls of offering a story. You don't want to end up damaging your reputation.

Think about media guidelines you could draw in discussion with trustees to create a safe framework for staff, volunteers and and beneficiaries. While you can't control the message the media put out, you can ensure your interests are protected.

7

Assess how much time and effort you can devote to the relationship

The more time you have to invest in building a relationship, the more likely you are to benefit from it. But the precise amount of resources you want to devote has to be a decision taken by you and your trustees. Try setting a goal of what would represent an improvement in media coverage and experiment with the amount of time and effort you put in. But bear in mind that you can put in lot of effort for little reward and then suddenly reap the rewards. So it's hard to say definitively whether it's better to adopt a policy of small and steady engagement or loud and intermittent. 

If you can't afford a specialist comms person, then that role is likely to fall to the chief executive. Or try and recruit a trustee who is happy and equipped to devote some time to this. 

8

Be prepared and polite

You can try for months to interest a journalist in a story and get nowhere, then suddenly they'll come to you with a request. Make sure you're always ahead of the game with a media toolkit ready to roll. Check out this handy advice on what to include in a media toolkit, courtesy of Charity Comms. 

If a journalist has used an interviewee you provided or you've liaised over a story, write and thank them afterwards. It's a good opportunity to also tell them what else might be coming up, or suggest a follow up story after a period of time if appropriate. You could also tell them that if they need good case studies on other topics they should check out Constructive Voices!

Further information

How to generate news

How to write an effective press release

Constructive Voices

Contributors

Page last edited Apr 13, 2017 History

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