Nine tips for building pitch-friendly media relationships

Here’s one for the PR folks: Ever get raked over the coals in a committee meeting because you weren’t in X Publication that the board or faculty member read or watched? Stings, doesn’t it? Doesn’t matter where else you were or what you did: If you weren’t everywhere, you weren’t anywhere.

If you’re looking to kick your PR game up a notch, the quickest route is through your media relationships. Are you cultivating them now? You’re going to need them later.

My PR experience comes from both sides of the line. I started my career as a journalist and editor and moved over to higher education PR a few years later. I’ve seen what works, and what doesn’t work, and I know that if you follow these tips, you’ll see increases in your media coverage.

Note: This article does not constitute a PR strategy. That requires research, planning and measurement. These are simply techniques that are effective in building relationships with local media.

1. Understand Your University Goals

I don’t think I could post anything without starting here: Before you get out there, make sure you thoroughly align your PR tactics with the University’s goals and brand. There are no Lone Rangers. Taking time to read and align with these goals will allow you to utilize relationships you never imagined. What type of publications should be in? Which ones should you avoid? Understanding how to align your strategy with your institution's goals is critical to your success as a PR professional. 

2. Follow Their Work

Select a few journalists or broadcasters that seem to file a lot of copy related to your organization’s offerings. Make it a point to watch and read their work to understand the type of stories that they think are relevant. They used to call this shadowing in PR, but it’s really just good research and preparation for your goal. Some journalists will be better fits for your brand than others. See who knows who in your network. It’s likely that there’s a great contact already in your iPhone.

3. Build a Real Relationship

First of all, if you want to build your media relationships, start by making it a real relationship. Journalists are members of your community, too, and sometimes, they are a long way from home, trekking across the country on their way up the media market chain. Your relationship can be professional, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be friendly. Invite them out for lunch or drinks. Get a feel for what's important to them. Remember, always consider the other person’s point of view in any relationship.

4. Get Out on the Town

Pay attention to the special events your local media and civic organizations hold. Make it a point to attend these. First of all, it’s a good thing to do as a member of the community, and secondly, it’s a great opportunity to get to know local journalists better. Know who you want to meet and introduce yourself! They’ll be happy to talk (and you should be happy to listen). These events are usually breakfasts, luncheons or happy hours, so the worst thing that can happen is you get a good meal or drink!

5. Send the Occasional Note or Gift

This isn’t bribery, you’re not expecting anything in return, but from time to time, check back. When a reporter you know launches a new podcast, send over a note. It’ll make their day and they will remember you.

Another great time to do this is during the holiday season. Send over a low-value, food item. Be sure not to send over an expensive gift, as journalists *shouldn’t* accept these, though some do. A former colleague of mine loved to send small bags of popcorn from a local store. It was light, got the blood sugar up and keeps your name in mind.

6. Train Your Faculty

Hold at least two media training sessions a year for faculty (if you can get in front of them when they are already in one place, that’s great. If you can’t, host a lunch-and-learn and invite them over). Go over the basics of how the process works (you should have a process), what’s expected of them and help them identify subject matters the media might be interested in. That last part is really important: Make sure you are following the news and understand what issues grab eyeballs.

7. Be Ready With Your Experts

Every so often, the media drops a gift in your lap (well, not actually a gift, because you’ve been cultivating your media relationships and now they’re thinking about you) and a reporter calls you out of the blue and no one at your organization has done anything wrong. Most of the time, they are frantically looking for an expert to quote on a breaking news story.

This is your moment. Have your experts ready to go. (Good thing you’ve already trained them!) and be prompt about scheduling the event. They always need it as soon as possible, so impress them. If you come through for them now, they are much, much more likely to listen to your pitch later.  

8. Get Your Branding in There!

I love this one, and I have to give credit to my former colleague Ann Davis (who also deserves credit for teaching me much of the techniques in this post), but your professor should be between a camera and institutional branding at all times. Get that logo in there. This is what you worked for! Don’t waste your chance to build the brand.

Don’t be afraid to be direct with a reporter (but never rude). They are usually busy people on a deadline and will appreciate you taking the time to help set up a backdrop for them to film against. And if they’re absolutely against it, no big deal. The relationship is more valuable to you than one brand mention. 

9. Repeat and Pitch and Repeat

Most PR people pitch too hard, too tone-deaf and too aggressively. They burn up all their goodwill early in the relationship. But you went a different route. You learned how to cultivate your relationships. Now you’re regularly providing experts and your clip file is growing (that’s an old term from a young guy).

It’s time to pitch. Start working your contacts. By now you know what they’re into and what they cover. Start pitching your best and repeat!

Darren White is the principal consultant at D. White & Company, a higher ed marketing & management consulting firm based in Jacksonville, Fla. DWCo. helps universities implement PR best practices. Want to strengthen your PR management? Contact us and set up an appointment.