Relationships rule!

You’re months or even a year away from launching an event or project. How do you start to build relationships, and who with?


You’re months or even a year away from launching an event or project. How do you start to build relationships, and who with?

Publicists Angela Radford, Kristina Hard and Sally Woodfield share their tips.

You’re months or even a year away from launching an event or project. How do you start to build relationships, and who with?

Publicists Angela Radford, Kristina Hard and Sally Woodfield share their tips.

Angela: Swot up on everything you can. In my case it would be a big author tour or book launch, so read all the material the author has written including the new title and develop angles that you can pitch to media. Google the author and file all their information.

Your first relationships to think about are magazines as they have the longest lead time. Start thinking about the best placements and send through ideas. Email is certainly by far the most utilised form of communication these days but it's good to get on the phone and talk it through - you often glean good insights by talking to a journalist or reporter. Then plan newspapers, radio and television coverage as well as online media.

Remember the fierce competitive spirit is alive and well in the media world, so carefully plan where one media outlet might do an author interview, one an extract from the new book, another a background profile - another perhaps a Q&A. If they are touring, regional media can be live on the ground. National media too!

Kristina: Pinpoint who you want to build relationships with based on your cause or project concept.  Is there a contact point? A mutual acquaintance? An email address? Twitter? Linked In? No contact point?  Go to events that relate to your project or cause. Go to performances and it’s possible you might see them there.  Make contact, be clear about who you are and what your request is. Always follow up and keep the lines of communication open to both parties.  Do keep in mind; relationships take time and are not just about results.

Sally: Identify target media and people to help you gain cut-through. Read newspapers and magazines, watch television programmes and listen to radio programmes to gain an understanding of what angles they are looking for and the types of audience they are pitching to. Make a note of the names of the journalists covering stories of a similar nature and find their details (most publications have standardised email addresses, but don’t be frightened of picking up the phone and calling – journalists want to know about stories). Find out about deadlines – magazines plan features six months in advance. Be aware that competing media won’t appreciate the same interviews/angles, so look for different ideas. Depending on the size of your project, start calling key media and discussing options around what their interests will be. Make contacts through any means possible – friends, acquaintances, Twitter ... google. 

  • Why is it essential to build relationships? When should you start ?

Angela: The longer you have a (good) relationship with media, the better.

Kristina: Do this NOW!. People in your close relationship circle can help you, people in your acquaintance relationship circle can advise you and people outside your relationship circle are the most suitable to assist with problems because they have new perspectives.

Sally: This depends very much on the event, but where possible, start planning early especially if you are targeting long-lead media who are planning 4 months out with deadlines often 2-3 months out. Identify the vey key media who you want to target and who you believe will be interested in your event.

  • What are some ways to build relationships with the media?

Angela: By communicating with them efficiently and with good, clear information regarding your project. Media are busy people and are inundated, so don’t like their time being wasted.

Kristina: Use publication or programme websites to find out the job titles of people and decide who is the most suitable to pitch to. Contact the journalist and chat to them about your project. The best way to build relationships with the media is to communicate with them about your ventures.

Sally: An introduction through someone else, phone calls, personal visits and emails. If you are serious about ongoing relationships, emails need to be followed up personally.

  • How do you know who to approach?

Angela: You carefully select the appropriate contacts. There is so much information online now, you can spend the time building your own contacts list or purchase a database through the various online media services.

Sally: Research the media you are targeting and this will give you a good indicator of who you should approach.

  • What’s the difference between traditional and digital media?

Angela: With the onslaught of digital media in just about every sector, it means traditional media methods are also changing, so keep your eye on the ball.

Kristina: Magazines and newspapers have short deadlines so you need to pitch as early as possible. Community newspapers are more relaxed, three weeks or so before is suitable. Digital media has flexible deadlines, you can include more photos and videos, more links to other relevant material and coverage is easy to share the instant it’s been published.  Plus it has the possibility to go viral too.

Sally: Same approach in terms of relationship building, but bear in mind digital media can usually run more and be up-to-date quicker.

  • How do you maintain relationships with media over-time without badgering them?

Angela: Carefully. Be concise.

Kristina: Always be polite. Give journalists space to do what they promise to do and in the case of not hearing back follow up. Journalists are busy people, they are always on deadline and have heaps of projects just like yours to write about sometimes they need to be reminded. But just once or twice.

Sally: Keep in touch with them regularly – don’t overfill their inboxes with stuff they are not interested in. Don’t hound them. If you have left messages and emailed, and they’re not getting back to you, well ... they’re generally just not that interested. I do a monthly e-newsletter which goes to a list of key media contacts and this keeps them up to date with the events I am working on.

  • What’s a common mistake?

Angela: Badgering them.

Kristina: Do not pitch to twelve people at one organisation. Pitch to one and follow up.

Sally: Hounding media and pitching the wrong type of story.

  • What’s your top tip for genuine relationship building?

Angela: Be honest, transparent and genuinely friendly.

Kristina: My top tip is simple; correctly spell people’s names and individualise your pitches. Nothing makes you feel less important to someone than when they haven't make the effort to learn your name.

Sally: Be aware of timing – don’t try calling TV news people at 5pm! Daily newspapers tend to be on deadline towards the afternoon, so mornings are best for them. Use the ‘delay delivery’ tool on emails.

  • Any online resources or books you can recommend?

Angela: It’s a matter of constantly researching the good ones. There are a number of communications websites that offer advice and their services. I am happy to be contacted for their details [I wouldn’t want to recommend one over another, so would prefer to offer the full list of contacts that I know of].

Kristina: How To Love Cold Calling  by Ande Schurr. Ambitious title but yes this article will help. It is supposed to be about Freelancers but cold calling is a common fear so everyone should read this.

Sally: Media NZ Online is an excellent paid database of New Zealand media.

Written by

The Big Idea Editor

28 Nov 2012

The Big Idea Editor Cathy Aronson is a journalist, photo journalist and digital editor.

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