How to Make and Maintain Relationships with Media

With shrinking newsrooms, overworked journalists and a world inundated by media, it can feel harder than ever to land a pitch. Despite how hard we work on crafting a compelling storyline and relevant media list, the dreaded lack of response from journalists can be frustrating. While there’s no magic solution to bring your email to the top of a journalist’s inbox, something you can control is the way you forge relationships.  

The following are five ways you can work to create positive and reciprocal relationships with journalists. As a former producer, I asked some of my former colleagues to weigh in with their tips for PR pros as well.  

1. Research what the designated outlet covers and tailor your pitch based on its prior content. 

When writing your pitch to a designated outlet, you must first familiarize yourself with the reporters and the content they create. This may require research, so add budget time to sift through websites and learn which beats certain reporters cover.  

Once you understand the media landscape to the best of your ability, write a tailored pitch to the reporter you see best fit to cover your story. If appropriate, mention a previous story that reporter covered and tell them why your story provides a new angle or relevant expert to expand on the topic. The “same” pitch will get turned down; spotlight what makes you different. They will notice you went the extra mile! 

“When pitching a story, the best thing a PR professional can do is know the market/area, know the reporter and try to connect with them on social media or via a phone call. This will make it easy for the reporter to then pitch the story to their producer.” 

 – Assistant News Director 

“Make sure you know who you are addressing your pitch to. There have been multiple occasions where I’ve received emails with the wrong station in the introduction, or to a reporter that no longer works here. A good way to keep up with that is to check the individual’s social media or LinkedIn. When it’s correct, we really appreciate the personal greeting!” 

– Executive Producer 

2. Know what’s going on in the news and be sensitive to it.  

Being up to date on the news cycle is crucial when pitching your story, whether you are hoping to land within the national or regional landscape. In times of breaking news, it is best to avoid pitching. During these moments, newsrooms are providing “wall to wall” coverage. This means reporters are all changing their stories to cover the new topic, shows are being redone, emails are flooding in and phones are ringing off the hook. It is a stressful atmosphere and if you aren’t in tune with that reality, your pitch may be seen as lacking tact. However, if your story is timely and must be pitched, acknowledge what is going on in the journalist’s world and be sensitive about it. 

An example of this occurred during Vanguard’s last Farm Aid announcement. While pitching to stations across Indianapolis, our team realized the news cycle was being dominated by a tragedy in the community: a police officer killed in the line of duty. In most situations, this event would have indicated that we should have held our pitching. However, the announcement was set and scheduled. Knowing there wasn’t an option to wait, we pitched to these journalists with great sensitivity, acknowledging the challenging timing within our email. The fact that our team showed empathy for what was happening in the community made the journalists feel seen and appreciated, allowing us to forge a real relationship.  

“Consider news cycles and staffing when pitching stories. For example, weekends and evenings are usually under-staffed and events like elections (from national to local) are very busy times.”  

– Assignment Editor  

3. Tell them why someone in their audience would care about your idea. 

The most important question a reporter or producer is asked by their news director is: “Why would our audience care about this story?” A journalist will greatly appreciate you explicitly describing the human element to their pitch, even if it may seem obvious. This will help them in their efforts and position you as a useful and capable source! 

“Make sure you are providing how a real human in my area will be impacted by your pitch. This is important when providing data as well. Make sure the statistics are relevant to our market.” 

– Assistant News Director  

4. Provide more information than you think they will need. 

Journalists are often “one-man bands,” meaning they research, pitch, shoot, write and edit their own stories. This is an incredible amount of work for one person, so providing assistance is key; the more information you can give them, the better.  

Examples include: 

  • Names of spokespersons with their titles, bios and headshots 
  • Relevant websites, links or research 
  • B-roll or photos  
  • Infographics, charts or data 
  • Location/event details (if applicable) 

By providing these details in the initial pitch, you are showing the journalist that you value their time. Instead of them needing to follow up and inquire, you are making their job easier. They will thank you! 

5. Follow up and express your thanks! 

A simple “thank-you” email only takes a few moments of your time. After landing your interview or seeing your story air, be sure to send a quick note to the relevant reporters or producers. This small act of kindness will go a long way.  

These best practices are actions that resulted in lasting relationships between PR professionals and media members. Happy pitching!