Apr 02, 2012

Seven Strategies to Connect with Reporters

I was recently a panelist on a Bulldog Reporter webinar, “Seven Proven Techniques for Getting Journalists to Call You to Generate Massive Coverage.” While I don’t consider myself an expert on public relations, my years of working with both journalists and PR pros here at ProfNet have given me some insight on ways that both sides can work together. Here are some of the tips I shared during the webinar. I hope you find them useful:

Be the Expert on Your Experts

Sure, you know that the CEO of the tech startup you represent graduated from Yale, or that the owner of that small flower shop can provide consumers with tips on how to make their flowers last longer. But how well do you really know them?

There is more than one way to get your experts in print. Consider “non-expert” queries, where reporters are looking for anecdotes or “man on the street” interviews — like a recent one from a Wall Street Journal reporter who was looking for day traders, or the New York Times reporter who needed to talk to coaches who used to be ministers.

The more you know about your experts, the more opportunities you’ll find. So when that reporter from the Associated Press is looking for the CEO of a small tech startup who likes to hang-glide on weekends, you’ll be ready.

Plan Ahead

Reporters typically use the first good source that replies to their queries, but they also want responses that are personalized and include a quote or statement from the expert. That’s a lot to put together in a short amount of time, but with a little planning, you can have most of it ready to go when a reporter reaches out.

There are some topics that happen every year, at the same time of year. For example, if you represent an expert on autism, you can prepare a lot of material in advance of Autism Awareness Month (April). Create a document with background info on the expert, some bullet points regarding new research, even some quotes from the expert. You may need to edit the document so it fits the exact needs of the reporter’s query, but doing the legwork in advance will save you valuable time and allow you to respond quickly.

You can also send out a press release in advance of news, to get on reporters’ radars. If you’re a ProfNet member, you can also issue an Expert Alert, via which you “alert” reporters to experts who can talk about timely topics.

Think Like a Journalist

One thing I consistently hear from journalists is that PR reps that make life easier for them are the ones they go back to again and again. Think about the kind of information they need to include in an article, and make it available to them. When pitching by email, write the subject line as an article headline. Don’t use excessive jargon. The less work they need to put into it, the more likely they’ll be to use it.

Speak in Sound Bites

This applies both to PR pros and experts. In this era of Twitter, everyone needs to think in sound bites. Thoughts should be concise and quotes should be tweetable.

Last year, I attended the RealTime NY conference. One of the panel speakers was Frank Eliason, SVP of social media at Citi. While there were four others on the panel, Eliason’s quotes were the most tweeted. Why? He spoke in sound bites.

Your expert could well be the perfect source for a reporter, but unless he/she can succinctly express his thoughts, he/she still won’t get quoted.

Be a Connector

Your primary goal is to get press for your experts — that’s a given. But if there’s a publication or reporter that’s part of your media plan, help them out even when there’s no direct benefit to you. Become the person the reporter can go to in a pinch, and they’ll come back to you when it will benefit your client.

Also, be available when others aren’t. This doesn’t mean you have to answer your phone at 3 a.m. on a Sunday, but someone — whoever you designate that to be – should be available when there’s breaking news in your expert’s industry. Include after-hours numbers in every communication – in your email signature, on press releases, on your website, on your Twitter/Facebook pages, etc. If a reporter is on deadline and is looking for a quote, be the one he knows he can get through to.

Be Where the Reporters Are

At a Social Media Week panel last year, one of the sessions was on how to increase your interaction with your audience. The key takeaway was, be where your audience is. The same advice applies to PR: Be where the reporters are. Have a presence on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Quora.

Develop Online Influence

Having a presence on social media is not enough, though. You must interact and contribute meaningful content. You must engage. Don’t just link to articles – add your own take and expertise.

Participate in Twitter chats in your industry – not only will they open you up to a new audience, but they can also introduce you to journalists in the industry who are researching via hashtags.

Start a blog. Remember that material I suggested you put together for pitches? You can take a lot of that and turn it into blog posts. Also, monitor ProfNet queries to spot trends – that’s what people are talking about and that’s what you should be writing about.

Cross-post your blog on other networks. Not only will you reach a new audience, but you’ll also get promoted by the other network. For example, Beth Monaghan of InkHouse Media + Marketing, regularly contributes the blog posts she writes for her own Inklings blog to the ProfNet Connect network. Her posts are well-written, informative, timely – and very popular. In fact, her posts are often the most read on the site in any given month.  What’s the payoff for her? ProfNet Connect has been a major source of traffic back to her blog. Her posts have also been cross-posted on PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog, giving her and InkHouse even more exposure and traffic.

Share your expertise. Answer questions on Quora, LinkedIn and other services that have Q&A areas. Send press releases about any content you create. For more tips, read Curating Content for Thought Leadership.

So that’s it, those are my seven tips for connecting with reporters. What do you think? Any you would add? What strategies have worked for you?

Author Maria Perez is director of news operations for ProfNet, a service that helps journalists connect with expert sources. To read more from Maria, visit her blog on ProfNet Connect at http://www.profnetconnect.com/profnetmaria/blog/

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