How to build journalist connections

Alex Federico, Senior Account Executive, with Emily Hume, Account Manager at The Flywheelers

Everyone begins their PR career in roughly the same place. With few, if any, media connections to fall back on.

One of the first things you’ll do is develop media lists filled with journalists that you hope will respond to your emails. But pitching can only get you so far. Eventually, every great PR professional will have to develop their own relationships with journalists. If managed correctly, these connections can last years, blossoming into a perfect harmony of opportunities for the journalist, the PR and their clients.

Here’s what I’ve learnt so far about the importance of meeting with journalists outside of emails…

Learn from your colleagues

You can learn so much from your senior colleagues, from their experience to their best practices, and even media connections. Back when they were in your shoes, they started building their own journalist relationships. And some of those journalists, who were once juniors themselves, are now editors.

There is no harm in asking to meet with one of your colleague’s contacts to get you started. Last year, for instance, I met with Tom Allen, Editor at Computing. I was invited along by a colleague who had arranged the meeting. And it immediately showed the value of getting out to meet people, because it was over that coffee that he told me he was specifically interested in customer stories rather than vendor-specific content and we’ve been able to be much more targeted in our approach ever since.

Target the right people

When it comes to building your own relationships, don’t blindly ask every journalist in your media list for a coffee or a drink. Instead, identify those that would be most valuable to your clients (and yourself) in the long term. They could be from a national or tech publication relevant across your accounts, or a more specific trade publication that would be great to break into.

When you reach out, introduce yourself and your clients, and share some topics they can offer their expertise on. Include a reason for the journalist to be interested, perhaps a recent client announcement. Or, if you’ve already secured coverage with a journalist, send them a thank-you note and use that as a jumping-off point.

It’s also important to remember that the worst they can say is no. So don’t be afraid to ask the question.

Attend journalist events

Another great way to connect with journalists is through events and conferences. For example, I attended a ‘Meet the Media’ event with TechRadar Pro and ITPro, where I learnt which topics the publications are interested in, and which journalists to contact depending on the opportunity. I was introduced through a colleague to the Deputy Editor, Mike Moore, and have since secured several commissions with him.

You can find these events by looking on media platforms like Roxhill, or by keeping up to date with journalists’ social media accounts to see what they’re up to.

Don’t overlook local

Although London has a thriving journalism community, not every useful contact exists inside the M25. So, when you have regional clients, research their local media, and aim to build strong connections with journalists in the area.

Unlike London, the UK’s regions have strong, dedicated local titles, often with business pages, that are interested in hearing news and views from businesses in their region. Interesting angles could include the jobs your client is creating in the area, an exciting entrepreneurial story, moving to new premises and creating added value to the region. Local journalists will also be likely to check in with businesses and leaders throughout their business journeys.

Make the most of your connections

Once you’ve met with a journalist, and discussed your clients and their interests, think about how you can grow the relationship. Show your worth as a PR who understands their wants and needs. If they mentioned certain topics they’re interested in, which clients/spokespeople could offer insight?

It’s all about managing the relationship carefully and making sure everyone wins. For example, I met with Paul Ferretti from Maddyness last year and have secured bylines and Q&As with him since. But I only send him pitches I believe are right for the publication and his interests.

Remember, the best relationships don’t rely on generating coverage. My senior colleagues often meet with the journalists they’re friendly with just to catch up. That’s something I’m aiming towards myself.

Because although we all begin our PR career in roughly the same place, those who prioritise journalist relationships will truly reach new heights.

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