Ask A PR Pro: How Do I Build Media Relationships?

By Vanessa Taylor

This month, we sat down with a member of Matter’s Precision team and asked how PR professionals can put pitching best practices into action. We interviewed Christy Reiss, a senior account executive who’s landed client coverage in Forbes, TODAY, Parents Magazine, Dark Reading and much more. 

1. How can I find the right journalists for pitching? I don’t have access to databases or special services. 

Research is your best friend, and you don’t really need a database unless you truly can’t find the contact information for a reporter or outlet (pro tip: use their Twitter bio to find if they have personal websites —  their primary contact information is usually there). Do a reverse search in Google of the topic you’re pitching, or anything adjacent, to see who is covering it and how they approach the topic. More often than not, if you’re using a database, you’ll still have to do further research into their existing stories to make sure they’re a match. Just because someone covers “tech” doesn’t mean they cover your specific field. This valuable insight can inform your pitches and customize them to a reporter’s needs. 

2. How do I figure out what they most need from me? I’ve never tried to tell my brand story before. 

Reading journalists’ stories will help, but you always want to make sure you’re a resource to them rather than trying to sell them on your business or expertise. If you see they frequently cover cybersecurity, then offer options on the specific cyber topics you or your thought leader can speak to so they can choose what is most interesting, and they can get a good sense of the experience you have as an expert. The best relationships between reporters and their sources function as a partnership – that’s what they need most. Make it clear you want to help them tell a story, not just get them to include your source. 

3. How do I build a relationship if I never hear back? I’m not sure when to keep trying vs. move on to someone else. 

It can take a very long time to break through to a reporter – perseverance is key, but make sure you’re only sending them relevant, helpful content. Keep up with their stories; not every touchpoint needs to be a pitch. You can reach out to let them know your thoughts on one of their recent articles, and that you’re looking forward to the next one. Reporters are people too and want to form good relationships with sources just as much as you do, so always think in terms of “what would I want to read in an email?” They’re still reading your pitches even if they don’t answer right away. 

If time is of the essence on a specific pitch, it’s fine to move on to a new reporter after one follow-up – most reporters don’t want more than that, and it will annoy them if you keep pestering. Fall back on the research to see who would be a fit for the pitch. If you see a contact who could work, think about how you can tailor your pitch to their specific needs/interests. 

4. A reporter used my client’s commentary; are they now a “friendly”? I don’t want to be annoying or over-assume our relationship. 

If a reporter has used your commentary, they recognize that you or your thought leader have relevant, helpful insight – they’ll note this for the future! That said, a “friendly” only means they’ll be more likely to open your email and read it in full without you needing to convince them too much. It does not mean that they will use every single insight you send their way just because they know you. The best way to build on the traction you’ve earned is to send them relevant sources for their beat that are actually of interest to them. Protect your relationship with them by knowing when to say no to a pitch and when to tweak a pitch to what will resonate with them specifically, thereby maintaining your status as an asset to their work. 

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