I’ve written a lot in the last two days thematically about how to make relationships with the press and be nice to the press, but primarily framed it as a defensive measure. My entire job is about making friends with people in the media and pitching them stuff they and their audience might enjoy, which is why my business works and why people continue to pay me to do this for a living.
In reality, a lot of what I sell is time - not simply the time of the pitching, but the time I have spent and will spend reading, researching, following and talking to reporters, and the synthesis of that reading with the ability to talk to them about stuff at the right times on the right days. I hate ever writing things in a fanciful way, but I sit within this vast flow of quasi-directed information and try and both pick off the stuff I need and understand why it’s flowing that way and how I can move with it.
What this practically means is that I have to have a working knowledge of roughly who’s covering what, what they’re thinking, what’s going on in their lives that might change things, and what’s happening around them that might change things.
I follow reporters on Twitter, I read the things they write and the things they link. I try and keep up with news in tech that matter to them, and watch the shows they’re on, or the shows they produce. I keep up with the news that they care and know about as well as the news they may not know about, and in general I try and put myself in their shoes significantly more than I think about other things in my workday.
It is, if anything, time consuming and mentally draining, and also comes with the additional pain point of all of that investment of time and energy sometimes still leading to a reporter saying no. I can’t imagine doing another job because my brain has become so attuned to doing this that it is all but automatic - I don’t have to force myself to read the right things or plunge my head directly into things, I’ll naturally find them in my work day.
I also am good at finding reporters who cover stuff and, honestly, not really bother them until I am 100% sure I have something they want. Basically, I treat the reporter like a client, and that’s worked for me.
So what can you learn, reader?
How To Make Friends And Talk To Reporters
Every reporter is different, but for the most part you want to give reporters stuff based on their schedule. This means that you probably want to avoid the beginning of their day - which may be earlier for some and later for others - but also want to be aware of things that may dominate their day, like earnings reports, big news, and the like.
For example, a producer I work with has her day pretty much set by 10am EST. This means that I cannot pop her a cheeky email at 11am PST, it will do nothing for me, or her. Another reporter I work with generally has a meeting at about 1PM PST with his producers every day to plan his week, so if I’m pitching him something at 2PM PST, it’s likely A) during that meeting and B) at best going to be looked at for the next day.
Being aware of when and what is happening with them means that you’re more likely to get talked to, quoted, put on TV, whatever the plan is.
Be The Easiest Person To Work With
So, as a person who wants to get covered by the media, generally there are a few things you want:
- Timeliness - Is the information you’re sending relevant anymore? Is it really relevant because of when you sent it?
- Uniqueness - This can either be in the way you’re explaining things (in a clearer fashion than most), or with the perspective you give (you know things people don’t, your experience is truly unique or you have more of it), or your relation to the thing in question (I was X executive at Facebook for Y years, I invested early in these companies)
- Ease of Opinion - Don’t be coy, if you believe something, tell the reporter. “I can talk about X subject” is useless compared to “So this happened, and my thoughts on it are [3 short bullet points at most], and I can elaborate further.”
- Ease of Access - One of my clients, David Barnard of RevenueCat, is regularly quoted because he’s internalized the above points but also, well, is quickly available when reporters DM him. What this practically means is that when you reach out to someone with a comment, say “my cell’s XXX-XXX-XXXX and my email is XXX@XXX.com, I’m free now, or I’m free between 3 and 4PM.”
- To Be Clued Up - Be read up on the situation, even if it means speed-reading. Stay up to date with everything in the news.
In short, you want to be able to give a unique perspective and have as little friction between using you as a source as possible. Trust me, nothing you have to say, no matter how brilliant, is going to be worth the squeeze of a reporter having to contort themselves around your constantly-moving calendar. The best and easiest work that I get done is when I know clients can respond quickly and will move stuff around for the press.
Generally, reporters that know they can get a great quote from someone will go back to them, but reporters that know they can get a pretty good quote from someone who will always respond and get on the phone exactly when they need them will go back to that person first.
That’s why guys like Gary Vaynerchuck and Anthony Pompliano are always on TV - their insights aren’t necessarily the most breathtaking analysis of the modern zeitgeist, but they can and will get on whenever they are asked and give a quote that will sound good and inform people. I don’t even like Gary Vee, but he is one of the best people at working for the reporter.
It goes back to why I used to get so much freelance work as a journalist - I wasn’t the absolute best writer on the floor, I wasn’t a genius, but I was a pretty good, ultra-reliable guy that delivered copy that didn’t need much editing.
Being A Genuine Person
The relationships I’ve built with reporters generally involve a lot of invisible moves on my part - like knowing when I’ve pitched them a lot recently and easing up, knowing that they’ve changed their coverage and thus they’re not gonna be wanting to hear about something anymore - or even just not really pursuing any work-based conversation with them for months, or years. That’s mostly because, quite honestly, I don’t really follow reporters with the initial thought of how useful or not useful they will be to me, more seeking to see who’s writing about what in a particular industry and seeing how their coverage might fit my clients.
I’ll grab drinks or coffee with them, or game with them, or chat with them, and not really bring up work, and if I do, I literally ask “hey can I run something by you, or do you want me to email it.” When I get told no on a story, I don’t pout or say “why?” even though clients regularly ask me why a reporter turns something down, but I realize that sometimes it’s just…not for them, perhaps not at that time, but most likely never.
And those reporters I don’t build a vast relationship with I try and give a very clear and easy-to-read (or dismiss) email that they can or cannot respond to. My entire pitching strategy is getting the right thing to the right person at the right time, following up respectfully and taking rejection gracefully. It hurts to get told no, but not on a personal level - it’s a professional “failure,” even though it’s not really a failure because it wasn’t a task that’s necessarily skill-based, it’s more of an execution of synthesized information over the course of weeks or months or years.
Getting to know them in person or digitally is fun, and also isn’t something I treat transactionally. If they write about stuff, great. If they don’t, fine. If they won’t talk to someone I think is perfect for them, I will give them exactly one impassioned “listen, this is perfect for you for these reasons,” and if they still say no, I will back away. And yeah, there are reporters I know who have only told me “no” that I remain friends with. It’s fine! It’s not their job to cover stuff! It’s nice that they do, though!
The problem that a lot of PR people have is that they do not know how to operate as human beings, but also that they don’t get that there are human beings who get hundreds of emails on the other side of this coin. In most cases, you can find out exactly what they cover by going on the website they write on and reading it, and you can follow them on Twitter and get to know them there by reading what they have to say.
Send them short emails that say exactly what’s going on - subject headline (date it’s happening) X company raises $Ym to do Z, body of email saying what it is they do, what the news is and when the news is going out, who invested in them, and offering an exec. Maybe you’re the CEO of a company and you truly know interesting stuff on something - send them 100 words in bullet points as to why, and put some times you can chat.
Be…normal. Talk normal. It isn’t the hardest thing in the world to just talk about something you know and give people information they might be interested in. Sometimes they will be, sometimes they won’t be. That’s life!