PR Wars Podcast: Nurturing your reporter circle

How do you keep the relationships you care about alive? Today on PR Wars, we’re going to talk about relationships, but specifically… PR relationships with journalists.

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Announcer
It’s time. Welcome to PR Wars. Coming at you live from Atlanta, Georgia. Now, here’s your host, Chris Shigas.

Chris Shigas
Hey everyone, welcome to PR wars. I’m Chris Shigas. Nice to hear from you. How’s the family? You okay? I’m good. Hey, let’s keep in touch. Hey, how do you keep your relationships alive? Today we’re going to talk about relationships, but specifically, PR relationships with journalists. Joining me is co-host Brad Grantham as we dive into nurturing your circle of reporter contacts. All right, Brad, you holding up okay?

Brad Grantham
I’m doing well. It’s been a crazy news week. But what can you expect at this point?

Chris Shigas
So today, we’re gonna be talking about nurturing your reporter contacts. How do we build this reporter circle? Everyone’s busy. Everyone’s emails are overflowing. When you pick up the phone to call a reporter what what are they going through? What’s the status of the newsroom today?

Brad Grantham
I think it’s somewhat controlled chaos. And more so than when you and I worked in newsrooms years ago. You know, the evolution with all the different social channels has put more pressure on reporters and photographers to pretty much double their output, if not triple their output than they used to with all the different social channels. So if something’s happening in real time, I mean, not only are they having to do it for Facebook live, Twitter, the TV station itself proper, and then there’s your web story. It’s a lot of different tangled elements. Now, so I think it’s a lot more complex. And on top of that, they’re getting bombarded via email from viewers, managers, PR practitioners all over all this is happening in real time. So it’s quite frustrating, I think for a lot of reporters.

Chris Shigas
Absolutely. I think one of the big mistakes though, as people really look at… “oh, reporters are so busy, I don’t want to bother them. I don’t want to pick up a phone and call them because they’ll get mad at me because they’re busy. So I’ll just send out these email blasts, and hopefully somebody will respond.” I think it’s not so much that reporters don’t want you to call them it’s that they don’t want you to call them with bad ideas. They’ll always take a good story idea.

Brad Grantham
Right. Now they’ll always take a good story idea. I think that’s the frustration you know, if you’re in the middle of a breaking news event, let’s say for instance, a major weather event or chronic or what have you. And, you’re trying to find detailed information from a local Pio that’s pertinent to that story of that incident happening. And you’re having to scroll through again, all those different emails and a mobile phone trying to find that information. Yeah, it gets frustrating. But if you catch them at the right time, and it’s a decent idea that leads to great storytelling, perhaps they’ll absolutely accept that.

Chris Shigas
As a PR professional, you shouldn’t have this understanding that reporters are way too busy. They have way too many stories to cover, and they’ll never want to cover your story. They have to put out a lot of output like you’re talking about. And they need a lot of content to what we used to call “feed the beast.” Yeah, the key here is it has to be structured in a realistic way that it’s useful to them.

Brad Grantham
No, I completely agree. It’s almost like we used to joke back in the day about having a Rolodex full of contacts. They want that Rolodex full of content. that’s meaningful, and they can tap into at any point. But again, it’s all comes down to the timing, right when you reach out to them, and they can put that in that. That box, so to speak, or at least put that mental note away. Yeah, this, this might be a good one. Let me put it down. Chris, one thing I think a lot of practitioners may not realize, especially those that are just getting in to the business. You know, when we talk about timing, there are a lot of different meetings that take place editorially, both at broadcast stations, newspapers, and even online outlets. It’s knowing when those meetings are taking place, for instance, and broadcast. The majority of the first editorial board meetings happen between 930 and 11. And most places, they decide here’s the stories we’re covering as of 11 o’clock this morning, of course, that’s subject to change. They have an afternoon crew that comes in around 230 or three editorial board meeting happens, this is what we’re covering nightside if you were to reach out to the assignment desk, or those reporters after 11 o’clock, maybe 10 3011 somewhere in there It’s a good story or has decent storytelling ability, and you’ve got a good shot. But the last thing you want to do is do it before that you want to find that, that little bit of time or it’s a little bit of peace, or they’re on the way to another story or the desk has taken a little bit of a break, or the managers are just catching up on email. That’s a perfect time to do it. And the other thing that I think a lot of practitioners and they may not realize your day side staff, and newsrooms, all over is always going to be a lot larger than the night side stuff. For instance, you know, a TV station in Raleigh or Atlanta, may have 20 to 25 to 30 people day side, that’s reporters and photographers nightside to maybe two reporters and two photographers. So your greatest chances of making that connection are probably going to be during the day,

Chris Shigas
In the mornings, it might be less than that.

Brad Grantham
Yeah, for the morning show. Actually. Yeah, yeah, it might be it might be less than that. Or it might be might be two or three, but it’s knowing that window of best success that will set you up.

Chris Shigas
One more window that you could also think about trying to catch if you get the right contact name, whether it’s an editor at a newspaper or a producer at a TV station… are the weekend crews. Usually on Thursday and Fridays, they’re preparing for the weekend, which is a great time to pitch some newspaper editors trying to put their Sunday paper to bed by Friday. Same with a weekend news producer as they’re assembling their shows.

Brad Grantham
You brought up the struggle nightside that one time… weekend is more of a struggle. I mean, I can remember trying to lay out the plans on a Thursday evening or Friday afternoon. We’ve got x crews, and I would say 50% of the time, we would only have half the weekend figured out we just see obviously what else would arise. You know, Friday night, Saturday night, what have you. So no, that’s a great, great idea.

Chris Shigas
One example when I began as a television news producer in the 90s… the primary way we received press releases was through a fax machine. And as I transitioned over into PR agency life, I went to email… kind of as a novelty. You know, everyone’s faxing. I’m gonna email the story that might get more eyeballs, because I’m doing it differently than everyone else. Now, email is pretty overloaded, isn’t it?

Brad Grantham
It’s a little passe at this point. I think we’re having to invent new ways, you know, whether that’s going into DM’s and Twitter, whether that’s going in through Facebook messaging, here’s a crazy thing. Actually sending a handwritten letter with some interesting information might make a difference because nobody does that anymore. Right? It’s, it’s all it’s all digital. If you actually took the time to write a letter and say, Here’s, you know, here’s a one or two paragraph pitch. Here’s the date and time we’re wanting to start you might find this interesting. You might I’d be surprised what happens there.

Chris Shigas
Yeah. Well, as long as the journalist doesn’t think they they’re being contacted by the Unabomber,

Brad Grantham
Right, or somebody from prison. Yes. That’s awful.

Chris Shigas
So speaking of that, as we look at email pitches, the one thing I’m not going to let go of, is the telephone. If I’m engaging an agency, I can always tell when a press release was just emailed, or when follow up calls were made. I can tell you right away, just based on the pickup. I’m a firm believer that you will never build a successful circle of contacts if you’re not picking up a phone and talking to people like you’re a human.

Brad Grantham
Yeah, no, you’ve got to have that human connection. I mean, your tone dictates everything. I mean, again, if I were to have a statement in front of me right now and just read it with my eyes, and then read it out loud separately, you’re going to get two different texts for from whoever I read that tour who has read that statement.

Chris Shigas
So I’m looking at this research by a technology company called Propel. They did a study and found that 54% of email pitches go unopened. That’s over half your media list, Brad.

Brad Grantham
I’m surprised it’s not higher. I’m surprised it’s not 65 70%. Again, we talked about the bombardment of emails that are just proliferating throughout newsrooms and media in general. I’m actually surprised it’s that low.

Chris Shigas
That’s a good day.

Brad Grantham
That’s it. Yeah. That’s a great man. Chris, well, let me ask you this. We talked about the different shapes that newsrooms are taking. We talked about, you know, the best timing perhaps, to hit these reporters. We talked about establishing that human connection again, and making that start of a relationship. But how do we, how we nurture reporters and your mind?

Chris Shigas
It goes through stages. You have the beginning… the newlywed phase, especially for a lot of young PR professionals. They don’t have this circle of contacts yet. And they’re doing a lot of cold calling. They’re sending email pitches to these media lists. They’ve never read this writer before. They’ve never seen it. They’re blasting it out hoping someone will pick it up. Then there’s the phone calls. Sometimes you catch someone at the wrong time and they’re not nice to you. And it’s a tough road. Some young PR people won’t get past that stage. They’ll engage in it, they don’t like it. They’ll give it up and they’ll go on and do something else with their career. If you can get over that. Then you reach a stage where you start knowing the industry and you start knowing what reporters are writing what and you start knowing the different beat writers not only by name, but by face because maybe you’ve worked with them on a story before you are at an event with them. And it is so critical that you now use your communication skills at the event, you walk up to them, you talk to them, you treat them like a human being, you joke with them, you compliment them, you do all the things you would do if you’re really caring about a relationship that you want to have with another person.

Brad Grantham
Completely agree but the the art of the give and take that is something that’s been lost over time. And that is, you know, once you’ve started to create that relationship with a journalist, looking out for them and sending them ideas, even if it doesn’t benefit you. Look, I know you cover this sector, I know you cover this space. thought about this, it might be crazy, but there might be something to it just just thought, you know, I’d send it your way. Journalists Do not forget that. They just don’t.

Chris Shigas
And one of the things I like to do for the relationships that I have with media is to really continue to follow them. It’s so easy online to follow their Twitter account, friend them on Facebook, follow their LinkedIn. Typically these writers are very proud of their work and they post the results of their work on the social platforms. And it’s great to acknowledge their work even if it’s not a story about your company. To say, “Hey, that was a great angle you did on Tesla, or on IBM,” tweet their tweets and like their LinkedIn posts and engage with them and maintain that relationship so that when it comes time for you to have your pitch of a story that’s very important to your company, that relationship is still intact. You’ve been keeping it going beyond social media, being able to have a conversation with them on the telephone, that’s relevant, that’s authentic, that’s real and that’s human. That goes a long way into building your circle of reporters.

Chris Shigas
Well, that’ll wrap up another edition of PR Wars. As always, Brad Grantham… thank you for joining us. Remember you can find a new episode of PR Wars every Sunday night at 8pm. And hey, do me a favor? Do something this week to nurture your circle of reporters. Now go get em’.

PR Wars was selected as a Top PR Podcast You Must Follow in 2020 by Feedspot.

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