Let’s say you own a pick-up truck. An acquaintance calls, says he’s moving out of his apartment next weekend, and wants to know if he could borrow your truck. You don’t know this person super-well, but well enough, so you say OK.
Six months go by. Oh, make it nine. You hear zero from this person during this time and then your phone rings. “Hey, uh… about your truck… um… could I borrow it again?”
Think for a moment about how that second phone call would make you feel.
Believe it or not, that’s how legions of journalists feel about PR pros who get in touch only when they want something.
This may surprise you. Most PR folks are trained to “respect the time” of busy journalists unless you have “news.” Yet these same PR pros are asked to “develop relationships” with these same journalists. In an era with no landlines or desk-side briefings, how are you supposed to accomplish this?
Here’s how: you touch base three or four times for each time you ask to borrow their truck.
That’s what personal friends do. That’s what business friends should do, too.
Now… what exactly should you touch base about?
Never say, “Hey, great story.” Never say, “Hey, I really like your Tweets these days.”
Offer a path. Show empathy. It’s the glue in friendship and in effective media relations, too.
Here are some ideas:
Build and monitor a Twitter list of influencers in a given space and send a smart recent Tweet from, say, the Carnegie-Mellon adjunct professor in the robotics grad program, preferably containing a link to a recent report or POV.
Study the reporter’s LinkedIn page, learn where they want to school and send what you think is a cool story from their college newspaper’s web site — but only if germane to the reporter’s beat(s).
Look at CrunchBase and connect some dots. Let’s say your target just wrote about Acme, and you notice that an Acme board member also serves on your client’s board. Send a couple of sentences offering to explore a possible introduction.
Never ask for a response, ever. Just offer something without expectation— the way friends do — and learn to love the crickets.
Now… here’s a story for you.
At a PR firm recently an account supervisor announced, “I got a hit on NPR last month!”
“Hey, congratulations!” said the visitor.
“Took me six months,” she said.
Her method: dropping genuinely valuable bread crumbs in front of a busy producer once every month or two, over email. The crickets were deafening but the dauntless supe bided her time.
Finally the day came when she put fingers to keyboard and wrote, “Hey, I really think I have an idea for a segment your listeners will really love.”
The producer promptly wrote back and said, “Hmm… yes, it appears you do!”
Perhaps you are saying to yourself, “Bully for her, but if your agency has you on multiple accounts and you need to be billable, who has the time to research all this abstract stuff and send it off into the ether?”
You do. Yes, you. Manage up if you have to. Your organization is in the rainmaking business. Relationships make the rain. OK, maybe all 53 reporters in your Google Doc don’t deserve to be pampered in this way — but the five most important ones do.
So in 2018, by all means, go borrow some trucks. Don’t forget the in-betweens.
Sam Whitmore is the founder and editor of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, providing tech media analysis and consulting to tech PR pros and media buyers. Whitmore also hosts a weekly teleconference series featuring prominent tech editors.
A former media columnist for Forbes.com, Whitmore is a frequent public speaker and often is interviewed regarding tech media for print and broadcast. Whitmore spent 14 years at Ziff-Davis Publishing, 12 at PC Week as a reporter, editor, columnist and editor-in-chief. He later served as a company vice-president in business development, and served as an on-camera reporter for Ziff-Davis Television (ZDTV) before leaving to launch Sam Whitmore's Media Survey in April 1998.