Doing media relations right in 2024

Media relations is sometimes overlooked today as discussions of AI, digital, and social dominate marketing conversations. But earned media remains a valuable piece of a brand’s marketing efforts. Here are some thoughts on how PR professionals can succeed in today’s media environment.

Dissect publications

My first boss sat every new employee down when they joined his PR firm and showed them how to “dissect” a magazine. Back then it was a print magazine. Today, it’s going to be a website. But the process remains the same. PR pros need to understand the “departments” (i.e., sections) of a publication (or website), the staffers and contributors, the recent and upcoming topics of interest, and the tone and perspective of the coverage. Go through publications carefully, with your clients’ offerings and subject-matter experts in mind the whole time. Take notes in the margins (or on your PDF). Dive deep into the publication.

As a PR practitioner, you need to strive to understand your target media outlets nearly as well as the editors of those publications. Those who do will always be a step ahead. When a client brings up a new initiative, product or thought leadership topic, a PR pro who has steeped themselves in relevant media will be able to quickly identify a handful of opportunities.

Read and monitor constantly

Reporters move around a lot. Even if they stay at the same publication, their beats may change. And even those who stay on a particular beat for a while will need to straddle industries and topics. For example, a congressional reporter may need to work overtime to learn about the legal issues surrounding generative AI.

PR practitioners must stay on top of these shifts in roles and coverage by closely following reporters and reading their stories carefully. You must keep media lists updated in real-time (I recommend doing this manually instead of leveraging too many automation tools. The manual effort, though less efficient, will give you confidence in your media lists and ensure you truly understand the media ecosystem for a client).

When researching reporters, PR pros should look for immediate pitching opportunities, yes, but there’s also a longer-term goal to all this research. By building a database of knowledge on reporters, publications, and topics, you will be poised to jump on rapid response opportunities for your clients and uncover pitching opportunities that a less educated or seasoned practitioner will overlook.

Say a client comes to you about the launch of a new service line helmed by a sharp executive with an impressive professional resume but also a background in mixed-martial arts fighting. You could go to the beat reporter in your space with a standard news announcement (and maybe that’s a good idea no matter what). But if you are deeply engaged in the media ecosystem, you’ll remember reading a column from another reporter who writes executive profiles and tends to dig into their fitness routines.

The time a PR pro puts into reading news and following reporters (essentially just downloading information), pays off when the pressure is on.

Be empathetic yet proactive

Put yourself in a reporter’s shoes. Between trying to get the attention of busy sources in time to file a story on deadline, they must build their personal brands by posting frequently on X, LinkedIn and maybe even Instagram and TikTok. The news cycle continues to accelerate. There’s a premium placed on being first. And publications are strapped for resources, putting more pressure on each reporter.

In response, PR practitioners must seek to be helpful, not promotional. This may seem like obvious advice, but it can be hard when all a client wants to do is talk about themselves and their products. PR pros must push back on this and instead approach reporters with interesting ideas. Reference relevant past stories. Float options for coverage (e.g., contributed article, Q&A, podcast interview) that align with the reporter’s content output. If you secure an interview, train your subject-matter experts thoroughly and ensure they are overprepared to deliver the information reporters seek.

Additionally, respond to reporter inquiries promptly. Even if you or your client can’t answer a question from a reporter, think about how you might be able to refer them to another source of information. Always come to reporters prepared with relevant materials (e.g., be ready to offer product samples, have expert headshots ready, etc.).

An empathetic attitude and a genuine desire to help reporters will give PR practitioners more freedom to be proactive. Overzealous PR practitioners who aggressively follow up on overly promotional pitches can find themselves on a reporter’s spam list. Or worse, a reporter may call them out publicly. But sharp PR people who suggest ideas that naturally fit into a reporter’s areas of interests will build trusting relationships (Of course, relationships do not equal coverage. PR people need to bring compelling stories and well-prepped experts to reporters at opportune times to secure coverage).

If PR professionals study publications and reporters constantly and seek to be helpful above all else in their interactions with reporters, they will improve their chances of securing meaningful, credential-building coverage for their clients.

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