OLD Media Moves

PR and biz reporter relationships, part two

October 3, 2013

Posted by Bill C. Smith

In my last post, I offered the following advice for public relations professionals; “Building strong relationships with reporters is the best way to collaborate on story ideas.”

These relationships don’t come easily. They require insightful sources and creative story ideas, as well as in-person meetings and social media engagement.

There are, of course, simple rules of etiquette that go along with cultivating these relationships. The following tips were solicited from four current journalists representing different publications.

Get’em (i.e. journalists) while they’re new….

Oliver Renick, a reporter at The Bond Buyer, elaborates:

“I recently started a full-time beat on which I’m the only reporter, so establishing my presence…has been crucial to developing stories. Getting introductory emails or phone calls…was encouraging. Coffee or lunch meetings, even if there’s not an imminent event or topic to discuss, is actually an effective way to create a substantive working relationship…”

Don’t intrude on every journalist/source meeting…

A reporter for an international financial business site clarified:

“Flaks shouldn’t always necessarily be on the call or at the lunch…It can feel awkward, like a chaperone or a third wheel-type situation. Genuine, frank one-on-one meetings are golden to reporters and are sometimes worth any supposed PR risk.”

...but journalists like coffee and beer.

The same reporter offered tips on luring journalists out of the office.

“Inviting reporters to drinks after work, or mingling events, is perfect. Reporters love to meet new people, even if its in a tangentially relevant industry. In-person interviews with sources are always excellent, because trust and face-to-face credibility don’t develop over a phone line.”

The key is not to try too hard, an editor from a financial magazine elaborated:

“I think coffee is a good place to start with reporters you don’t know yet. Some version of the ‘I’m going to be meeting someone near your office tomorrow if you have time’ usually works and makes things more casual. Drinks are OK once you know someone, but don’t feel like you need to buy….In general, be professional and don’t be a creep, and you should be fine.”

Regarding social media interactions with journalists

The same financial magazine editor commented:

“Retweets are OK — responding and adding something to the conversation (as long at it doesn’t promote you or your firm) is better. LinkedIn endorsements are weird…I remember being really confused when you (author of this post) first endorsed me.”

And the reporter from the global financial news website added:

“@Twitter mentions is a fun way to communicate: fast, no bull****, fun, public, both people get seen, informal, often ridiculous.”

Poor email etiquette will hurt

Walter Hickey, a reporter at Business Insider, underscored the need for relevant pitches to forge a genuine working relationship:

“Recently a paper came out that evaluated how reddit posts perform based on the title alone. The same principles for a good reddit repost make for a good pitch.

“Also, anyone who sends me gaudy infographics gets a special filter…with their stuff going to spam….What we don’t ignore is emails from people we know, or have met, or were cool to us.”

And the financial magazine editor suggested one way to quash a relationship was using the “read receipt” function in gmail:

“When I go to click out of the email (every single time) it says “sender has requested read receipt.” And then you can say yes or no. I always say no, because f*** that. If I wanted to let you know I read it, I would email you back!”


Strive for in-person meetings over coffee or drinks, but don’t be invasive or afraid to let a client meet one-on-one with a journalist. Same goes for digital communications: just be normal and don’t try too hard.

Bill C. Smith (@BillCSmith87) is a senior account executive at Dukas Public Relations in New York.

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