Recently, I had the good fortune of being handed one of the “holy grails” of PR: a reporter contact of mine reached out to me with a story idea and wanted to know if I could connect him to a source.

Naturally, I was ecstatic he had thought of me and immediately presented the opportunity to my client best fit for his article. Not only was it a great win for the client, but also for myself. The strong reporter relationship I had been cultivating was paying off.

This relationship wasn’t something that happened overnight – it took six months of initial introductions, pitching, phone correspondence, working together and occasional off-topic emails (mostly centered on the World Series).

The ability to maintain strong relationships with reporters seems like a quality that should just come naturally to PR pros – but if that were true, why do so many reporters vent about how frustrated they are with us? Simple: building strong relationships takes time and effort, and it’s not always easy to put in that effort when we don’t see an immediate pay off. This is where PR pros today are failing. We need reporters in order to do our jobs and should treat them with the same level of respect and appreciation as we would a customer or colleague. This is why I think it is critical to put forth the time to build these relationships.

When it comes to cultivating relationships with reporters, I always try to remember these three points:

1. Be Knowledgeable

In other words, be knowledgeable of the reporter, his/her interests and his/her audience. How many blogs have you read where reporters have complained about receiving pitches that have absolutely nothing to do with the stories they cover? Not only are you squandering a potential story by sending it to the wrong contact, you are also potentially ruining a relationship with a journalist that might be the perfect fit for another story or client. It seems like this should be PR 101, but unfortunately, that is not often the case.

I work hard to know as much information as I can about the reporters I pitch. For instance, a reporter from Fox Business recently responded to a pitch of mine with a phone call. If I had been unable to immediately connect his name to the pitch and his related content, I would have floundered on the call – especially since the reporter was eager to know how closely I followed his work and what articles from his column had caught my attention. Since I had read his column and was knowledgeable of his body of work, I was able to briefly discuss his most recent article before diving into more details on my pitch. Thanks to that knowledge, I’ve started to build the foundation for a solid, new relationship, and I plan to keep in touch down the road.

2. Be Understandable

This one is two-fold: not only do you need to know and understand each reporter, but when you do present a story idea, make sure the reporter can understand you. As someone who does PR for tech clients, I find it all too easy to assume tech reporters are familiar with all the jargon in my client’s messaging. This isn’t always the case – in fact, it’s best practice to make your pitches as accessible as possible. A reporter may cover the Cloud exclusively but not understand the granular technical jargon cluttering your pitch. (Even worse would be if the reporter disregarded the pitch because it’s too jargon-heavy for his/her audience.) A rule of thumb is this: if you don’t understand what you are writing, odds are the person reading it won’t understand either.

3. Be Relatable

In my opinion, this is the most important one. I firmly believe PR isn’t simply B2B or B2C; it’s human-to-human – and this is one aspect of PR where that really shows. Given the amount of pitching we do, it’s easy to forget those reporter contacts are more than just a name on a rolodex – they are all individual humans with interests and likes and dislikes and more. And put yourself in their shoes! If you are sending pitch after pitch after pitch to their inboxes, reporters are more likely to have trouble seeing your human side as well.

Take time to read their work and know who they are outside of the office and their hobbies. This is where social media comes in handy. Have a thought about a recent article one of your contacts published? Shoot them an email about it. (I usually note in the subject line I’m not sending a pitch.) Take the time to connect with them on a human level, and soon reporters will be contacting you with source requests.

As it does with any relationship, cultivating effective and long-lasting media relationships takes time and a considerable amount of effort. If we are being the best PR pros we can be, we should already be reading our reporters’ work every day and have an understanding of their audience. We just need to take that vital extra step.


Do you have any tips to add on building strong relationships with reporters?  Leave a comment below, or tweet us at @RHStrategic with the hashtag #RHetoricBlog.

RH Strategic is the PR firm for a hyper-connected world, delivering integrated media, social & digital strategies for technology, healthcare, and public sector markets.