The main assumption outsiders make about PRs is that we spend the bulk of our days pumping out press releases. That's it.
They think the backbone of our job is to put newsworthy words into a document and then blanket send, but so much of our job actually relies on how well equipped we are to befriend a journalist. I’m a publicist with 25 years of experience, so I know that sending press releases certainly is one of the small tasks in a PR’s day, but it’s by no means the biggest or the most important.
That honour goes to engaging with journalists: kickstarting a relationship (professional of course) and then nurturing it is the critical task of any good PR. Because writing succinct words in a press release is all very well, but unless you succeed in making friends with a journalist, they might not even open the email.
It’s all about trust: journalists get hundreds of emails a day, and however great your release, or however huge your news, the odds of them opening it are low. But, if they know you, and that you have good ideas, those odds shoot up. You would do the same, wouldn’t you? If an old pal from uni or one of your inner circle emails, you’re going to click open before you go through the emails from people you don’t know. If you receive a blanket e-newsletter do you bother opening it? Me neither. So it’s the relationship that gets your news/release/email read.
Persuading someone to be mates with you is easier said than done. Media intelligence outfits such as Roxhill are vital and can matchmake, link up and familiarise you with journalists. But they can’t consolidate that precious relationship – for that, you’re on your own.
So how do you befriend a journalist?
On no level do you want them to think you’re simply befriending them to get your client noticed. These guys are smart cookies, don’t try and fool them. Follow these eight tips, though, and you should be well on your way.
1. Choose wisely: all PRs want to make connections at the top titles, but it makes more sense for junior PRs to reach out to more junior editors on the desk. Think commissioning editor, assistant editor or staff writer.
2. Email them with three strong news stories that will suit their publication.
3. Offer to take them out for breakfast/coffee/lunch/cocktails: ideally cocktails as then you’ll giggle and bond – and that’s fun. Finding ways to naturally spend quality time together as you would with your other friends is an important step if you’re looking to befriend a journalist.
4. Go to them: you might live in Ealing, but if they work in London Bridge, go to London Bridge. You need them more than they need you.
5. When you have half an hour of their time, look them in the eye, start with brief niceties, dazzle them with your stories and then engage in chitchat – only if they have time. Don’t bang on about yourself, you need to find out what makes them tick.
6. DO NOT make notes on your mobile phone, it’s rude and looks like you’re texting. If you can’t remember everything they’re saying write it down. This is your one chance to strike up a bond – remember that, so stay engaged with them.
7. Over the conversation if they say they like porn star martinis; dark chocolate; peonies; early nights; or anything personal, make a mental or physical note. These elements give you the perfect opportunity to follow up.
8. Get back to your desk, email a follow up and then send them a bunch of peonies. Everyone loves flowers. Whilst it won’t get your client in the paper it will, without doubt, make you stand out from the crowd.
Follow these tips and you will find yourself with the beginnings of meaningful and extremely enjoyable relationships/friendships with journalists. They are human, after all, and tick like we PRs do. And next time you email the journalist that you travelled across town for, had eye contact with, impressed with your stories, followed up efficiently and wooed with peonies they’ll open your email. That’s how it all began for me.