Media Relations Today: A throwback to the Old Testament?

Posted by on May 4th, 2012

When I was a young publicist during the last millennium, we did things differently. Old school, or Old Testament if you will. We made media lists with a pencil and a Bacon’s book; we called editorial directors and receptionists at media outlets to confirm contact details; and we wrote a pitch, faxed it and then picked up the phone while mouthing the publicist prayer, “pick up, pick up, pick up…” It was all about relationships, knowing the reporters who covered your clients and showing these reporters you really knew your stuff.  After all, they had been covering these beats since the year of the flood and you needed to know exactly what their area of interest was or you were getting hung up on. You courted reporters. You took them to lunch, coffee or drinks and when you needed to know which one of their colleagues covered a different beat, you called and asked. It was all about nurturing the traditional media relationships.

Flash forward a decade and we enter the new school, or New Testament, era of media relations. Reporters are younger, covering more general beats and writing several stories a day in different mediums – digital, print, blogs, Twitter, etc. Now there is less time for hob knobbing; it is all about online relationships. You make media lists through online databases and almost all communications are via email. You stay connected through social media channels like LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Google+. You learn your contacts’ interests by monitoring their social media behavior, their likes and dislikes and what books and articles they are reading, and you follow their career via status updates. Occasionally, you meet face-to-face at an interview or event, but it’s all about new media relationships. In some ways, we are now stalking them to find out what makes them tick, what they like to cover and what we think would rev their engines.

Today, we are seeing a lot of changes and consolidation at major media outlets including Bloomberg, Thomson Reuters and News Corp. Reporters are moving from outlet to outlet and beat to beat so quickly that the online databases can’t keep up. As publicists, we are only as good as the media generated on our clients’ behalf and that in turn can be a direct reflection of our media relationships. So how do we stay in the loop with these ever changing media relationships?

Start by reestablishing some traditional media relationships. Tear a page or two out of the Old Testament media relations playbook.  Also, don’t fall in love with just one person at a particular media outlet. When there is a shake-up, get on the phone with people you know, offer congratulations and find out the new lay of the land. When you have identified the new reporter covering your clients’ beat, introduce yourself the old school way. Pick up your phone, dial the reporter’s number and mouth the old publicist prayer, “pick up, pick up, pick up…” Then, once you get their attention, start stalking them online.