Five signs you suck at networking with journalists (and what you can do about it)
With many reporters struggling to get time out of the office, PRs need to take a much smarter approach to networking. But many are still using techniques that worked a decade ago…then wondering why their email invitations are going unanswered and phone calls are never returned.
Here’s five common networking mistakes PRs make with journalists…
1. Popping the question too soon
While you may have more success with regional and trade publications, most national journalists will only agree to a meeting once you’ve placed a few stories with them.
So unless you’ve got something really unique to offer (like a super high profile CEO, for example) concentrate on understanding their ‘beat.’ That means getting under the skin of their target audience – and the kind of stories they write – and offering them ideas they can’t say no to.
2. Getting it wrong on media briefings
I often get invites for events taking place the same evening or following day. Not only does this make the invitation feel like an afterthought (and let’s face it, no one wants to feel like ‘sloppy seconds’), it’s often too short notice to rearrange my diary – even if the event sounds good.
I’m not keen on ‘media junket’ style events either. I get far too many invites that say ‘Our CEO will be at x hotel all day tomorrow and has some time to meet journalists.’ While this can work well in some sectors (tech, for example) it can completely bomb in others.
Most national education correspondents I know would have no interest in meeting your top guy or girl on the off chance they might have a story (unless you happen to work for Google or Apple, for example), so inviting them along to a ‘junket’ style event may be seen as an irritation rather than innovative approach to networking.
The bottom line, is if you want to get journalists to attend your launch events or conferences, you have to give them an incentive. But with most newsrooms operating on a skeleton staff these days, a cappuccino and a croissant just won’t cut it.
What journalists are really interested in is finding stories. So if you want to tempt them along to your events, give them access to useful sources they may not otherwise get to meet.
To give you an example, by far the most the most well attended event I’ve been to recently was a ‘meet and greet’ with the new shadow education minister Tristram Hunt. The event took place in a broom cupboard (well, actually it was the office of Barry Sheerman, MP, but you get the idea) where every national education correspondent – almost without exception – had gathered to meet the Great Man himself.
Would they have stood shoulder-to-shoulder in a broom cupboard drinking warm beer if you’d invited them to meet your CEO? The truth may hurt, but probably not.
So if you want to get journalists to attend to your events, consider how you might use your connections to invite people journalists *will* be keen to meet. Not only will this make you memorable, it will also give you the opportunity to introduce your organisation/CEO in a relaxed, informal way. This should make it easier for you to build a genuine relationship – which is what successful networking is all about.
3. Not making the most of ‘meet the media’ events
I regularly host training events featuring top national journalists from a range of sectors and am always amazed how few PRs take the opportunity to introduce themselves to our speakers in person (or even pitch an idea). Ditto when I’m speaking at an event myself.
While you do need tread carefully in these situations (no one likes a stalker, after all) a follow-up phone call or email from someone who’s taken the trouble to introduce themselves at an event is far more likely to get your attention.
4. Focusing on ‘one-night stands’ rather than long-term relationships
When you first start working for a new organisation it can take a while to find suitable ideas to pitch to journalists. While this can be frustrating, resist the temptation to take a punt on stories you’re not sure about, as pitching a duff idea can actually harm your reputation.
Concentrate instead on being a useful contact for key journalists or editors in your sector. There is value in introducing yourself as a useful source of information on a particular subject, even if there is no immediate prospect of media coverage for your client/organisation. When you do have a compelling story to pitch, journalists will be far more receptive.
5. Not making the most of social media networks to build relationships with journalists
Many journalists use Twitter to find experts and case studies so it’s definitely worth using this social media network to connect with key hacks in your sector. But whatever you do, don’t give your stories away; I regularly get tweets from PRs saying ‘are you interested in a story on X?’ I’m on the lookout for exclusives, so once it’s out there – and can potentially be read by thousands of others (especially if I can see they’ve tweeted numerous education correspondents about it), I’m generally not interested. Instead, ask journalists if they will follow you, so you can send a direct message with your idea.
It’s also worth making Twitter ‘lists’ of key journalists in your sector. Not only is this a cunning way of finding out what they’re interested in; it also allows you to pounce quickly if someone posts a ‘shout out’ for an interviewee. It’s also worth checking out the #journorequest hashtag, which groups these kinds of requests together.
And do bear in mind that more journalists and producers are using LinkedIn to find people to talk to so do make sure all your key people have a completed, up-to-date LinkedIn page.
Janet Murray is a journalist and founder of the media training consultancy Last Word. She tweets @jan_murray.