How to win at media relations as a Communications Specialist and not suck at it

Updated: Nov 22, 2019

To a communications professional like myself, media relations is key! This is fact; you need to have good media contacts to be an asset to your agency or organisation.

But Leslie, we have social media now! We can create our own hype and awareness! You’re old school!”

Yes, yes, I agree that social media has opened countless avenues where brands can directly reach audiences. However, one important factor is missing. Potential customers are far more influenced by an established voice or opinion they trust – this includes industry experts, bloggers, and journalists.

Think about it: Would you travel all the way to another end of Singapore for a bowl of Truffle Fries if The Straits Times, Mr Brown, and CLEO all said that it was the best damned thing they ever ate?

Okay, now that we’ve got that sorted, let’s open the book on “How to Form and Maintain Good Media Relations”.

Chapter 1: Know how to hold a conversation (to save your life)

A wise man once said: “Thou shalt know how to hold a conversation for at least 5 minutes.”

To hold a conversation, you need things to talk about. For starters, brush up on some subject matter knowledge before you meet the media or attend a social event. Learn what beat the journalist covers and the most recent topics or stories they’ve written. After that, expand on the knowledge you’ve gained by reading regional or international opinions regarding those subjects.

At the same time, you need to analyse how you speak and make changes so that your facial expressions and filler words do not undermine your speech. Record yourself speaking to the mirror, and play it back to give your own critique. Better yet, grab a colleague that will (begrudgingly) listen to you speak for 5 minutes and have them give you feedback thereafter.

Once this is done, you will have enough ammo to hold a fruitful conversation with the media, and hopefully earn their trust.

Chapter 2: No one is going to help you, you have to help yourself

Get out there and start somewhere – an email, a phone call, attending a social event. Media folks may seem cold and menacing sometimes, but that’s just because they don’t know you yet. Not that different to how you’d react to a roadshow insurance agent stopping you midway to the office.

Grow some thick skin already.

Chapter 3: We sail the ship, in a Relationship

Once you’re in a “pick-up-phone-and-call-journalist” state, it’s easy to forget that media relations is a two-way street. You rely on the journalist to secure coverage, just as much as they do you for a good story. Don’t undermine the credibility you have by pitching a story that you know is going to be shot down, or just calling them when a new product launches.

Also, you must keep the relationship going. Send them fun holiday greeting emails, and feel free to banter with them on Facebook. When it’s time to secure a story, invite them for coffee to discuss potential leads, and the kind of angles they’d like to explore. This ensures that when the story is out, both your client and the journalist are happy with the outcome.

At the end of the day, forging solid media relations is all about how much effort you put into it (without coming across as too pushy or creepy). You will fail on some occasions, and some journalists may not even like you, but this is all part of the learning process, and it is important to push on.

And who knows, you may just form great friendships that could last you a lifetime!