How to build better relationships with bloggers and the media

Guru-blog3This week, our friends at Vocus hosted a fascinating webinar that looked at how to build better relationships with bloggers and the media with a bunch of experts in the field.

Sharing their thoughts on this and other topics were Ben Davis, content and community producer at eConsultancy, Chris Dawson, co-founder and publisher of Tamebay, San Sharma, digital manager at small-business community Enterprise Nation and John Hayes, an expert in email marketing and social media at Vocus.

We covered the following areas in the webinar which you can listen to here by registering your details.

These are some of my own thoughts to the questions that were asked in the webinar which I hope you find helpful.


What is the best way for to approach a journalist/blogger for the first time?

There’s no right or wrong way – and it depends whether you are working on behalf of a client or are calling from the organisation you work for. Always remember that you need to have done your homework first – in many respects it’s not that different from direct marketing!

A golden rule that I wrote about in my book is always to ask the journalist or blogger whether they are in the middle of something or is it OK to briefly tell them why you’re calling.

If it’s a message via social media – ensure it’s really short, factual and to the point, inviting further details if they are interested.

How do you build that initial approach into a successful relationship?

Always see the communication process from the other person’s POV. What do they need/want in order to be successful in what they do are interested in? It’s about adding value to them where you can be seen as a resource. Never contact anyone unless you are confident it wont waste their time and actually address their needs and requirements – otherwise they won’t take your calls or return message in the future. No one likes time wasters, particularly those who work to deadlines.

When is the best time to pitch and how should you handle it?

Again, no hard and fast rules and it very much depends on the media cycle that the journalist or blogger works to. In the past, there were times of the day and days of the week but 24 hour news across all time zones has made this a bit academic if you are seeking a global audience.

What is the worst way to approach a journalist?

Charging into a prepared script, not listening and not showing courtesy as they could be in the middle of something important and on deadline. That’s the quickest way to lose the opportunity!

Does spending money with the organisation you are trying to pitch to help?

That’s a good question – many media owners need advertising to survive but the minute you start to conflate how much advertising money you spend with the news release, background brief, case study or picture you want to engage a journalist with – you’ll get a negative reaction as they pride themselves on being independent and the only thing that matters are editorial values – not how big your bank account is. However there’s no harm in saying that you like the work and find it a useful channel in engaging with their audience. Then move to information that would be of interest/value to that audience that you may be interested to support in other ways too. Native advertising is obviously one way that could be part of that process.

Phone or Email?

This entirely depends on the timeliness, importance, sensitivity of the information you want to share. It also depends on who you are communicating with and what you are pitching.

What is the difference between PR and news?

This is something that may be clear to those who worked in the PR industry but not necessarily something that every hack who crosses over the fence always gets. PR is the management of reputation – and on some days that’s keeping a juicy bit of news out of the public domain. On the other hand, as a journalist your motivation is completely different – it’s about delivering stories that are powerful to your audience or followers which they wouldn’t necessarily get from others and it’s the reputation you get for being ahead of the media pack.

How can PR be made more newsworthy?

It’s always about content and context. I’ve tended to be successful in achieving strong media coverage where there’s something that is capable of being evidenced-based. Remember facts and figures are the lifeblood of great journalism. You also need colour, comment and opinion that adds to the body of knowledge out there, rather than repeating what already exists in the public domain. In the latter case, it won’t be newsworthy and you’ll lose credibility.

How do you approach mainstream news organisations like the BBC?

I worked in news and current affairs at the BBC on network radio, TV and World Service so I’ve seen how things work from the receiving end of PROs! It’s really not that difficult. Know your subject, know the programmes, know the correspondents, know how to write short copy that tells a story in a powerful way and I always try and get third party comment into the news release. Always remember that every story is capable of being told visually, so think carefully about a picture or video or some form of visual way. For radio, it helps to have regional accents and ‘atmos’ that can help bring the radio package alive.

How easy is it to destroy a successful relationship with a journalist.

This question pre-supposes that there’s a relationship with the journalist in the first place – so that means you’ve interested time and effort getting to know them and understand them. I’ve regularly taken out senior journalists to breakfast or lunch on the back of a background brief on a topic, issue, cause, concern, issue or problem and introduce them to a senior executive from the organisation who can give them context and genuinely help them shape the angle of the potential news story.

It’s not doing those things, not tuning in and listening and understanding the journalist or blogger and not being professional in the communication with them that will destroy the goodwill you’ve worked so hard at creating.

Give me some examples how a PR has shot themselves in the foot.

The biggest way to do this – the greatest sin – is lying or trying to deceive. There’s NEVER any reason to do this if you know how to get off a subject without lying to a journalist. This is extreme but you’d be surprised that some publicists have turned this into an art form where they get paid as an informant to some national newspapers as well as representing the interests of celebs in ‘kiss and tell’ stories.

Outside of extreme cases of shooting yourself in the foot through lying,  here are some examples of where PROs shot themselves in the foot:

  1. BP oil slick disaster in the Gulf of Mexico and the way the communications around that were handled as well as the appearance of the CEO before the US Senate.
  2. In the UK, the fact that BP didn’t have a problem with the Tate Gallery throwing a Summer Party in June 2010 to celebrate BP’s 20 year support of the arts that led to massive protests effectively further tarnishing the reputation of BP
  3. More recently, the break down in technology where RBS customers couldn’t pay for groceries or get money out of cash point machines and then followed with issues around data control.
  4. Coca Cola trying to hide issues regarding water contamination in one of its bottling plants in India in March last year
  5. The way in which Olympic Partner Dow Chemical handled the row over its link with Union Carbide and the Bhopal disaster and decided to keep a low profile during the London 2012 Olympic Games.
  6. The Girl Guides and how they handled the media when they decided to drop God from their oath – I did something very different for the Scouts which avoided a bonfire burning under our organisation.

How important is agility (i.e. the speed a PR can turn around a quote, etc) to a journalist?

Again, this depends on the nature of the medium, the timeliness of the news story and working with the journalist to provide access to the right people. Given that the media is working to tight deadlines and news very quickly loses its “newness” it’s probably essential. Always ask “what’s your deadline?”

Why should organisations want to be in the press (credibility, audience size)?

There are some big challenges facing organisations of any size – the fragmentation of media and with that the fragmentation of audiences. As a result, there’s no such thing as “mass media” and all channels need to be carefully considered when trying to engage with desired market and customer segments, for example. National print media is far from dead and buried given that these titles also generate huge audiences for their online versions – it’s all about the management of reputation so don’t ignore the power of the press in this regard.

Agency or in-house?

There are pros and cons of investing resources in in house people – they understand the way in which information flows through the organisation and can often respond much more swiftly when required rather than waiting for an external agency to get up to speed.

On the other hand, a PR agency will tend to have wider experience of working with clients and coming up with solutions that internal PROs may not have experience in delivering – and this adds to the quality of the thinking that needs to be there if you’re going to be successful at engaging with the media and bloggers.

5 Top Tips to help build relationships with bloggers and journalists

#1: Always start a phone call to a journalist with asking “Is this a convenient time to talk or are you in the middle of something?”

#2: Always try to provide verifiable facts and figures in a news release so that it’s actually new rather than being recycled from other stories

#3: Get to know and understand the different needs and requirements of media channels and bloggers – a good contact management system like Vocus should help

#4: Think in terms of pictures and wherever possible be open to seeing where colour can be added to make your news story, case study, background brief more compelling

#5: Never waste a journalist or blogger’s time by poorly executed news release or irrelevant information that doesn’t speak to the audience that they communicate with.



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