How to Build Relationships with Journalists and Media Outlets in Arizona - Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona

Episode 5

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Published on:

11th May 2021

How to Build Relationships with Journalists and Media Outlets in Arizona

We’ve all heard that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. But when it comes to the media, especially in today’s contentious political climate, it’s hard to know who to know and even who to trust … let alone how to get them to trust you.

In this episode, Abbie Fink and Dr. Adrian McIntyre talk about why it's important to build relationships with the media and how to do it.

If you want to earn media coverage and build real relationships with journalists and editors, you need to learn what makes each media outlet unique. What kinds of stories do they publish? Does a particular journalist have a specific beat? Is there any way to make your story more interesting and relevant to them? Find out what topics they cover, and don’t waste their time with ideas that aren’t a good fit. 

Follow the journalists and media outlets you want to build relationships with on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media platforms. Read their articles, watch their news reports, and listen to them on the radio.

Pro tip: use private Twitter lists to organize your feed and set up Google Alerts to get notified when relevant articles are published. Leave thoughtful, engaging comments when appropriate.

Above all, be respectful of their time and their deadlines. Focus on what you can give, not what you can get. And remember that the best time to build relationship with the media is before you need them.

Read Alison Bailin's blog post for this episode: "How Do You Create an Authentic Relationship With the Media?"

If you enjoyed this episode, please follow the Copper State of Mind podcast in your favorite app. We publish a new episode every other Tuesday. Just pick your preferred podcast player from this link and follow the show: https://www.copperstateofmind.show/listen

Additional Resources

Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications firm in Phoenix.  

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Arizona.

Transcript
Adrian McIntyre:

Welcome to another episode of Copper State of Mind, our podcast for Arizona executives and directors of marketing and communications who want to increase the effectiveness of their public relations and marketing campaigns. I'm Adrian McIntyre. We've all heard that it's not what you know, it's who you know. But when it comes to the media, especially in today's contentious political climate, it's hard to know who to know and even who to trust, let alone how to get them to trust you. With me to talk about this is Abbie Fink, vice president and general manager of HMA Public Relations, the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. Abbie, what's on your mind?

Abbie Fink:

What's on my mind today are relationships: how we build them, how we develop them, and most importantly, why we need them with our friends in the media.

Adrian McIntyre:

You know, nearly every business is a relationship business. But saying that doesn't tell us a whole lot about how that actually works, because it works differently in different industries. You're someone who's been around media and public relations for a fair number of years. HMA is in its 41st year. And so you've got a lot of insight about how those essential relationships get formed and reinforced. And probably even sometimes how they fall apart, how relationships can be broken, how trust can be lost. This is a really rich topic, especially for people who are trying to get the most value out of their marketing dollars, trying to get their stories to the audiences they want to reach. And they need to deal with the media, in many cases, in order to help amplify their message and share their story. Before we get into this, I think we should probably say right at the beginning, this conversation is only going to make a difference if you think that building relationships with the media is valuable.

Abbie Fink:

Well, true!

Adrian McIntyre:

Because there seem to be folks today who have somehow become convinced that it's not worth it. You want to say a little something about that before we get into the meat of it?

Abbie Fink:

Yeah, I think we've watched the conversations around the role of the media and whether or not they are still considered a valuable part of our society. And I happen to think that they are and that the good ethical objective journalists will remain a critical part of our society. We refer to them as the Fourth Estate. They're the eyes and ears of our community. They are the ones that are bringing information forward. There are certainly publications that lean one way or the other. And some of you may be more inclined to follow a particular bent in the journalistic world that you enjoy. But the truth is that the role of the journalist and the media in general is so critically important. And for the work that we do in terms of getting information out, we can't do it -- truly we can't do it -- without good, solid working relationships with the members of the press.

Adrian McIntyre:

As an anthropologist who tries to take people seriously even when I vehemently disagree with them, I try to understand at least to the extent I can where they're coming from and what's at stake. I think if people more broadly understood the topic we're going to talk about today, some of the vehemence might leave their thinking. They might stop having such a rigid point of view and start to understand some of the complexity of this topic. But fundamentally what we're dealing with here is a profession. So we're talking about professional media. There are many other types of folks who have adopted the term "journalist" and use that to describe their commentary, their audience, their influencer tactics, things of that nature. But what we're talking about today is the professional media. So these are people who work in most cases for established media companies. As you said, those companies have a variety of different commitments on the political spectrum. They use a differing set of business models to fund their work. But fundamentally at the end of the day regardless of the political slant, they are human beings who are trying to do a good job. And those are the folks we're talking about.

Abbie Fink:

Correct. And that's not to discount the other in that discussion. I mean, the fact that you are an individual who uses words, or uses video, or uses photos to express an opinion in some ways does make you a journalist. As social media became so entrenched in the business community, we have often talked about the fact that really anyone now could be a journalist because the platform exists for them to share their information. But what we are, if we want to talk about it here in a differentiating point of view as we're looking at those traditional media outlets, the daily newspaper, your radio newscast, your morning drive newscast, or afternoon drive, the evening news. Those are kind of what we're referring to here. But the bottom line really is the individual, the journalist that is out there bringing forth content. If you as the communications professional, the organization that you work for needs to engage with the audience that is being reached by that publication, that media outlet, then that journalist is someone you need to build a relationship with. And that's really what I want to address here today is this concept of relationships. One of my first bosses when I got out of college used to say that, "What we really should be calling what we're doing is public relationships and not just public relations." That so much of what we do is about developing good, solid working relationships and that's with the media certainly. It's with our clients. It's with others that are interested in the work that we're doing, other stakeholders or constituencies. We have to have this relationship and it's based in trust. And it's based in the fact that I am sharing information and you are receiving that information and hoping that you will do something valuable with what I'm giving you, but it all comes down to this real understanding that there is a mutual respect for the roles that each one of us plays and that we cannot do the job without each other. And so building those relationships and keeping them over time is critical to our success.

Adrian McIntyre:

Now, one of the things just to extrapolate from an area of life that we all understand is personal relationships, intimate relationships, everything from dating to marriage to friendship, all different categories of relationship. They take time. It requires in many cases time spent together to develop that relationship. That seems so obvious in the ordinary world that we probably don't think about it too much. Maybe we should think about it more. Journalists are incredibly busy, but the one thing they would probably tell you that none of them have enough of is time. They're working on competing deadlines. They are juggling a number of different stories at the same time. They sometimes are chasing down a source or a report or some kind of information. So they don't have time. How do you build a relationship with somebody for whom time is the number one thing they lack?

Abbie Fink:

Sure. So if we take that concept that working on relationships with reporters is much like getting ready for a date or getting ready for some kind of a networking event of some kind. There's a lot of things that we can do before that conversation even begins to get to know this particular journalist. And especially today with so much information available that we can find in a public space. We can take a look at their LinkedIn profile. We can see if they have a social media presence and what they're talking about there. And we can listen to their broadcasts. We can read the stories that they've written before. So that we know when we make that initial approach to establish that relationship, that it's the right person for what we're trying to get across. That business reporter, that feature reporter, that radio sportscaster, whatever it might be is really the right person for us. So the conversation when you do make that initial approach to a reporter is understanding and respecting what they do for a living and what's happening to them on that particular day. There's no reason to pick up the phone and call a broadcast reporter minutes before they're about to go on the air. You will blow any chance you have of developing a relationship. But you know maybe 30 minutes after they go off the air, they might have a little bit more time. We know when newspapers are on deadline. We know when radio broadcasts are happening. So kind of knowing these things before you get started. I have a journalist friend, and he has become a friend over time, that I worked with quite frequently. And just the basics, I've got this story, he needs a source. We had that kind of surface level professional relationship. Well, enter Twitter to the mix, and we now have this ability to get to know people. I call it a little bit of friendly stalking. You get to see what's going on. And I learned from that back and forth on Twitter that he was an ASU grad. I was an ASU grad. Big Chicago Cubs fan. Just some other things about him that I would not necessarily have learned had I just stuck to the strictly professional relationship. And because of some of those commonalities, the dialogue that we had, the relationship that we developed expanded beyond just journalist and public relations professional. It became a real working relationship and has ultimately become a friendship over time. And so if you think about going into these conversations with these reporters in such a way that they know they need the information we have to share. And they will admit to needing relationships with communications professionals. But we also have to respect the work that they're doing and when they're doing it. And make sure that when we're stepping into their email or that we're picking up the phone and calling them that we have everything we need to get in front of them in the most efficient way that we can.

Adrian McIntyre:

Now reporters themselves don't always have the final say over the stories they cover. Whether it's TV, radio, print, online, whatever the outlet, there is usually a hierarchy of decision-making involved whether it's editors for the written form. Or whether it's assignment editors and producers for radio and TV. There are other folks in the mix. So it's not enough to simply build some sort of a friendship with one journalist and think that somehow that's going to help get your story out whenever you want it. They're working inside of another set of relationships. Talk about that.

Abbie Fink:

Sure. And that is very true. In a traditional newsroom, there are reporters, there's editors, there's managers of what content is actually going to finally make it to the paper or make it on the air. But where the relationship with reporters starts is they are the ones that ultimately are going to do a story. And they go into that news meeting, a two o'clock in the afternoon news meeting and say, "I've got this great story I'd like to pursue." And they present that to the team that's there. So our relationship with that reporter means they have enough information to go into that meeting and make a good case for the story. We, we as in my team and my colleagues across the industry make it a point of knowing multiple people within a newsroom that we can have these conversations with now. It's a fine line between, Adrian, I'm talking to you as the reporter and you say, "You don't want to do it" and I jump over you and go talk to your editor that doesn't get me anywhere in that process. But if I can help you build a better story and a better argument for why you want to cover this so that when you go in and present to your team, you have everything that you need to do. Someone who's been doing it as long as I have, those early reporters that I used to work with early on in my career are now some of those decision-makers. They've advanced in their career and they're making those decisions. And so the relationship transcends the job description. It certainly transcends the employer because many of them will find themselves working in other places. And so keeping those relationships strong and trusting. We are giving them information. We trust that they will do with it an appropriate and accurate job. They trust in us that what we're giving them is good and truthful and is in line with what their mission is as a journalistic enterprise. And so there's a lot of ways to manage that and a lot of different ways in and out of a newsroom to make it most beneficial for an organization. But it comes back to in my view of really about respect and trust. No different than building any other kind of relationship. If you don't have those things, it goes nowhere and goes nowhere very fast.

Adrian McIntyre:

One of the things we always tell people in communications work of any kind is you have to know your audience. It's interesting. When we think about working with the media, because we have to know our initial audience, which are the decision-makers themselves whether it's the journalist or the editor or the producer or whoever that is. But we also have to know that they're making choices about what to assign resources, time, money, vans, cameraman, all of it, photographers. They are making decisions about how to allocate their own precious resources because they're thinking about their audience. So we really have a two-layered understanding of the audience here. We have to understand the specific individuals we're trying to get to know and help and serve so that our stories can get through them to another audience beyond. So understanding the different audiences that they are trying to reach with their reporting, with their news product, with their features, with their community feel-good stories, whatever that is critical here as well, no?

Abbie Fink:

Yes. In fact, when we are putting together a proposal for a client and we are talking about developing relationships with their target audiences. So where this is being written for the client and we may list out who those might be. And front and center in that list of who the target audiences are is the media. If what we are being asked to do is media relations for them because it is a target in order to reach the other audiences that they're trying to get to so. And that goes really, again, to that research that you have to do before you reach out to a reporter is what is their product? Are they a daily? Are they a weekly? Are they a monthly? Do they do photos? Is it all editorial? What kind of graphics do they include? Are they a morning newscast, a mid day and afternoon? Because they all have very different perspectives. It's still a news product. It still comes out when it comes out, but they're different. If you look at your local NBC affiliate, what they're producing in their morning show is very different than what they're producing mid day and very different, again, what they're producing in the afternoon, early evening news. And so you have to know those things and the easiest way to know them, watch them. Watch television, watch the TV news. Read your local newspaper. Listen to the talk radio stations. There's no reason to not know what the publication or the media outlet that you're trying to reach is doing because they're available to you and you should and ...

Adrian McIntyre:

Yeah, it's a public product and you're seeing the result. You may not understand fully how the sausage is made, but at least you can start by developing an appreciation for the sausage.

Abbie Fink:

Right, right. And knowing, again, this falls to the public relations person on your team, but as a client or as the CEO of an organization who comes to their public relations person and says, "I want to be on the front page of Time Magazine." Fantastic. We all would like to be on the front page of Time Magazine, but let's think about who is on the covers of those magazines. And do we rise to the level of a cover story? And do we have the kind of background and interest that the readers of Time Magazine want to hear about? And if we do, and you are the type of CEO that meets the criteria that Time has set up for their cover pages, then absolutely we have an opportunity to pitch that. But if you don't, but there might be another publication that is more in line with who we are as a business and what we stand for and the types of things that we're doing, and our story might fit better someplace else. And it's important to recognize that although a Time Magazine is a pinnacle publication we would all like to be in it. Maybe it's not the right publication. And the one that we might get you on instead is more aligned with you and your business and the target that you're reaching. So that's where those of us in this spend a lot of time knowing the publications, knowing what works, what kind of stories those reporters are looking for. We often ask that question in our getting to know you stages of a relationship with a reporter. We're reaching out to them because they cover banking and we have a banking client, but there's a pretty good chance they cover other things. So what else are you working on? And what other kinds of stories might you be thinking about? Perhaps we have someone else we can offer up as a resource. We also want to be the place that they come to even if we aren't the one that has a client that can speak to them. But we sure as heck want to be on their speed dial for being a good resource. And that we might be able to find them someone, or have access to someone that might be of benefit to them on the story that they're working on.

Adrian McIntyre:

I think in the "how the sausage is made" part of this, are these conversations that happen and they're bidirectional conversations. Whether they're briefings on background -- in other words, it's non-attributable, just a general inform about here's what's going on in this area and we're helping you know that even though we're not going to be quoted in the piece. That really helps. Or whether it's seeking out ways to support what they're doing. Again, the more you serve, the more success you can have. It really just comes down to that. The more you're trying to get something, the less likely it is that that's going to actually give you the results you want.

Abbie Fink:

Right. And the other side of that if we're talking here about the communications professional pitching stories to reporters and needing to know and getting to know them and what we can do to be of assistance to them or what they can do to be assistance to us, but it also works in reverse. There are many, many times where, because of these relationships with journalists all across the world that we get a phone call that says, "I'm working on a particular story. You were very helpful to me when we did X, Y, and Z. I'm wondering if you might have a resource that I might be able to use for this particular story." Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't. But the best compliment a PR practitioner can get is when a journalist picks up the phone and reaches out proactively and says, "You helped me before and I'd like to see if you can help me again." And that's the best way of saying thank you to a PR person is reaching back out again for us to help you out with a story. And that's where, again, that relationship over time develops. And so we treat our relationships with our friends in the journalism world the same way we treat our relationships with our clients and with our colleagues. We respect them. We honor them. We nurture them. We take good care of them. And when that happens, you have that mutually beneficial working relationship that both sides have what they need in order to do the job that they need to do.

Adrian McIntyre:

You know, one of the things that occurs to me here is really important specifically for executives, directors, leaders of companies, nonprofits, et cetera is that they are also doing some work that won't ever replace the particular expertise and relationships that come with a skilled PR firm. But will enhance and support the work of your marketing communications team in-house or an agency in helping achieve your goal. And that is becoming known to those individuals. So what I'm thinking of specifically here is going back to something you said earlier about social media. We all have access through the phones that are never more than two and a half feet from us, studies have shown. We all have direct access to this world. Now this may not initially result in placing a story, but that's okay. I actually think this pre-work would be really helpful. So for example, let's talk about some of the very specific things that leaders of companies and organizations who want to cultivate positive relationships with the media can and should be doing, even though it will not be replacing the specific work of trying to place stories and building outreach, but it will enhance it. Do you have some thoughts about that?

Abbie Fink:

Sure. And actually I think that approach is the smarter approach to start with, is not needing the reporter when you reach out to them, but trying to establish that relationship. And so it really goes back to that initial research. Learning, finding out about, "I have a widget company and in my community, these are the publications and the reporters at those outlets that cover stories about widgets." Fantastic. Then it's finding out a little bit more about them. What kind of stories are they writing? Is it a regular column? Whatever you can learn. And then, like you would establish any relationship, pick up the phone, send an email, introduce yourself. "Adrian, I know that you cover widgets for the local daily newspaper. My company is new to the market and I'd love the opportunity to share with you a little bit about my company -- but more importantly, how we might be of assistance to you as you're developing your stories." You will respond. "Yes, let's set up time." You will respond, "I don't have time now. Call me back in a couple of weeks," and you follow through. When you finally do get that meeting with the reporter, make it as valuable as you can in the shortest amount of time. Because if they give you the 30 minutes, it's not 45. And so you take full advantage of the time that you have there. If the relationship is going well and the conversation is progressing, they will often keep talking with you. It's not like they're going to hardcore knock you down at the 30-minute mark. But you need to go in with the mindset that this is a very limited amount of time. And then follow-up. If you've offered up information and you've been able to be helpful, follow through on that. "I mentioned a book that I really enjoyed in the meeting. I'd like to send a copy to you." Or "here's where you can order the copy." "I really enjoyed the article you wrote last week about so-and-so." They're human. They like to be acknowledged as well. And in return, you will start to see that they will come back to you and they will start asking those questions and having you on their list of resources that they can count on. And your availability and responsiveness when they do that, furthers that relationship and keeps it in a very positive way. Not every time a reporter calls are we able to be their source, but I definitely want them calling. And we will respond every time a reporter calls us, even if our answer is, "We're not the right person, or we can't comment on this particular subject, but we have someone who can." And that keeps that relationship positive and continues to keep us on their list of good resources when they need it.

Adrian McIntyre:

You said something so important and it went by quickly. I want to circle back and just underline it 18 times in bright yellow highlighter, which is the best time to build these relationships is before you need them. The worst time is when you're trying to get something done quickly because there's no way to add value really in that situation. So with the mindset that way in advance of trying to run a campaign, place a story, get some coverage of your product, launch your event, your "do-good campaign" like we talked about in a previous episode. Building those relationships really matters. And I've got two tips that I'll share here that are very simple. Everybody can use them. And again, it's going to make your PR professional's work easier if you're already somewhat known. So the first one is Twitter. Let's talk about Twitter. Twitter is still the most valuable platform to engage with working journalists in every study. There was one I just saw recently that again reaffirmed that still in 2021, Twitter is the place where journalists engage. You can engage with them there. You can comment on their stories preferably as a thoughtful engaged reader, not a troll. Thank you very much. There's plenty of those already. You'll see them there. But thoughtful engagement on Twitter is valuable. And an easy way to do this is with a Twitter feature that I don't know that a lot of people use and that is private Twitter lists. So what this is you make a list in your account, but you make it private. The people who you're adding to the list don't necessarily know that they're on your list, but you start to add individual writers, individual reporters, individual photographers, producers, whomever you want, that are in those relevant publications to your specific field, add them to your private Twitter list because here's what you can then do. You can switch your feed so you're only looking at the tweets coming from that list, which means you have a very simple way to filter and look at what are these folks saying today? It's a very simple thing to do. The second tip is also free and easy and that's Google Alerts. If there's somebody that is critical and you want to follow what they're doing, create a Google Alert for their name and their publication. And you'll get emailed instantly whenever something new comes out, which then leads you to go find them on Twitter and say, "Just read your story. Really great work. Interested in how this unfolds" or whatever. Make it a meaningful contribution. Again, if you go back to that metaphor, you brought up earlier, Abbie, about the way we build relationships including dating and things of that nature. You don't want to be the creepy person at the bar. You want to be the relaxed, cool, engaged conversationalist who's not trying to get anything too soon if you know what I mean.

Abbie Fink:

Right. We are very thoughtful and thought-provoking and yeah. And in engagement, the Twitter advice is spot on. Again, it's a lot and it can be fast and it's overwhelming sometimes. But I narrow my searches down to the things that are, as you said, relevant, the journalists that I cover. And what happens is the journalists that I interact with, you start to see who they're interacting with which is their friends and colleagues in their similar circumstances, so your list starts to build. It's a great place for journalists to share they're relocating, they're getting a new position, they've been promoted, they're taking on a different beat, whatever it is. And this is how you start to get to know them. A simple "Welcome to the community. Looking forward to reading what you have to say" goes a long way in establishing these relationships. And the thing about it is this is no different than what we do in our personal relationships or what we do in our business-to-business relationships is there needs to be value on both sides. There needs to be a reason for us to get connected and stay connected. And reporters, journalists, have a job to do. And communications professionals are a conduit to those that help them do their jobs and the sources that they need in order to make those things happen. And when we work well together, the outcomes are successful, well-written, objective news stories that appear in credible publications that you the business owner, you the corporation, the nonprofit, really want to see. That's how they come together. And those good, solid relationships will carry that. And as we mentioned when we were talking about our community relations work, if you find yourself in times of trouble, a journalist that you have a good working relationship will give you the benefit of the doubt and will give you the time you need to gather the information and such. And the time to engage with a reporter is definitely before you need that relationship. You will be much better served in having that time spent in advance than coming up on it when something's going on.

If you enjoyed today’s show, please find and follow Copper State of Mind in Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or any other podcast app. You can also find the show online at HMAPR.com. For all of us here at PHX.fm, I’m Adrian McIntyre. Thanks for listening, and please join us for the next Copper State of Mind.

Show artwork for Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona

About the Podcast

Copper State of Mind: public relations, media, and marketing in Arizona
Public relations, media, and marketing strategies for communicating effectively in today’s business climate from Abbie Fink of HMA Public Relations, Arizona’s longest-tenured PR agency.
Copper State of Mind is a public relations podcast for Arizona executives, business owners, and directors of marketing and communications who want to increase the effectiveness of their PR, media, and marketing campaigns.

From messaging and media relations to content strategy and crisis management, the dollars your organization spends on integrated marketing communications are an investment that helps boost your brand, break through the noise, and drive business results.

Join Abbie Fink, Vice President/General Manager of HMA Public Relations, and Dr. Adrian McIntyre, cultural anthropologist and storytelling consultant, as they explore today’s communications challenges and share insights, stories, and strategies to help your message reach its target audience.

Copper State of Mind is a project of HMA Public Relations, a full-service public relations and marketing communications agency in Phoenix and the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. With more than 40 years of experience helping clients tell their stories, HMA Public Relations is committed to your success. Learn more at https://hmapr.com

The show is recorded and produced in the studio of PHX.fm, the leading independent B2B online radio station and podcast studio in Phoenix, AZ. Learn more at https://phx.fm

About your hosts

Abbie S. Fink

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Abbie S. Fink is Vice President/General Manager of HMA Public Relations, the oldest continuously operating PR firm in Arizona. Her marketing communications background includes skills in media relations, digital communications, social media strategies, special event management, community relations, issues management, and marketing promotions for both the private and public sectors, including such industries as healthcare, financial services, professional services, government affairs and tribal affairs, as well as not-for-profit organizations. Abbie is often invited to present to a wide variety of business and civic organizations on such topics as media relations, social media and digital communications strategies, crisis communications, and special events management.

Adrian McIntyre, PhD

Profile picture for Adrian McIntyre, PhD
Dr. Adrian McIntyre is a social scientist, storytelling strategist, and internationally recognized authority on effective communication. His on-air experience began in 1978 at the age of five as a co-host of "The Happy Day Express," the longest-running children's radio program in California history. Adrian earned his PhD in cultural anthropology from the University of California, Berkeley, where he was a Fulbright scholar and National Science Foundation research fellow. He spent nearly a decade in the Middle East and Africa as a researcher, journalist, and media spokesperson for two of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world. Today he advises and trains entrepreneurs, executives, and corporate teams on high-performance communication, the power of storytelling, and how to leverage digital media to build a personal leadership brand.