How to Build Relationships with the Media

Talking to reporters makes good business sense. Aileen Pincus offers some tips on how to become a source for stories that may help build your brand

These days, business requires sophisticated communication with clients and customers. That takes the artful use of essential promotion tools: marketing, public relations, and advertising. Almost all business executives would agree that promoting your business is a smart idea, but few understand the value in a free communication tool that is often much more powerful: the news media.

The media require sources in order to do their job. Being an expert source for reporters benefits you by giving you increased visibility and credibility, along with providing a platform for your ideas. When you're quoted as a leading authority about an idea, trend, product, or service, your knowledge is on display. That speaks far more powerfully about your reputation in your field than any paid promotional pitch. Being quoted in the media also opens up new avenues of reaching your target audiences and allows you to communicate with them in a different way.

Even business executives who do understand the value of media attention sometimes shy away from it because they view it as something too difficult to control. To be sure, reaching your target audiences through the news media requires a different strategy than communicating with them directly. It means understanding what reporters need in order to tell a story and understanding how you can meet that need. But there is so much to be gained by understanding that strategy, it's a wonder more executives don't make media outreach part of their business plans.

Business and news reporters are not interested in promoting your business for you, but they are interested in gaining a fuller understanding of a topic or a different point of view in exchange for giving you access to their readers, viewers, or listeners. Successful interaction with the news media requires an understanding of what each of you has to gain: You gain a profile-enhancing forum while they gain a quotable expert to help tell a story.

So how do expert sources keep the media calling? Here are some tips to help you on your way:

Let them know you're around

You needn't have an expensive media plan to get going as an expert source. Call business reporters and introduce yourself with a few specific suggestions about stories or angles on which you are qualified to offer expert opinion. The more specific your suggestion, the better. Read or hear something you disagree with? Track down the reporter and suggest a follow-up story from a different angle, or if the facts in the story are wrong, offer the correct ones in a polite, respectful way. Your aim is to introduce yourself and get on the reporters' contact list as an expert source to be called at the next opportunity.

Do your homework

Interacting with the media successfully means understanding how stories are told. Become a sophisticated consumer of news. Read, listen, and watch news reporters with an eye toward issues you might contribute something to. Watch how experts are used to move a story forward and how concisely they can frame a point.

Learn how to be quotable

Journalism's charge is to deliver information to a wide audience in short form. Help the reporter find the essence of your point, rather than forcing reporters to heavily edit and select your points for you. Remember, you're not being interviewed to tell everything you know, but to offer your perspective on what you know. Decide what you have to offer and how you can speak about it succinctly and memorably.

React quickly

News, by definition, moves quickly. If you're going to interact with the media, you'll have to learn to keep up with ever-changing news cycles. You might have the most expertise on a given topic, but if you're not accessible to reporters on deadline, you won't become a reliable source they can turn to again and again.

Stick to what you know

Resist the temptation, even when prodded, to speculate or comment on rumor. Being an expert source doesn't require you to be an expert on everything. If you don't know, don't be afraid to say so. Do offer the reporter some alternatives such as other ways of finding the information so you continue to prove your value as a source.

Don't spin

Don't lie to a reporter, or stretch the truth—ever. Nothing is more important to a reporter than his or her reputation, because that reputation means job security. Damage a reporter's credibility and you won't get a second chance to become a source.

With a bit of preparation and research, you can join the list of reliable sources for news outlets of all kinds—and build your brand and credibility.

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