Date: Jan 25, 2002
Cyber media relationships require the same components of trust as in the pre-Internet age with a few twists. Deirdre Breakenridge offers some guidelines for how public relations professionals can forge stronger relationships with journalists.
So, you're looking to build a relationship on the Internet? The best relationships, in my opinion, are built upon trust and respect. From youthful friendships to business partnerships to Internet communication, we have learned from the past that relationships take time and last only if mutual interests are supported and shared as the relationship progresses.
I asked a group of marketing professionals recently what they believed the ingredients are to a long-lasting relationship, and they pretty much gave me a textbook definition: mutual respect, trust, responsiveness, understanding, and so on. This same question was then asked regarding Internet relationships, and the group believed that the same rules of relationships apply.
Why, then, are relationships not lasting online? An area of particular interest that I have studied over the years is media relationships (before the Internet and now how the Internet can foster a better relationship between journalists and the PR executives). In my book Cyberbranding: Brand Building in the Digital Economy (Prentice Hall PTR, 2001), I devoted an entire section to cyber PR and building media relationships onlinea focus that is an entire book. As a matter of fact, my next title with Prentice Hall is dedicated to this subject and will be published in the fall of 2002.
The Internet Helps in the Relationship-Building Process
When PR professionals began promoting companies online, did anyone think that building a relationship would be any different than what was already expected of their brands? Could the PR executives launching brands back in the year 2000 think that the journalists of online media were not interested in building relationships with trust, respect, and responsiveness? These media folks are looking for this and more when it comes to the Internet and communication with the PR professionals that they rely on for their story topics. The expectations are that much higher because the research or the knowledge that it takes to build the relationship is easier to obtain. Let's focus on what's required of the PR professional working with the media online, offline, or in any forum. PR professionals must do the following to build relationships with the media:
Know the media outlet and review its editorial calendar. (This information can be accessed on a publication's Web site.)
Research a journalist's background and find past stories written by him. (A simple Yahoo! search can pull up this information.)
Investigate exactly what type of stories interest a contact, and pitch accordingly. (Services such as ProfNet and Bacon's Media Source contain this information.)
Be realistic when pitching a clientrealize which clients warrant coverage in larger venues, such as The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. (Subscribe to the publication and have it delivered to your inbox daily, weekly, or at other suitable intervals.)
Find out the journalist's deadline. (Get the person's contact information off the Web site and call the publication's online editorial department to inquire about deadlines.)
Do not spam an editor with excessive e-mailslearn whether that person prefers e-mail or another mode of communication. (Most of the online media directories give the pitching preferences of editors and journalists.)
Be responsive to the media person's inquiries. (That's why we have e-mail, for quick response time.)
Do not send a journalist attachments unless you know the person or the journalist requests information as an attachment to an e-mail. (Studies upon studies have been conductedand are available on the Internetregarding e-mail attachments.)
Offer information in a timely manner. (Again, e-mail is great for timeliness.)
Provide the truth and credible information to build trust in the relationship. (Lead the journalist to other sources online to back up the information you are providing.)
Know the facts of the story, the position of your company, and what's going on in its industry. (The Internet is a great tool for accessing information quickly and remaining constantly updated.)
Knowing the PR professional relationship-building practices is critical with any interaction with the media. Now, there will always be a handful of media folks who are difficult, curt, or disinterested (this goes with any profession), regardless of the well-informed professional. But, in most cases, keeping the relationship-building practices in mind will prevent many unnecessary, awkward situations. Here are a couple of examples when the PR person should have applied the relationship-building practices and the use of the Internet.
Joe has been in PR for three years. He tends to send out news releases frequently for his one client, a children's daycare center, for which he is trying to increase toddler recruits. The problem with Joe's technique is that he sends one too many e-mails to the same media people about three times a week. One editor e-mails Joe back to say that he was not interested in daycare stories but would be interested in stories regarding public school systems.
Joe ignores the editor's request and does not take the time to remove the editor from the e-mail list. Finally, the editor states, "Please remove me from your list. We are not interested in receiving any news releases from you." Now Joe will not have the chance to pitch this editor for any stories at the present time or in the future. What should Joe have done? Which relationship-building practices would have assisted him?
Joe should have remembered that the Internet could have helped him research this particular media outlet and the types of stories that would interest editors. Joe also spammed the editor unnecessarily without knowing whether this editor preferred e-mail or another mode of communication and with information that was not relevant for his stories.
Lisa, a PR professional with six years of experience, is working for a real estate company. She is contacted by an editor to do a feature article in a real estate news publication. The editor wants particular information from Lisa's client for the story, including but not limited to the following: history of the company, initial funding, and sales and profits.
When the interview takes place, the owner of the firm evades many of the questions required to complete the story. The editor later e-mails Lisa to answer those questions, and she tells the journalist information that is not 100 percent accurate. The editor publishes the story, to later learn from another source that the questions answered by Lisa were inaccurate and misleading.
Whether the client asked Lisa to give this information or she did it on her own, the editor felt a lack of trust with Lisa moving forward. The next time a story opportunity comes around, Lisa and her client are not called to participate. What should the PR person have done in this scenario? Which relationship-building practice was neglected?
Lisa should have provided the truthcredible information only. If Lisa and her client knew that they were not willing to give the accurate information for the specific questions, they should have declined the story or stated that they had "no comment" when asked questions that they could not answer at that time. In this scenario, the editor actually found the accurate information from another source on the Internet (querying a simple search engine), causing her to lose all trust in the relationship.
These are only two scenarios of many that can occur between PR professionals and the media. The most important lesson to learn is that relationships are mutual. Both parties need to work diligently to build the relationship and keep it going through trust, respect, responsiveness, and so on. A PR person's use of the relationship-building practices is even more prominent now that the Internet enables professionals to access the information that is necessary to approach a media person in the first place.
Granted, not every technique will lead to a front-page story, but it certainly can lead to a longer-lasting, mutual relationship (which, at some point, translates into bigger and better editorial placements for clients). The Internet is known for its quick and easy access as a communications tool. Look how simple it is to log on and find the information that helps in the relationship-building process. But, remember, no matter how fast the communication channel is, it still takes time and constant effort to build trust and respect with anyoneeven in cyberspace.