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Public Relations 101

Establishing your own media contacts


Gini Dietrich

There are a few ways to build media contacts without the help of a PR professional. Don't get me wrong; my firm – and every other PR firm out there – would love to work with you. But some things you can do on your own.

Tip: Build and maintain a targeted media list.

This is the first – and essential – step before making contact with media.

If you plan on establishing relationships beyond a local level, I recommend a media service which offers a searchable media database, reporters' preferred method of communication and the beats they cover. Like their underwear, media personnel change jobs, beats, and outlets at a surprisingly quick rate. You'll need a tool to stay ahead of the game.

There are several comprehensive media databases available, at a cost, to businesses. Check out companies such as Cision, BurrellesLuce or Marketwire. If you can't afford a media database, subscribe to the top 10 publications you'd like to see feature your business. Then read them! You'll quickly learn who you should be calling, what they like to write about and how to contact them.

Our target publications for my business are PRWeek, Inc., Franchise Times, Hotel Executive, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, and the major daily newspapers. I read them all. Veraciously. 

Tip: Meet your targeted media.

Once you build a media list, you'll want some form of a "meet and greet." Whether in person during lunch, at a social networking event, or on the phone, introduce yourself. When making an introduction to a reporter, prepare a 30-second "elevator pitch" about your business and why it is of interest to the reporter. (Here's where it's helpful to know which beat a reporter covers.)

This isn't like calling your high school crush to ask him or her to the prom. Establishing and maintaining relationships with the media takes time, thoughtfulness and persistence. The best way to establish and maintain media relationships is to give them news.

One of my favorite things to do is offer news, story angles, or ideas that have nothing to do with clients we're working with or are self-serving in any way. I read what the reporter writes daily, weekly, or monthly and I brainstorm ideas I can send him or her in order to build the relationship. 

You can build a relationship by finding out what a reporter is passionate about personally. Sometimes that's easy to find in their monthly columns. Sometimes it takes more digging. But they're people, too, and you've built a business connecting with people. Use your interpersonal skills to build relationships with media.

I also travel quite a bit so I use plane time to catch up on magazine reading. I get a glass of wine from the flight attendant, open my stack of publications, and start jotting off notes to editors if I'm fired up about something. I find most of my letters to editors or opinion editorials are published because I'm passionate and because I'm on my soap box...and because I have a glass of wine in me. But it works.

Tip: Once you meet a reporter, use an online networking site, such as LinkedIn, (www.linkedin.com) to stay in touch.

Use the knowledge you've gleaned from researching and meeting reporters to create story ideas. This is the basis of your relationship and determines the strength of your contact list. As you offer stories to tell (and reporters like them) your contact list, and relationships grow.

When working your media contact list:

The 'do' list

  • Use a reporter's preferred method of communication. If you leave a voicemail, quickly (in 30 seconds or less) say why you're calling.
  • Offer an initial opportunity to introduce yourself to reporters (i.e. lunch, coffee, upcoming event).
  •  Maintain the relationship. If a reporter covers a positive story about your business, mail them a handwritten thank you note. We require this of all of our staff and it works.

The don't list

  • Call when they're on deadline.
  • Contact them every day. Would you like it? No, it's annoying.
  •  Pitch stories that are not in a reporter's beat.
  • Get discouraged if reporters don't follow your first few story ideas. The
    point of PR is to build relationships with the public – and the media. I know from experience building media contacts takes time. It's one of those critical steps you don't have time not to do.

Remember, as you build contacts, listen to their feedback, positive and negative, to adapt your list to best meet their needs. The media and its audiences are broad and deep. Through strategic, well-planned use of the media, your franchise can surpass competitors, build its customer base, and increase sales through strong media relations.

Gini Dietrich is chief executive officer of Arment Dietrich Public Relations in Chicago.

Gini can be reached at gdietrich@armentdietrich.com or 312-787-7249.

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