The friendzone: Why genuine media relationships matter

25 May 2017
Nik Addams

If you’d asked me six months ago, I never would have predicted I’d be here.

Back then, I was a happy (if underpaid) journalist writing for one the most prominent English language publications in Hong Kong. My natural curiosity to look for new challenges got the better of me, however, and I found myself making the switch to PR. It was almost instinctive.

Real talk though. I probably never would have considered coming over to this side had it been with any other firm that I dealt with as a journalist. The Sinclair crew always seemed to know the right way to deal with journalists. As a result, I was more than happy to attend events and provide coverage for friends who just happened to be in PR, and I built up a good rapport with much of the team along the way. Unfortunately, knowing how to deal with journalists are skills that not all PR practitioners seem to possess – and yes, blacklists do exist.

Now though, I get it. The PR world is an exciting, non-stop beast. Acting as the middleman or woman between hungry clients and hungry, deadline-driven media can be a precarious balancing act at the best of times. Here are some things to keep in mind when building media relations:

Don’t ‘PR’ me
You know what I mean. While I get that as PR, we have certain agendas to push and KPIs to hit, there’s a fine line between a soft sell and acting like the proverbial used car salesman. If there’s an opening in a conversation for you to organically segue into client talk, go for it. Otherwise, the conversation comes across as disingenuous, and can show that you’re not interested in building a meaningful, long-term relationship, but more focused on a potential short-term win.

Another thing to remember is that journalists know what they want to cover, and, usually, how they want to cover it. While the storytelling aspect of PR is without doubt a fundamental part of the job, a journalist doesn’t necessarily want to be told what to write.

Don’t call me
Or if you’re going to, make it worth my time. A journalist’s job is stressful enough finding stories and filing them under the constantly hovering cloud of daily deadlines. The last thing any writer needs is time spent on a phone call listening to a rehearsed – and often awkwardly recited – script about the revolutionary new way that your restaurant client’s sous chef is now smashing avocado for their twice monthly brunch. Events are a different story. Call for an RSVP, but do leave a gap between the initial invitation and the follow-up. Nobody likes a desperate Daisy. Remember, yours is one of the many offers with which a journalist is presented with every single day.

And think long and hard about pitching after work hours, too. 11.30pm on a Tuesday is not really the best time to send a Facebook message to pitch your client’s brand new menu. Doing so will make it less likely that I’d want to sit down with you and try it.

Don’t be fake
Many is the conversation in which I have been awkwardly involved as a journalist where the PR laughs a little too hard at all my jokes, or seems a little too interested in my most recent travels. The most fruitful relationships I had with PR as a journalist began over an agenda-free get together, where nothing was brought to the table other than two personalities. You don’t always have to be ‘on’, and I can tell when you are. Being real is where it all starts.

Do your research
It should go without saying, but as PR you really need to know who to pitch your news to. Don’t tell the food editor about the sexiest new stiletto to hit the shelves. Think twice about emailing the property writer about new advancements in your sports client’s VR offer. Casting your net too far and too wide is another sign that you’re not necessarily interested in building long-term partnerships. You might be lucky enough for something to stick, but you’re also a lot less likely to be remembered.

While it might be true that journalists often need PR just as much as PR need journalists, the journalist can be a fickle customer – after all, yours is not the only PR firm they deal with. A lot of the time though, how you’re perceived by a journalist can be the difference between getting coverage and getting your email sent straight to the spam folder.

Make it personal. The most effective media relationships are formed through genuine connections

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