Just last month, in a beautiful conference room at Wiley Rein (thank you Alina Gorokhovsky), I was fortunate enough to moderate a panel of stellar media talent for a Legal Marketing Association Senior Leaders’ event. The reporters joining me were Politico’s Hadas Gold, National Public Radio’s Carrie Johnson, National Law Journal’s Katelyn Polantz, Roll Call’s Todd Ruger, Buzzfeed News’ Zoe Tillman, and Washington Lawyer’s Tim Wells.
Although we had a fascinating discussion about a wide-ranging set of topics, including fake news and the elements of a good story (conflict, relevance, timeliness, etc.), the biggest takeaways had to do with what makes a source valuable to reporters and how to effectively develop relationships with them:
Reporters want to deal with genuine sources, not managed ones.
1) Communicate yourself.
Reporters need sources, so they are always open to creating new ones. However, they are less likely to work with a source when they feel like they are being managed by a PR handler. It raises major red flags and may end a potential relationship before it even begins. So, if you’re the source, do as much of the outreach you can yourself. Have your marketing support team draft emails, spot issues of interest, etc., but when it comes time to hit “send” and communicate, it should come from you.
If you’re a marketer, the corollary is to get out of the way as soon as possible. Of course, you should offer to consider any request and help whenever needed, but do not monitor calls, sit in meetings, or join coffees. Reporters want to deal with genuine sources, not managed ones.
And while your motivation to sit-in may be purely out of curiosity and/or in pursuit of an opportunity to glean information that you cannot otherwise get from a typically busy, tight-lipped partner, the reporter does not care about you and does not see it that way. At best, they see your meddling as an added hassle (and unless your source is critical to a story they are pursuing, why would they bother?), or much worse, they see it as theft of their IP (the newsworthy answers they receive in response to their unique questions) and a threat to their business (their ability to produce a unique story). No kidding!
2) Communicate early and often.
Professionals need to woo reporters the same way they do clients; creating trust by building real, unique relationships with them. For those relationships to be “lucrative” one day, you must make serious investments in each of them right now.
Identify the dozen or so reporters that are critical to your clients and your work, and woo them early and often.
Reporters receive hundreds of pitches and requests a day. They are more likely to pay attention to yours if you are offering something of value AND they know you. So, do not wait for breaking news to introduce yourself and offer your expertise. Identify the dozen or so reporters that are critical to your clients and your work, and woo them early and often: frequently praise and share their work, seek them out at events and introduce yourself, invite them to coffee to discuss something unique, suggest useful sources aside from yourself, and show them you are worthy by tactfully sharing the work you have done with other reporters and outlets.
Becoming a go-to source for media often precipitates becoming a go-to source for business. We marketers and communications experts can help develop these relationships (for instance, please ask us about our Target 10 media relationship building program), but to make sure they are genuine and truly useful to the professionals on whose behalf we work, we should get out of their way as quickly as possible.