Media relations is not public relations. Read why media relations is important on its own and strategies to elevate media publicity and promotion for your clients.
Media relations refers to an organization’s relationships with editors, reporters, and journalists, typically through a media relations specialist or a media relations team. The art of media relations focuses on getting free, positive media coverage through various outlets including television, radio, online publications, and more.
Media relations is less about individual coverage opportunities and more about long-lasting media relationships. If you specialize or are interested in specializing in media relations, it is crucial for you to work with the media—not against it.
Media relations can result in win-win relationships: journalists benefit with easy access to relevant stories and sources, and your clients benefit with free publicity and promotion.
Media Relations vs. Public Relations
Media relations is a subset of public relations. In an organization’s team structure, media relations is typically one part of a broader public relations team — or, if an organization outsources their media relations, you or your agency would likely work with the organization’s public relations team.
While public relations is how a business or organization communicates and builds relationships with the public, media relations manages communications and relationships in one channel—the media.
Public relations, on the other hand, manages relationships with the public, including customers, stakeholders, online communities, employees, suppliers, government entities, and the media. It also manages the overall public perception of the organization and its brand.
In short, media relations falls under the public relations umbrella.
How to Build Relationships With the Media
You can’t be good at media relations unless you, well, build relations with the media. Thankfully, this can get easier with time—as long as you respect your relationships and keep your word.
Unfortunately, building relationships with the media can’t be reduced to an exact science. Every reporter and journalist is different, as are the stories they write.
Because of that, this section will focus on some best practices for building media relationships … and some surefire things you should avoid. You see, while media relationships can get easier over time, one or two wrong steps can set you back years if not blacklist you completely.
As much as you may study how to do media relations right, be sure to understand how you can avoid doing it wrong. Your clients will thank you.
Media Relations Wins
- Symbiotic relationships. You wouldn’t want to be friends with someone who only comes around when they need something—and never offers anything in return. While we can’t promise that every media relationship you build will be a friendship, you should always treat them as you would a friend. Be kind. Do you best to get to know them outside their professional role. Remember any important details they share with you, such as their birthday or pets’ names. Show interest in their work (not just what their work can do for you); moreover, promote their work without asking anything in return.
- Managing your relationships properly. We’re all human, and it’s natural to forget details. Use a CRM tool like HubSpot or Prowly to keep track of your media relationships and any pertinent information that may be useful or nice to remember. At the least, save information like names, topic specializations, and publication information in a spreadsheet.
- Be yourself. This is perhaps the most simple yet most important piece of advice when it comes to media relations. Journalists and editors like to talk to real people, and putting on a “PR persona” to manage media relations for your clients will quickly turn off any media you talk to.
- Prepare as much as you can. A journalist’s time is valuable and in high demand. Want to have your pitch read and answered? Prepare as much material beforehand. Pre-write any content, gather any photos or screenshots, and ready your client so if the journalist responds, they’re ready to sit down for an interview or contribute to an article.
Media Relations Disqualifications
- Sending generic pitches. If there’s one thing that journalists can spot a mile away, it’s a blanket media pitch. This is a surefire way to get your pitch deleted before it’s been opened (much less read). Take the time to read the journalist’s prior work and understand what they write about … and, for the love of all things PR, address them by their name!
- Pitching unrelated or already-covered topics. If you’ve done your research, you should know what topics the journalist specializes and is interested in—and what topics they’ve already covered. Don’t waste your time or theirs by pitching something outside of these topics.
- Disrespecting time or deadlines. As we said above, a journalist’s time is in high demand. Wasting their time with boring pitches, skipping scheduled meetings or calls, or disrespecting defined deadlines will cause them to not take you—or your client—seriously. Moreover, they’ll likely ignore any other pitches or requests you send their way in the future.
How to Build a Media Relations Strategy
There’s not a lot of consistency in media relations—every journalist and story will differ. That being said, building a media relations strategy may look different for each client and news outlet.
Your approach to media relations should always start with your client. Sure, the media is the central focus of a media relations strategy, the best way to manage your client’s media relations is to do more-than-adequate research before ever speaking to a journalist or reporter.
What kind of research? Well, first you need to understand your client’s goals and messaging—especially if you’ll be speaking on their behalf.
Sit down with your client to understand what they’re hoping to achieve from media coverage. Website traffic? New customers? Positive publicity? This will determine how and why you contact certain media opportunities.
As for messaging, you may need to expand the scope of your conversations to include marketing, sales, and potentially executives. This will help you capture why journalists and their audiences should care about what your client has to say.
There are three main types of messaging you should be able to articulate to the media on behalf of your client:
- Brand messaging, which is typically a tagline or short, one-sentence mission statement
- Thought leader messaging, which focuses on any unique insight or expertise your client can share on behalf of the company
- Product or service messaging, which captures unique features and comes in handy when pitching to niche audiences or technical publications
With these goals and messaging in mind, now it’s time to turn to the media. Let’s unpack a handful of powerful media relations strategies that could help elevate positive media coverage and get people talking about your client.
7 Powerful Media Relations Tactics for Your Clients
Pitch the Media—Correctly
Pitching the media isn’t a new idea. We wrote an article on how to pitch the media because we believe in the power of pitching. However, we’ve found that most media pitches are poorly executed and, therefore, ignored.
We’ve already acknowledged that the heart of media relations is building relationships with the media—journalists, editors, reporters, and the like. These relationships can’t be built on the backs of boring, irrelevant, one-sided media pitches. Snooze.
As you improve your media relations strategy, plan to invest the majority of your time on crafting your media pitches. Creating a winning pitch requires plenty of research to ensure your proposition is relevant and valuable to the recipient and his or her audience. Moreover, the more time and thought you put into your pitch, the more likely you are to not only get a response but also a friend.
Write Guest Posts
Has your client identified any online publications where their audience spends a lot of time? Perhaps you can write some guests posts to be published on the website. Guest posting is a great opportunity to share some of that thought leader messaging we defined in the previous section, as well as gain backlinks to your client’s own website.
Take Covered Press, for example. If I were writing guest blog posts in an effort to boost awareness of and traffic to the Covered Press site, I’d pitch the editors of various PR blogs. Why? Because I know that publicists and PR specialists—Covered Press’s target audience—read these publications and may click over to check out the tool.
Answer Press Opportunities on HARO
Journalists, bloggers, and other online writers are very active on HARO. In fact, we used the HARO tool to gather quotes for our PR quote roundup. If you’ve never heard of it Help a Reporter Out (HARO) is an online tool on which journalists can post queries and sources can answer with quotes or expertise.
HARO is free to use for both journalists and sources, and it’s very easy to use. Sources subscribe to three-times-daily emails that share quote and interview opportunities from journalists. If you see a query that matches your client’s messaging and/or expertise, all you have to do is respond to the email and hope the journalist chooses you as a source for their article.
Target The Right Publications and News Outlets
When working with the media, they don’t necessarily care about what you have to say—they care more about what their audience wants to read, see, or listen to. For that reason, you must target the right publications and outlets in your media outreach. If your story, quote, or contribution doesn’t interest the audience of a publication, it’s highly unlikely its editor would be interested either.
In some cases, larger local or national publications may be a good fit for your client, especially if they’re sharing a general interest story. Check out USNPL for newspaper information and Radio Locator to identify potential radio stations.
Sometimes, however, less is more. If your client’s brand has a niche audience, consider targeting a smaller, more specialized publication. Let’s say your client sells a type of dog toy that also cleans the dog’s teeth. Sure, you could pitch a large veterinary publication that caters to thousands of readers … or, you could pitch a writer for a canine health publication that only has hundreds of readers.
In this case, you’d receive fewer views on your content, but the journalist or editor who you pitch would probably be more interested in what you have to share because it lines up so well with their audience’s interests. Less is more here because the ratio of interested readers would be higher.
Do Something Newsworthy
You’ve heard of “publicity stunts.” Sure, the phrase carries a bad connotation, but the idea behind it is actually quite powerful. If you want your client to be featured in the media … do something worth media attention.
Whether that’s run a controversial campaign, dedicate significant time or money to charity, or temporarily rename your company like IHOP did, do something that’s worth talking about.
If you were on social media in 2018, you likely remember when IHOP announced their new name—IHOb, which stood for International House of Burgers. It was temporary, of course, but following that campaign sure made for a hilarious few weeks
According to president Darren Rebelez, “…IHOP rolled out the new name — which [was] temporary — because it wanted to do something major to grab people’s attention and highlight the fact that IHOP sells items other than pancakes.”
“This was always intended to be tongue in cheek for us,” Rebelez said. “But people really took it seriously.” Other brands also had fun with the rebranding campaign, further extending the IHOb chatter across social media and other media outlets.
Work with Influencers
Influencers aren’t traditionally considered media (like journalists or reporters), but considering how much influence they have over their audiences, they make for highly valuable partnerships. Just as those smaller, niche publications can be more powerful because they serve a more engaged audience, influencers typically have a higher engagement rate on their content because they target followers and readers who are specifically interested in what they have to share.
Use tools like Google Alerts or Buzzsumo to track mentions of certain terms or keywords relevant to your client. See which influencers and thought leaders are discussing your client’s industry or niche, and consider reaching out to them for a partnership. Additionally, ask your client for any recommendations from their marketing or sales teams—they’d know more about the client’s customers and target audiences and which influencers they may be following.
Invest in Media Relations Tools
The best way to build media relations and gain media coverage is by investing in the right media monitoring tools. From social media monitoring software to media outreach portals, the right tools can help you monitor brand mentions, track industry trends, and understand the impact of your outreach through detailed analytics.
Covered Press combines these functions (and more) into a single, all-in-one PR platform. The Covered Press tool can help you manage your media relations efforts and understand what outlets, publications, and channels are working for your client. Through in-depth monitoring and tracking, the tool can also identify new opportunities that you might’ve not caught otherwise, such as industry trends on social media or chatter about a topic in which your client has expertise.
At the very center of media relations is one important thing: trust. Your client trusts you to tell their story through the media—who consumers tend to trust, especially if the media is tailored to them. By building valuable relationships with journalists and reporters, positioning your client’s messaging to capture their audience, and investing in the right tools, you can leverage media relations to help your clients meet and exceed their goals.